CONSTRUCTION BUSINESS COACH | AUTHOR | SPEAKER

HOW TO DEAL WITH DESIGNERS AND THEIR DIFFICULT CLIENTS

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DESIGNERS NEED HELP FROM CONTRACTORS

Designers struggle just as much as contractors do when it comes to getting paid for their time and expertise. They might not admit it, or even be aware of it, but designers waste a lot of time designing projects that homeowners can’t afford.

This is frustrating for designers because they want to serve their clients and see their visions built.

The problem for designers is that they don’t know the final construction costs of their projects until they complete the design and get input from a contractor (or several contractors).

This gap in knowledge presents a great opportunity for the general contractor that knows how to sell pre-construction services.

CONTRACTORS SHOULD HELP DESIGNERS

The best way contractors can help designers and architects is not to pitch them on the contractor’s pre-construction services, but to help them solve their biggest problem – determining the construction costs of their designs.

If you’re a contractor who wants to get more work from designers, then do these things to help them solve their biggest problem.

6 WAYS CONTRACTORS CAN HELP DESIGNERS

1.  Offer to give them preliminary pricing during the design process.

This does not mean that you do a bunch of estimating, takeoffs, and pricing.  This means that you give them an estimate.

If you’ve read my book, The Paperwork Punch List, then you know my definition of an estimate: a guess based on experience.

 

2.  Show them how your pre-construction services serve them and their clients by providing accurate construction pricing before a project begins.

No homeowner likes to be surprised by the price of a project after weeks or months of design work.  Explain the benefits of how your pre-construction planning save them time, money, and eliminates the fear of hiring a contractor.

 

3.  Compliment the designers work.

Everyone likes to hear about how awesome their work is.  Call designers and let them know you like their work.  Ask them about their design process and learn about them.

 

4. Ask them if they need help sourcing materials.

This doesn’t mean that you give them access to your network of suppliers or trade partners, but you can offer to provide them with information about a particular design feature.

 

5. Offer to have a difficult conversations with their clients.

Talking about the budget with clients can be difficult for the designers.  Let them know you would be happy to meet with their clients and discuss what the budget should be. 

Remember, your goal here is to serve the designer by helping them with their clients’ budgets.  At this point, you’re just offering advice on what the budget should be, not selling the clients on your services.

 

6.  Tell designers the truth.

When a designer invites you to help them with a project, then tell her the truth.

“The budget you discussed is not high-enough for this design.”

“The application of that product is not correct.”

“The client has unrealistic expectations of the project schedule.”

“The numbers from the other guy are wrong.”

“This project is not a good fit for us because we don’t think your client understands the process.”

 

The kindest thing you can do for someone is tell them the truth.

You may not get the job, but the right designer will appreciate your honesty.

 

MEETING THE DESIGNER’S DIFFICULT CLIENTS

I recently spoke with one of my clients – a custom home builder.  He received a call from a well-respected designer that he wanted to work with.  The problem was three-fold:

1.  The clients had limited plans.

2.  The contractor decided the project wasn’t a good fit.

3.  The designer called the contractor back and asked for help.

Watch the video below to learn how to deal with designers and their difficult clients.

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BEGIN TRANSCRIPT

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[ CONTRACTOR ]:

I’ve got an architect, it’s actually a designer, well respected in… has a nice office in an expensive part of town, all that. Does great work, works with a lot of other great architects. She’s an interior designer, but they do some drawing and some finish selection.

Shawn:

Yeah.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

And so they called me and they said they got this project out in… It’s about a $400,000 budget and it is an interior remodel. And I was like, “Okay, I’ll be happy to take a look at it for you guys.” And so I went out there, and they live there and they’ve owned the House since ’96 and they walked me through kind of everything that they want done. And I kind of started my spiel. I said, “Well let’s sit down and talk, you know, a little bit about how kind of we work. What I’ll do is I’ll kind of look at the plans and I’ll kind of develop my initial assesment. Just off the bat, I think that your $400,000 kind of budget is in line with what I see, just in general for scope of work. And then if you want us to hire David and and do all that, we charge a small fee for that, and then we become part of the project team and da, da, da.”

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

And he goes, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” He’s like “I am not doing that.” He’s like, “I am not paying you to do that, that is ridiculous. I’m getting three bids from three contractors and we’re going to hard bid it and they’re gonna stick to that number.” And I said, “Look,” I was like, “Right now you can’t do that, you have like two sets of, two sheets. You’re not going to be able to do that off of what you got. You’ll need a lot more information. And what we’ve seen through people going the hard bid route is you’re not going to get the best contractor, you’re gonna get the worst estimator.”

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

He’s like, “Well, I’m just… no way I’m paying you to do that, that’s your job to do,” and da, da, da. How I’ve sold my pre-con is I have reimbursed the $3,000 on the first invoice.

Shawn:

Yeah.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

And because it is part of the job, like get the job or whatever, I was like, “Look, we give it back to you if you hire us to build it, but if we bid it out and it’s $450 and it’s too much, you have that information and that information costs you a little bit of money if you don’t use us.”

Shawn:

Yeah.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

And so he’s like, “Nope, not going to do it.” So I stood up, shook both of their hands and said, “Well, you know, this isn’t the project for us.” I left and I was like, “Well, that sucks, but those aren’t the clients for me.”

