“Click here for your free estimate.” Does this phrase appear on your website? Are you one of the thousands of remodelers who use this promotion to generate inquiries?

If you’re offering free estimates as a purposeful marketing tactic, then more power to you. But if you hate driving around giving free estimates—and think you don’t have a choice—then read on.

Value Your time

When I suggest that remodelers charge for estimates, I typically receive one of two responses:

  1. If I charged for estimates, I’d lose 70% of my leads.
  2. All my competitors give free estimates, so I have to as well.

First, let’s address the concern about losing leads.
You know that providing an accurate price for a job can take hours, depending on project size and scope. But, to prove a point,

let’s say that it takes around 45 minutes to knock out an estimate. Going by the numbers above, you’d spend 71/2 hours estimating for 10 leads. Assuming that you don’t email the price, let’s add in a 30-minute round-trip for each project to deliver the estimate. Plus, there’s the 30 minutes needed to present the price to the prospect—and I’m being conservative here. In all, you have just spent 17 1/2 hours of your week on “free” work.

The core element of any marketing strategy is to differentiate your company from the competition. Simply doing everything that your competitors are doing breaks the single most fundamental law of marketing.

At Remodeler’s Advantage, we expect you to work no more than 48 hours per week. But let’s say that you work 60 hours (after all, you have a lot of free estimates to get out). That means you have just spent 30% of your week on free estimates.

On the flipside, assume that you had charged for the above estimates and, as a result, only three of the 10 leads opted to follow through on the project. Even if you now spend three hours (instead of 45 minutes) on the estimates, you would have spent 30% less time. Plus, you would have generated revenue.

Charging for estimates should cause your close rate to skyrocket. The three leads we’re talking about have already spent money with you, so the likelihood of them wasting that investment and starting over with someone else is low.

Move Away From the Pack

“But all of my competitors offer free estimates.” This is by far the most common argument I hear when remodelers defend their free-estimate policy. I have two thoughts on this.

First, the core element of any marketing strategy is to differentiate your company from the competition. Simply doing everything that your competitors are doing breaks the single most fundamental law of marketing.

Second, charging for estimates when your competitors provide them for free naturally moves the conversation to self-adulation.

Think about it: The prospect calls your office about a project, and when you mention that you charge for the estimate, he or she will inevitably be curious as to why you’re charging for this when the competition is not. This is an invitation for you to tell the homeowner exactly what sets you apart and makes your company great.

Ditch the Doubt

I could give you a list of dozens and dozens of remodelers in the U.S. and Canada who charge for their estimates. But there will still always be a handful of naysayers who won’t budge on their view that having prospects pay for estimates is “impossible in my area.”

For the doubters who won’t break, let me offer an alternative: Differentiate estimates from proposals. That way, you can keep the free estimate button on your website because you are now charging for proposals.

Once you’ve received the project description, you say, “OK Mr. Jones, based on what you’ve told me, you can expect the project to come in at between $100,000 and $160,000.”

There you go. You’ve just provided a free estimate. Assuming that the homeowner is still on the phone and didn’t gasp, scream, or pass out, you can now offer to give him a full-blown proposal price, which will be deducted (optionally) from the project price if the homeowner chooses to work with you.