Skip to content
Contractor Fail

Contractor Fail

There comes a time when a project gets too long, too technical, and/or too involved for the average do-it-yourselfer to tackle by himself. It’s at that point, that they will turn to a professional for help. Rest assured, this is not an easy decision. These potential customers of yours are bombarded by local ads, references from friends and family, websites, or simply, contractor trucks they see drive by or parked in neighbors’ driveways. The educated consumer will plot carefully and avoid leaping at the first contractor to bid on their project. Realistically, they will have several would-be candidates state their case of why they’re best fit to get the job done.

Below is a list of the top 10 qualifiers that will separate you, Joe Contractor, from the pack. Follow these suggestions and you should sail through the customer-contractor interview stage; complete the project successfully and ensure an endless wave of happy customers, positive referrals and job security for the foreseeable future.

#1 Punctuality

How better to start this list and the dance of convincing the customer you’re their man (or woman) than on the subject of being punctual? If there is one generalization made about contractors is that they’re never on time. Prove this stereotype wrong by making appointments and sticking to them.

Believe it or not, some contractors feel they’re so booked up with other, more important customers, that this customer can and will understand. They juggle 10 customers, upsetting them all, rather than establishing trust and ensuring a happy outcome with 2 or 3. What this group of contractors is not considering is that the customer most likely had to rearrange work schedules, have someone else pick up the kids and ask the neighbor to feed the dog in order to make an appointment to meet them. The customer is most likely not sitting at home waiting for you to show up, gushing at the chance to hand you their money on your terms.

Start things off right — call the potential customer, set up a day and time that not only works best for them, but one you’ll 100% be able to commit to. Start off on the right foot by practicing these steps when setting up your initial appointment to meet the customer and quote the work estimate.

But that’s just day one. Until the project is completely finished, you should be sure that you (and your crew) are on site every day, following the same schedule. The customer may have questions for you one morning and instead of being reliable and showing up at 8:00 AM as promised, you stroll in at 10:30 and miss an opportunity to connect with and check in on your customer.

Stick to a routine, and if for some reason you can’t make it in on time or need to leave early, give the customer the courtesy of a phone call to let them know. This acknowledges your understanding of their, too, busy schedules and will do wonders in avoiding frustrations.

#2 Put Your Work on Display … Use the Internet

These days, people have lots of options to choose from when it comes to just about anything … which grocery store to use, which line of fabric softener, green and natural vs. traditional, and which contractor to use. One major deciding factor for a growing number of people is being to look them up online and find out more than what they see on a commercial or business card.

Using the internet to promote your business is a must today. It doesn’t need to be the most technologically advanced website out there, but you should be sure to include at least the following:

  • Services: Let prospects know all of the services you offer. While they may be looking for someone to paint a room, they may come to find that you also repair gutters, sparing them a trip to their roof and landing you extra work.
  • Gallery: You know the saying … “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In this case, replace “words” with “dollars”. The more your customer can see for themselves your level of craftsmanship, the more easily sold they’ll be. Try to make sure you have several pictures of each of your services (discussed above) to ensure the customer has a good chance to associate your portfolio to their upcoming project. You might also include video. YouTube is a popular way to embed videos on your site; you can read more on how to do that here or watch a video on it here.
  • References/Testimonials: Use your past and current customer base to help convince prospective clients that your work is top notch. Ask them to write quotes which you intend to publish on your site. You can even go a step further and create video testimonials; you can read more on how to do that using Skype here.
  • Contact: Make sure you provide as many forms of contact as possible, including: cell phone, work phone, email, fax, pager, Skype. You might also include other online places people can contact and follow you including: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. You may also wish to create a contact form on your website where people can submit questions or leave feedback from recent jobs which you can then incorporate into your references/testimonials section.

There are a ton of resources out there for building your web presence and marketing your business online. You can start off by reading John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing. I would also suggest reading Twitter 101 for Business. Yahoo! Small Business still has some helpful information and can get you up and running with your site fairly easily. What this presentation to find out “What the F*ck is Social Media“? Or you might also wish to head over to Technorati and read up/track some of the Small Business blogs.

Again, the supply of information on this subject alone is enough to write a series of books (and they do exist!). It can be overwhelming. Shoot me an email if you need some help with building a website, writing a blog, social/online marketing, SEO practices or basic advertising. It’s not my profession and I have no intention of charging you. I just know what it’s like to be starting from scratch and would be happy to lend a hand.

