If you're like most remodeling organizations, you have at one point or another experienced a client with whom, in hind-sight, you regret having ever entered into a contract. In some cases, the project was beyond your competency or comfort zone; other times it was the client's too-demanding personality.
Whatever the causes, a project with the wrong client rarely ends up as positively as a project with the right client. Working with those choice clients usually means higher profits and better projects — not to mention less stress and a more pleasant working environment.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to not merely avoid the wrong client but to ensure that you work only with the “right” client.
Question Everything First, you have to define the most important “right client” characteristics. At our company, the list includes a client mindset that enables us to make a profit and that allows our processes and systems to work the way they were designed to work. We also want clients our production team feels good about serving and people who are cooperative, not combative.
The next step is to create a series of questions to help flush out the right client and reduce your risk of hitching your wagon to a wrong client. Here are some of the questions we try to have answered when talking with prospective clients.
Does the prospect have remodeling experience?
It's difficult to explain the pain of living through a remodeling project to a person who has never lived through one. If they've done it before, their expectations will be more realistic than if they haven't.
Does the prospect take your advice and respect your approach?
Everything will be more difficult with clients who second guess your professional judgment or who tend to gravitate away from your suggestions.
Is your prospect honest?
If this sounds too obvious, think about the number of times you've heard a client tell a story about having gotten the better of someone in a business deal. It could be your turn.
Will you be allowed to control the remodeling process?
If the clients will not follow your process and use your systems, everything will work less efficiently than it should. That will lead to less profit, and maybe worse.
Are your prospects' expectations reasonable and realistic?
If not, you'll probably have to deal with their disappointment and frustration somewhere along the way.
Does your prospect communicate well?
Nine times out of 10, remodeling problems are rooted in a breakdown in communication. Evaluate how well prospects communicate not only with you but with their spouses.
Does your prospect appear to be emotionally stable?
This one can be tough to evaluate, but signs of instability do exist. In remodeling, the work is unpredictable enough without adding an unpredictable homeowner.
Evaluate and Proceed If the answer to all these questions is positive, then proceed aggressively. If, however, the answer to any of them is “maybe” or “no,” you have two choices. Either resolve the issue quickly, or gracefully back away from the project. Any sense of loss you may feel at losing the work will be more than compensated by all the trouble you will have avoided by not accepting a wrong client.
If you use this approach consistently, you'll increase profits and improve team morale. And you'll reduce the amount of stress you feel. That clears the way to growing your business.
—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and the author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program. He can be reached at (301) 229-4600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.