How to make the SMART move when choosing a contractor.

Self Portrait As A Stressed-Out Bride To Be Choosing a contractor is tough, real tough.  Most people don’t know where to start, so they do a quick Google search and get lots of bids.

Let me tell you, that process is a sure fire way to fail. 

When someone asks for a bid, what they’re really saying is “price is my biggest concern.”  What they end up getting is a bunch of numbers from contractors who don’t value their own time enough, and spend more time bidding work than doing work.  Do you know what else you get when you choose the lowest-bid contractor? Nothing.

Don’t get me wrong; it IS important to understand how much a project will cost before signing anything.  What I mean is that there is a difference between budgeting a job and shopping a job.

I stopped giving free estimates a while ago. (I won’t tell you when because, frankly, I’m ashamed it took me so long to “get it”).  For years I couldn’t figure out why I was losing job after job, even after I thought I’d put on a great sales presentation and given a solid bid.

What I came to realize is that, for the most part, I’d lost these jobs before I’d even stepped onto the client’s property.  And that by giving a “free estimate”, I’d actually de-valued myself and my company because I’d given no value to my prospective client.

Now, this article is about choosing a contractor, not being a contractor, so let’s get back on track.

In order not to fail as a consumer of contracting services, you need to start asking different questions.  That begins by understanding that while price is a factor in any purchase, it is seldom the most important.

Question 1: What is my pain?

What is the problem that you’re asking a contractor to solve for you? Be specific and go deep (stay with me here).  If you tell me your house needs painting, is it because you don’t like the color? Or is it because the existing paint is falling off and the rain is eating your siding?  Both may require painting, but the later may mean that there are additional items to be addressed before a coat of paint in applied.

Question 2: Which contractor has the best plan to make my pain go away?

You begin to answer this question during your phone/email/Facebook/whatever interview with prospective contractors.  Instead of wasting everyone’s time by asking for another “estimate”, start to ask how they would solve your particular problem.

Use this time to educate yourself on all the possible ways to fix it.  Take the opportunity to learn something new. 

You’ll quickly discover that the contractors who truly care about quality and customer service are the ones who take the time to explore the options with you.

There are always more ways than one to skin the proverbial cat.  Every contractor has their own particular approach.  So find the flavor your like, and then make your decision.

Elevated Pain

I’ll end this article with a story, and the reason I decided to write about this particular subject today.

I was recently hired to manage a painting project for a condo association.  I was brought in mid-stream, after there were several bids on the table. 

My task was to choose the “right” contractor for the job, and then supervise the project to completion.

This particular condo is unique in that it the majority of the building hangs off a cliff overlooking downtown Portland.  The only portion of the building at “ground level” is the entrances to the units and parking spaces. 

The rest of this two story structure is anywhere from thirty to FIFTY feet off the ground.  This poses a particular problem when performing any kind of exterior repairs, including painting from a ladder.

The bids were all over the map.  The highest was $26,000, which included $13,000 of scaffolding. 

The lowest was $5,600 with scaffolding “BY OTHERS.”  Naturally I started with the two in the middle (who were still $9,000 apart).

Two phone calls later I’d found my winner.  This particular painter had looked at the project and seen the same thing that I’d seen: we had an access problem, not a painting problem.  He had taken it upon himself to search out another contractor who specializes in scaffolding, and had received a bid from them which he included in his proposal. 

Simply: he felt my pain.

Instead of finding scaffolding and setting it up himself, like the other painters were proposing, he freely admitted that he was not a scaffold expert and found someone who was.  He solved my problem, instead of just giving me a painting bid.

My Resource

Now I’ve got TWO more contractors to put in my Rolodex, err, phone that I can use and refer to future clients.  That painter showed me his willingness to provide value, and won my business going forward.

And the kicker is that he could have bid $4,000 higher and I’d have made the same choice.



Photos: Brittney Bush Bollay via Compfight ,  Joseph Staska via Compfight