5 Crucial Issues to Consider Before Working with a New Client
As a contractor, you know that time is money…and not every project is worth your while. So here are the top questions to ask a potential client before you invest your time tackling their renovation or remodel, or even creating a bid.
All five issues come down to the client having realistic expectations. A lot of homeowners start off thinking a project will be cheaper or can be completed sooner than is actually feasible. And that’s okay…as long as it’s just a starting point. After all, one of the key reasons they need you is to set and maintain guidelines for the project that are actually doable.
Talk through these crucial issues with potential clients to gauge whether you’re on the same page, or if you’ll have to help them recalibrate their expectations in order to work together successfully. If the client is wedded to an unrealistic timeline, budget, or end result, give taking them on as a new client some serious consideration before you sign a contract on the dotted line.
“What’s your budget?” It’s one of the most important questions you’ll ask a potential client. If a homeowner planning a kitchen remodel on a modest budget has inspiration photos from upscale design magazines of kitchens with custom cabinets and top-of-the-line appliances (A.K.A. “Champagne tastes on a beer budget”), help them understand that either the materials or the price tag for the remodel will have to be adjusted.
You’ll also want to ask the homeowner if they have contingency funds set aside for unplanned expenses and change orders during the course of the project.
Last but certainly not least: you’ll also want to make sure your estimated fee is worth the time you’ll put into managing the job.
Likewise, talk through the general timeline to ensure your potential client isn’t expecting their kitchen to be gutted and remodeled in a month’s time. If they’re counting on work being completed in time for their family’s fixed move-in date or to host Thanksgiving dinner, you want to make sure the timeline is padded well enough to allow for demo, construction, permits, inspections, and unforeseen delays.
Adjusted timelines are simply a fact of life when it comes to construction projects, but it’s crucial for a homeowner to have a realistic idea of how long work will take before a project begins, especially if they’re banking on work being completed by a specific date or event.
Being available for meetings is a two-way street. So whether you’re looking at a relatively short project that will require daily check-ins by phone or text, or a months-long remodel that will call for weekly sit-downs with the homeowner, ask the client about their availability during the course of the project.
Make sure there will be one main contact designated for you to communicate with throughout the process, and when they’ll be available. Maybe you’ll be dealing with a stay-at-home parent who will have frequent availability during the week. Or perhaps the homeowner works around the clock, travels often for work, and will only have a few minutes to chat over the weekends. Whatever end of the availability spectrum they’re on, you’ll want to know before you sign on.
Homeowners can have very different ideas of what their participation in a project will look like. Some don’t have the bandwidth to be involved in the process outside of quick status reports, while others may want to get to know any and all subcontractors working in their home, and keep daily tabs on work as it progresses. Other clients may even want to cut costs by contributing sweat equity like demo or painting work themselves.
Aligning with a homeowner on what their involvement will be on a day-to-day basis can make or break a project, so talk it over before you sign on.
Finally, make sure your potential client is aware of the prep work and disruptions that will come along with their renovation or remodel. All construction comes with some dust and debris, but talk through other issues specific to the project. With a kitchen rehab, that will likely mean relocating all appliances and the contents of the cabinets. Some types of construction will create hazards for kids and children. Others may require the use of chemicals that could be irritants, or that power or water be shut off to the home for a period of time.
Like is so often the case in the world of construction, making sure the homeowner is informed and has a realistic set of expectations in advance of the project will help things run smoothly for both you and your client from beginning to end.