29 Jun 10 Behavior Clues for Pros to consider before accepting a Landscape Lighting Design Build Client
By Mike Gambino
Behavior clues that help you decide whether you want to work with a landscape Lighting Design Build Client or Not.
Last week’s blog focused on Behavior clues of potential landscape lighting design /build clients. Many Landscape Lighting Designer/Builders have issues weeding out the good opportunities from the mismatches when it comes to accepting a client to work together with on a project. Clients may have never done a remodeling project, and not know how to select a Pro, or they may care more about the price than the result. And new contractor professionals may just not have enough experience to aid them in avoiding problem clients or projects.
There’s a constant theme of questions on contractor message boards about how to deal with wacky customers who don’t pay, or who have unrealistic expectations, or tell you to use the restroom at the gas station down the street. The answer is to Fire Them in Advance. Don’t take jobs from clients that don’t pass these tests. If you do decide to, despite their failing score, make it financially worthwhile and build in all of the anticipated lost time and aggravation dealing with them. Here are 10 first meeting clues that your future client should pass before entering into a landscape lighting design/Build agreement.
This is information that each side needs to know about the other. Both the Customer and the Pro need each other. And they want to make an equitable exchange of services for money. But each also needs to understand when their behavior sends the other party in search of someone else.
Hopefully this article sparks some awareness and self reflection on both sides.
10 Clues to Consider if Your Potential Client is a Good Match.
Clue #1. Will the Client meet after hours or on weekends including Sundays or will they only set an initial appointment from M-F, 9-5 and are rigid and inflexible with their time, even scheduling 2 weeks out, if so they won’t be able to be flexible with anything on a project. Landscape Lighting projects demand flexibility and clients must be available to provide guidance and feedback during the build.
Clue #2 Are they punctual with keeping their appointment? Or are you left standing on the doorstep with no one home? And no phone call? Instant disqualification. Scheduling mix-ups should never happen in today’s world of smart phones and in the case of shared electronic calendars and invitations to meetings from them. It may indicate they are disorganized or just plain don’t respect your time.
Clue #3. Do they demand that you take off your clean street shoes? Not muddy work boots. when they have no carpeted surfaces. Do they seem nervous and caution you against brushing walls or knickknacks? Do they treat humans as less important than objects? If their home is a museum that needs ropes around the traffic path, then that had better trigger a sense in you that they are probably going to be as uptight with the exterior of their home as well. These may not be deal breakers but you’d better build into the price the potential extra care and potential stress you’ll need to deal with when digging in their garden.
Clue #4. Do they show a sense of motivation? Do they invite you to go over their ideas? refer to Website or portfolio photos, Magazine clippings? A doodle sketch? Have they done any homework at all before your meeting? If you are their first attempt at research without their doing any due diligence on their own, then it’s a probably going to be a waste of your time to try to get them over sticker shock and fantasy HGTV or home improvement boxed lighting kit expectations. Perhaps a discussion of budget expectations or ballpark estimate over the phone before a site meeting might be a qualifier before you invest your time.
Clue #5 . Does the customer offer you a seat at the kitchen table to discuss the show and tell of the above? Offer something to drink? Treat you like a human being and a guest in their home? Or are you the hired help and expected to awkwardly stand around or lean against a wall and try to view their computer screen while balancing a note pad, portfolio book and fixture samples?
Clue #6. Is the client willing to discuss an estimated budget range for their project? Pay a design consultation fee if they don’t buy (this should have been discussed and agreed to before setting an appointment)? Have they done any research at all on project costs beyond fantasy TV shows? “You tell me!” Is NOT an acceptable answer for a question about their research into the budget. If the Scope discussed in the conversation is at odds with the budget, or the neighborhood, there is no need to spend more time past a ballpark estimate, or even give them a formal proposal with design specifications and equipment lists and quantities. Certainly provide no design work if it’s clear that you will not be the one building it. Yes, that may make them angry. But, eventually, after they hire the hack, or do more research, they may appreciate the honesty. If they don’t, then don’t lose any sleep over it, this is a business and not a hobby. If, price is the only thing they care about, and you don’t deal with house flipper mentality well, Let them go. Find that out early. Do not waste time creating an quote or doing any design work to benefit a competitor only to find a fundamental incompatibility. Get a financial commitment. It’s an immediate qualifier.
Clue #7 Does the customer ask questions outside of just the scope work itself? Do they want to know you, and how you became a landscape lighting design/build contractor, for instance if you are a specialist and not a sideliner? Do they want to know about your experience and past challenging projects? Do they want to know if you are actually on the jobsite at all times working or just a salesperson? No small talk, is not a complete deal breaker, but the fact that they see you as a commodity easily replaceable, and not a valuable seasoned tradesperson, sure can be.
Clue #8 Does the client have an unreasonable deadline included for expecting a quote, or for a project completion date? Do they want a quote tomorrow with no timeline for when they want the project completed? If so then you are probably just a backup quote or comparison quote to one that has already been signed and deposited with another contractor . If they want to discuss a landscape lighting project to be ready before Thanksgiving, and it’s September or October, that may be fine. but if it’s November they probably have an unrealistic expectation or the idea that you are sitting besides the phone waiting for it to ring and you don’t have other jobs. They need to have a realistic time expectation, not a TV one.
Clue #9 How many other Pro’s has the client talked to? 1 or 2 is sensible. 4 or more is them either looking for an unrealistic price, or something else unreasonable. What did the other Pro’s find out that you don’t know yet? That’s when you pass. Or, you build into your price to take precaution for the higher risk. Some of the best and worst clients are those at their wits end from dealing with flakey hacks, who they’ve been burned by before. Either they respect and appreciate you as a professional and accept and happily pay your fee or they don’t trust you because they erroneously think all contractors are alike and they are going to get burned again. Or they will get even with you for the sins of the past contractor. It’s a judgment call. Unrealistic tightwad? Run. Somehow they found a dozen flakes? Proceed with caution. WHY did they find nothing but flakes? Usually it’s because they are cheap and are expecting more for their dollar than is possible.
Clue #10. What kind of experiences have they had with past projects, or past contractor? “Nightmare” stories are rarely just the contractor at fault. Sometimes, it is. But, If every person they have had work at their home is a complaint, they may not be possible to satisfy, and they will complain about you too. If the AC repairman “cheated” them, and the mow and blow guy is “careless”, and the guy who put in the outdoor grill “just stopped answering phone calls”, seriously consider this. If they had a “mostly positive” experience with their deck build, and acknowledged that maybe they owned part of the communication issues that happened, that’s the client you want. Perennially Unhappy people won’t be happy with your work either.
An appointment between a Pro and a Client to discuss a project is a job interview that goes both ways. If a homeowner thinks that just because they have money, that they are king, then that’s not a job that most Pros will want to take without additional compensation to make it worthwhile to endure condescension and entitlement. And if a Pro that thinks that just because he has a license and insurance, gives him reign to be late, sloppy, and disrespectful, he needs to be fired on the front end before he is hired. It won’t get better if you do hire him.
Client/Pro relationships are partnerships. They are built on mutual respect on every level.
This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 20 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.Gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .
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