It’s A Lot of Work

I recently got a bid for trimming the trees at my home. The price was higher than I expected, and when I said so, the contractor said, “It’s a lot of work.”

While his statement might be true, it did nothing to change my mind. I had my trees trimmed about eight years ago, and the price was about half what this contractor wanted. Telling me that it was a lot of work didn’t explain why I should pay so much more.

I wanted to know what additional value I would receive by paying a higher price. When two jobs (or companies) look the same, most of us will buy on price. But when more value is offered, we are often willing to pay more.

The same holds true of our customers. If we want to charge more, we must offer more value. And then we must communicate that value.


Contractors often fret over customers who want to negotiate the price of a painting job. Personally, I love customers who want to negotiate. It means that they want to buy from me, and we just have to work out mutually beneficial terms.

Negotiations are simply a process of give and take. The customer wants us to give up something on price. The customer should also give up something—lower quality of materials or a reduced scope of work.

However, contractors often view negotiations as a one-way street. They think that they have to be the only one giving. If we view negotiations that way, then it is understandable that we would dislike negotiating. But if we view them as a chance to create a mutually beneficial trade, we can make both parties happy.

The Why Determines the What

Too often, we show up to give an estimate for a painting job and assume what the customer wants. After all, they called us for a painting estimate. But until we know why they called, we can’t really determine what they need or want.

Just last week, a customer told me that he wanted all of his fascia and soffit boards replaced. When I showed up, I asked him why he wanted so much repair work. He replied that he just assumed that, given the condition of his house, it would be required. His primary reason for calling was to do the maintenance he had been neglecting.

I soon discovered that less than 10 percent of his fascia and soffit were actually in need of replacement. I could have bid the job he originally asked for. But that isn’t what he needed or wanted. It would have cost a lot more money.

It would have been a different story if he had said that he wanted to bite the bullet and put on Hardi so that he’d never have to worry about rotted wood again. His “why” would have been much different. And that would have changed what I bid.

As it was, I bid what he needed and really wanted. I got the job.

The Customer Ain’t Always Right

We have all heard the adage that the customer is always right. Even when they are wrong. I’m sorry to burst that bubble, but when they are wrong, they are wrong. And pretending otherwise won’t serve anyone well.

If we pretend that the customer is right, we put ourselves in the position of catering to the customer’s every whim. And that will never turn out well.

The best way to avoid being in that position is to train the customer before work ever begins. Explain what you expect of her. If you don’t want other tradesmen around when you are working, explain that and put it in your contract.

One of the biggest sources of problems between contractors and customers is unrealized expectations. But that is a two-way street. The customer has expectations, and we should try to uncover them. If they are reasonable, then we should endeavor to meet them. If they aren’t reasonable, we should try to change the expectations or walk away.

And then we must inform the customer of our expectations. If we don’t do that, we shouldn’t be surprised when the customer fails to meet them.

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