Halfway through a project that, so far, has been going smoothly the client announces that the molding you recommended — and that he signed off on — is out of scale for the room. Similar scenarios might include the client telling you that the custom-ordered backsplash has to be returned, or that he can get the countertop elsewhere for less. Suddenly you see costly delays and loss of profits in your future.

Steps To Take

Typically there are two sources for these common problems: the Internet is one, and “third-party interference” is the other. The latter is caused by a third party whose interests, if not in direct conflict with yours, sure aren’t helping you. Perhaps it’s a friend who has convinced your client that she needs a quartz countertop, not the granite she already chose. Whichever way, the damage is done, and you’re now in a price war and your clients have lost some confidence in you.

A wedding planner once told me that he’d have problems when clients suddenly called to tell him they had found a cheaper florist or caterer and that he would have to work with that tradesperson. A planner’s projects can go on for a year or more depending on weather, planning cycle, and availability of people and facilities. Sound familiar? The planner eliminated those types of problems with three policy changes:

  • He makes it absolutely clear that if the clients are not going to use his vendors and staff, all guarantees are out the window and any related cost overruns are to be paid by the client.
  • He “refunds” part of the deposit on each material and service purchased; if the client strays, it costs them. For example, a nonrefundable $5,000 deposit is allocated this way: an amount for the planner’s professional services and amounts for each of the subcontracted services or materials he is providing. The deposit is credited on the invoice. If the clients buy something elsewhere for $300, for example, the caterer keeps that same amount out of the deposit. It’s as if you had a nonrefundable deposit down on a new Honda. Would you bother going to a Toyota dealer to look for a car?
  • He does periodic reviews and consistently communicates with clients to make sure they know what they can expect from him and what he expects from them. His clients know that he is on top of things. The competition is shut out and he maintains control of the project.

Now if he could only reinvent the Internet … —Jeff Kida, a designer and kitchen and bath dealer, owns DDS Design Services, in Chicago.

Related articles:

Orderly Change: Managing the change order process

Change Order Management: Creating a system that works

Know Your Lines: Building a thorough estimate