February 22, 2024

Vetting Clients Before Meeting in Person

I have definitely had my share of great clients, but also a few very bad ones. In hindsight, I probably should have seen the bad ones coming, but even more troubling are those borderline ones that slip through the cracks. My worst customer/project of all time, I originally thought myself and the homeowner could be friends down the road ... boy, was I wrong. 

  • Trigger words that homeowners use that can guide you one way or another.

Generally speaking, any time that someone leads with the phrase “We are looking to have you come out and give us an estimate.” This tells me that they are more concerned with my price than what we do. Also, “We are looking to get a few quotes.” I realize that if someone is looking for quotes, then they are not prioritizing their experience with TRG, so I generally pass. I prioritize quality, white glove service, and attention to detail, so anything that does not align is a red flag. For example, “We need this done ASAP, We are not very picky, We already have all the materials purchased, We want to do some of the work ourselves.” These phrases do not mesh well with what I do, so I am cautious moving forward.

  • Do you talk numbers in the first meeting?

I prefer to engage in conversation prior to the first meeting. I generally have a baseline number that I cannot or have not done a project for less than in quite some time. This number is a great way to screen potential customers for fit. If I have not done a kitchen for less than $100K in five years, I want to be honest about that. There are budgets, programs, and projects for all shapes and sizes. Ensure that you are speaking with the customer that fits your program. If you specialize in the more budget-friendly renovations, there is nothing wrong with that, but entertaining a $300K kitchen renovation may be trouble for you. I prefer to get this information out of the way during the email stage, in order to save everyone as much time as possible. 

  • How many meetings do you have before you know if it is a good fit? 

I am determining a fit prior to an in-person consultation. I understand that this is not an option for everyone, but I afford myself this luxury due to the small-scale nature of my business. I do not need a dozen or more projects a year, so I have an opportunity to be extremely discerning. Do your homework and obtain as much information that is useful to you as possible, prior to  meeting in person. Does their timeline work, is the project within your work area, does the home value support the renovation cost, how did they hear about your project, why did they reach out to you? The answers to these questions are extremely important, and can tell you all that you need to know about a potential lead. 

  • Do you discuss personal topics during meetings to get to know them personally? If so, how deeply do you go with this and where is the line between useful information/homeowner thinking you are weird or being nosy?

I am typically not engaging my customers on a highly personal level. If we end up hitting it off as work commences, that is one thing, but I do my best to keep my work life separate from my personal life. I look at customers at a professional level. Do they fit my perception of what it takes to be a good customer? Do they listen, do they want to lead the conversation, are they friendly, are they considerate, do they respect what I do, do they see me as an equal, will they respect my word and my trades? Will I want to spend months of my life engaging with these people? At the end of the day we are in business to make money, but I also will not work for people that I do not like. It is far more enjoyable working for kind and appreciative people, so I do my best to gauge that aspect of their personality rather than who they are and what they do.

  • Do you ask for a financial statement or some type of letter from the bank?

I do have a clause within my contract that reserves my right to access proof of funds for any project, but I have yet to enforce that right. To be honest, if I was concerned with that during the contracting stage of the game, I should not be signing contracts in the first place. I do my due diligence when vetting and screening potential customers. It is fairly easy to spend some time on the internet these days and tell who someone is and if they pay their bills. By the time I am ready to sign contracts, I have done my best job to judge their character and there is a fair bit of mutual trust between parties. 

  • Do you ever adjust your contract for clients? 

I generally will pull some terms and conditions out of each contract that I sign, but oftentimes I am not adding anything. If you can sense a pattern here, you are probably right. If I feel that there is a need to alter my contract to a specific customer, I probably should not be working for that customer in the first place. My contract is fairly comprehensive (thank you Nick Schiffer), and I find myself removing some wording, phrases, or terms to express my sense of trust in a relationship. There must be a balance between legally binding contracts and being a decent human being. By the time I sign contracts, I have been engaging with a customer for months or longer, so I have a general sense of what it is like to work for them.

  • How to politely decline a project.

The most critical piece of advice that I can give here is to be compassionate and kind. No one likes rejection, even if that rejection is in their best interest. Be honest. If you turn down a customer or a project in a professional, timely, and compassionate manner, your customers will understand eventually. They may be upset, they may feel hurt, but at the end of the day you are doing what is best for you and for them, and this is the most important thing to remember. State specific reasons for declining a project. If you cannot hit their timeline, their budget, their needs, or you simply are not interested in the project, tell them the truth. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I really appreciate you reaching out, but at this time, I am not interested in this renovation. That being said, I may be able to refer you to someone who is a better fit. If you are interested in those names, let me know, and I will pass them along. Thank you again, and please feel free to use me as a resource during your search.” This type of response will leave the customer with a good taste in their mouth. While you may not be interested in their project you were professional, courteous, and offered to help any way that you can.