Well the architect, or the designer I mean, I called her and I was like, “Hey,” I was like, “You need to qualify your clients a little bit, I don’t know who provides hard bids based on that information, but whoever they’re talking to, you know, that’s not how me and most of the other contractors are working. We’re not going to go, you know, hard bid something that’s not guaranteed and I’m not going to get anybody else involved in that.”

And she’s like, “I’m sorry.” She’s like, “They have it in their minds and they’re stubborn, and will you please help us out on this one? We really want you.” And I was just like, “I don’t know.” So they’ve sent me the revised set of plans, like the next set, and they’re like, “Can you look at this project? We really want you to be involved in it.” And I guess the owners backtracked on that, and I don’t know, it’s sitting in my inbox and I don’t know where to go with it.

Shawn:

Did the project, now that you have a little bit more detail, get more expensive?

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

I haven’t looked at it in that much detail. I don’t think so. I think it’s just more of what they were talking about doing is now on paper.

Shawn:

Yeah.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

But I don’t know that the scope has increased from what they told me.

Shawn:

Yeah, but you do have more information now.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Yes.

Shawn:

Not necessarily about the project, about these two that you would potentially have to work for. Guess what? The price just went up.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Yup.

Shawn:

So just look at the plans and be honest, look at the plans. Call the designer back and say, “Yeah, I glanced over it. It looks like it’s a little bit more, now that we have some more information, it looks like the project’s going to be north of $400,000, that’s kind of the number that I told them. I don’t know that if they want to spend that or not, and if they’re still going hard bid route or whatever, we’re really not interested in it, but I can confident confidently tell you, professional to professional, that it’s probably north of $400,000 for the right contractor to do it.” I don’t think that we’re interested in it, but I’m just giving you this number to help your client.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Right.

Shawn:

That’s what I… run from this project. When someone shows, like I was talking to a client yesterday and saying, “Your customers don’t understand that everybody tries to put their best foot forward at the first meeting.” Right? Like you’re trying to say here’s what we can do and here’s our experience and this is a great project. See, that’s you putting your best foot forward. Even though you may be picking up on a couple of things that you’re like, “Oh gosh, these guys are kind of picky.” Their best foot forward is a foot on your neck.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Right.

Shawn:

Like, if that’s how they’re starting out the job, it’s just going to get worse in the job. You run away from this project.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Yeah.

Shawn:

But you can, but use it. Use the relationship with the designer and say, “Frankly we are not interested in this job. But I spent about an hour going over the plans and it reaffirmed what I saw out in the field. In fact, I think the price is going up. It’s probably more about 425, 450, but I’m just telling you that because I like working with you and I really appreciate you.”

And you repeat it again, we are not interested in this project. In fact, I think your clients are going down the wrong path by bidding it out because they still don’t have all the information, and frankly it seems like they want to run the job. If they want to run the job, what are they hiring a contractor for?

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Right.

Shawn:

But I don’t want, you know, it just doesn’t make sense. “It’s not a good fit for us, but gosh, I really appreciate you giving us the opportunity. Any other projects that you want to look at with,” you know, or you say, “Hey, maybe next time if you want to bring us in on the project, it’s okay if you say hey, I want you to talk to these guys. Now, they have a little bit different system, but I think this system is something you should hear them out on in their pre-construction and how they walk their clients.”

Get this designer to set you up in the future. Designers are almost as bad as contractors as making money. You know, they’d give away their time and work for free too a lot of times.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Yeah. It’s like this one sounds like a big project, and if they’re doing it, like for this design, it’s probably a big project if she’s drawing it. Usually the architect draws it and they’re just picking tiles. And so it’s probably a big one for them, which they’re allowing these guys to do things differently that they wouldn’t normally do because it’s a big project for the designers also.

Shawn:

Yeah, well, and the designers too, you gotta be careful. Sometimes they want to make all the money on the high end, you know, fixtures and stuff. And so

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Yup, yup. Oh yes, I’m well aware of those situations.

Shawn:

So I, you know, but that’s what you deal with high end designers. You’re just like, “Yeah, then I’m not pricing it.” If I’m not touching it and I’m not making money on it, I can’t be responsible for it. You get it here and coordinate it and we’ll stick it in. We’ll charge for the installation of it.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Right.

Shawn:

But…

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

We’re not picking it up or delivering it, you’re uploading it, you’re signing for it. You’re… Yeah.

Shawn:

Yeah, exactly. And you’re also delivering me the specifications three months before because we gotta lay this stuff out on the wall, and the blocking, and all that kind of stuff. If you do all of that, no problem. If you don’t want to do any of that, that’s no problem either. We charge $95 an hour.

So it’s totally up to you, you know? And they say, “Well, I make money on the countertops.” Great. Then we’ll lay out the cabinets and install the cabinets and we’ll tell you they’re ready to go and you get the countertops installed. Not a problem for us.

[ CONTRACTOR ]:

Yup, absolutely.

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END TRANSCRIPT

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IMPROVE YOUR CONFIDENCE AS A CONSTRUCTION BUSINESS OWNER

Do you want to make more money, streamline your construction business, and get your life back?

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download my FREE book: The Paperwork Punch List

Shawn Van Dyke is a construction industry consultant, business coach, and mentor to construction business owners.  He is a Brand Ambassador for Fine Homebuilding, travels across the US as a keynote speaker, seminar presenter, and the author of two books – Profit First for Contractors and The Paperwork Punch List: 28 Days to Streamline Your Construction Business.

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