#3 Appearance

Short and sweet, first appearances are everything. You need to look and act like a professional from the moment you first pull up to the job site. At a minimum, this includes dressing appropriately. Don’t show up covered in dirt, with ripped jean shorts and a Hooters t-shirt. A pair of khakis and a company-branded polo will set a much better first impression. This goes for your workers, too. While most jobs can get messy, make sure your employees are somewhat presentable and keep the truck driver dialogue to a minimum. Also, under no circumstances should you or your staff smoke while on the job. This is a huge red flag to the rest of the world that opts to keep cancer-causing fumes out of their homes and offices.

If possible, take a company vehicle to the job. Seeing a contractor pull up in some old, beat up hoopty is surely a way to set off alarm bells. Customers are hiring professionals, not a deadbeat who lives and works out of their ‘84 Honda pick-up truck.

#4 Competitive & Detailed Pricing

So now that you’ve wooed and impressed your potential sale and showed up on time, it’s time to put an estimate for your services together. Aside from the first impressions, this stage is the most critical. This is the phase where the customer associates their dreams of a new deck or second story addition with the dollars it will cost to get done. There are two key points to nailing the pricing of your work: (1) the competitiveness of your pricing, and (2) the level of detail provided in the quote. Let’s attack them one at a time.

Are you competitive?

Above everything else you’ll read in this article, if your prices are double or triple that of your competition, you will rest-assured not only insult your customer, but find yourself losing out on bids time after time.

Every contractor has their price target where they factor in how much they’d like to profit from the job, minus how much time, effort and money it will cost them to perform a job for the customer. It’s a fairly simply cost-plus model, however some contractors wallets are bigger than their heads and they price jobs out of range.

First, be honest about what your upfront costs will be (see more under “Details, Details, Details” below). From there, factor in the total time you’ll invest and what your rate is. Once you have those two metrics, you’ll have a picture of what you can realistically expect to charge.

It’s also important not to cut yourself short and under-bid. This may also serve as a red flag to the customer, indicating you might use cheap products or unskilled laborers. On your end, if you simply didn’t do your homework and charged too little, you’ll most likely wind up rushing through the project, skimping out on quality and subsequently damaging the perception your customer will have of you.

When you’re first starting off, you might even shop your estimate around to friends, family, other contractors, or professional forums/sites such as or to see if you’re in the right ballpark.

Just keep in mind that the average customer will have at least one or two other competing bids they’re looking at. If you want to get past this point, you need to remain competitive. Be ready to bargain. A savvy customer will pit you against other (real or imaginary) contractor’s price tags. Have a range in mind when you submit your bid, and be prepared to negotiate to a cost that’s acceptable to both you and the customer.

Details, Details, Details

Nothing complicates this process more than a customer getting handed a quote with one line on it that says “Project XYZ: $20,000.00″. If you want to avoid a tennis match between you and the customer of confusion and renegotiations, provide as much information as possible in your quote. At a high level, your quote should have two sections: one for materials and one for service. Within each section, give the lowest level of detail possible. For instance, if you’re installing a new tub for someone, you may want to have the following breakdown:


  • <Brand and model> Tub: $500
  • Wood frame base: $50
  • Wood screws: $5
  • 18-8 Stainless Steel Hex Head Cap Screws: $5
  • Cement foundation: $20
  • Silicone sealant: $5
  • Total: $575


  • Removal of old tub: $100
  • Disposal of old tub at off-site trash dump: $150
  • Lay cement foundation: $50
  • Build wood frame and fasten to wall: $100
  • Install and seal tub: $100
  • Total: $500

Sub-total: $1075.00

Tax: $64.50

Grand Total: $1139.50

Here is a good template I’ve found which spells out the details of the job clearly. This format ensures each and every line item is broken down for the customer to review.

You’ve now left your customer with a highly competitive, detailed price breakdown. No confusion, no need to rework the estimate and potentially lose out to someone that had put in the extra effort off the bat. The customer only need make a Yes/No decision.

#5 Communication

So you impressed the customer enough to win the contract. The rest is on your shoulders to deliver as promised. Communication is a highly underrated tool to keep your customer happy. Most make the mistake (see the Punctuality section above) of missing out on opportunities to connect with their customer and make sure things are going as planned. Catching a concern of theirs early will eliminate grand dilemmas down the road. Whether good or bad, be prepared to openly discuss all elements of the job with your customer. And be ready to talk, whenever the need arises. If it’s first thing in the morning, or late at night, try to remain as reachable as possible. A customer who can’t get in touch with their contractor to discuss a design flaw or a leaking roof will grow agitated quickly, endangering the relationship and the future of the job.

And like any good project manager (that’s part of your job, too), share status (again, good or bad) as it’s happening. This doesn’t mean to call your customer each time a piece of dry-wall goes up, but don’t make them hunt you down. You and your team are unsupervised all day in their personal space. Employ some common sense and pick up the phone at the beginning of each work day to let them know what you have planned. When you’re wrapping up for the day (as long as you’re not becoming a nuisance) give another quick call to let them know how things went and when they’ll next see you. Don’t let them find surprises on their own — if your guys knocked over a Tiffany vase, tell your customer and make sure they know it will be deducted from their invoice.

There will also be times throughout the project that the customer will need help deciding on something. A picket or privacy fence along the driveway? Natural stone or porcelain tiles in the kitchen? Remember, you were hired because you’re the expert. Talk to your customer. Helping to make their decisions easier by offering experience-based suggestions will surely create a lasting bond.

Finally, like we covered in the References/Testimonials section (under Contact), give out as many means of reaching you as possible. Some may prefer to pick up a phone, some may want to meet in person, while others will opt to email. You’re not a doctor and you have your own life. Be upfront and let your customer know the best times to reach you. Be flexible and be available.

#6 Quality Products

Part of the trust a customer bestows in you is your selection of the best (at least better than average) products. Yes, they’re paying you for your service, but also for the materials you use on the job as well as peace of mind that your finished work will hold up over time.

Any GC can head to Home Depot to fill a job’s material list. And nothing against them, but as we all know, Home Depot’s products are often second-rate. Go take a walk down their wood aisle and tally up how many panels of plywood have knots strewn through them or are completely warped and bowing. And what about their fastener supplies? Not much in the way of 18-8, 316 or 410 stainless steel to resist oxidation and corrosion. And it’s rare you’ll ever find bolts with premium-grade strengths; e.g. grade 5, grade 8, etc. What about nails for a siding contract? Are they double hot-dipped galvanized or your run-of-the-mill nails which will surely rust and bleed all over your customer’s siding after the first rain?

Do yourself and your customers a favor .. order your supplies from a reputable supplier, and do your research when it comes to which fasteners are right for the job.

#7 Hiring 101

Let’s pretend for a minute. You know that new HD flat screen that you bought at Best Buy last month? Well, you can’t get your universal remote programmed with it? So what do you do? You call their customer service number. And on this particular support call, you happen to get “Mary” who has zero customer service etiquette, giving you an attitude from the moment the call starts. After 30 seconds, she’s berating you to the point where you hang up in disgust. As important as Best Buy claims quality of customer service is, and as much as they pride themselves on being one of the top retail chains in the US, your negative experience with 1 of their tens of thousands of employees has scorned you. What are the chances you’ll buy your next big appliance from Best Buy? Slim, right?

Now apply that story to your company and the staff you employ. While you, personally, may be a true craftsman, your work is portrayed by the efforts of your entire staff. From your office admin answering calls, to the skilled laborers you have on the job. It may be tempting to hire cheap labor and stuff a few more dollars in your own pocket, but quality and professionalism go a long way. If your company is lean, with only a dozen or so employees, get involved in screening each hire to make sure they come recommended and live up to their hype. Monitor their work for the first few weeks and make sure they know the do’s and don’ts.

As always, your employees will follow your lead. If you show the utmost pride in your work and for your customers, then your staff will to. You want to breed a culture within your workforce that treats your company and your customers with respect, and has pride and ownership in the work they do.

#8 Clean Up – Every Day

I can’t stress this enough, no one likes coming home to a house full of saw dust, tracked in dirt, lunch wrappers and tools strewn all over the place. Sure, some jobs are big and messy, but that doesn’t mean your customer needs to be exposed to all of it after your work for the day is done. Go above what is expected of you, and leave the house as tidy as possible, even if it means breaking 30 minutes early to clean up, it will go a long way.

#9 Follow-up

You finished the job, keeping your customer happy the entire way through .. congratulations! But your work isn’t over. One of the core principles in the world of Sales (guess what, another part of your job is also Sales) is that your warmest leads are not new customers with new projects, but re-engaging and/or up-selling your existing customer base. If you truly impressed your customer, you’ll most likely be their contractor of choice for a lifetime. And not only for their projects, but for their entire network.

Do the right thing and check in with them from time to time. Make sure they’re satisfied with your work, leaving the door open for future work request. And if problems pop up, make sure to let them know that your work is guaranteed and you’ll be happy to respond to any concerns.


You’ve made it! You learned what it takes to be timely. You’ve provided a portfolio to view your past jobs.  You looked (and acted) professional. Your pricing was fair, with no hidden terms. You kept your customer in the know, throughout the job. You used only the best materials. Your staff is professional and takes pride in their work. You’ve cleaned up after yourself, every day. And when the job was complete, you checked in to keep your customer close and happy.

In the end, it comes down to two things: keep your customers happy and perform the work at the level you’d expect someone else to provide to you.

From → Contractors

No comments yet

Leave a reply:

You must be logged in to post a comment.