One of the things I’ve always had to do as a landscape architect is make recommendations to my client as to which contractor I believe is right for their project. This is not always an easy task, it’s a combination of things, and something I don’t take lightly; my reputation is on the line, the same way the successful contractor’s will be, if they win the job.
I’ve very rarely shared the following information with pool builders and landscape contractors, for the most part because none of the ones I’ve worked with have ever asked me for feedback, or even for some helpful pointers (besides pricing) to boost their chances before the tender. I guess most of you assume you know what I’m looking for. This article might shed some light, or some shade on that assumption.
First of all, let me express my understanding that I know you are a busy person and that it takes additional time and even willpower to get through the quotation process. Even though it’s the last thing you feel like doing after a heavy day, you get back to the office in the afternoon and make the commitment to tackle some paperwork. One of your jobs for the week is to price a job that’s been waiting for you in your inbox for a week, possibly more.
I also know that you’re not always fussed if you win a new job, but because the future is always uncertain and anything could happen between now and when you actually find out if you get the job anyway, it’s best to have as many pots on the stove as you can.
So you spend the whole night and some time over a couple of weekends putting together a price and a quote and send it back to the landscape architect, or the architect or developer and wait to see what happens.
I’m sitting at my desk trying to get a set of construction details completed so my landscape contractor can ignore them or leave them in the truck when he starts work (come on, let me have a dig!) and I receive your quote along with one or two others in my inbox.
The Client calls me up yet again to find out how I’m going with the costing of her project. I let her know I‘ve received them and I’ll be back with my recommendation by the end of the week. I’ve got to find the time to go through your quote and the others, and find a way to understand how each has been priced so I can effectively compare “apples with apples” and then make a recommendation.
In fact, my recommendation is not determined only by the quote in front of me, but a whole lot of things, many of which have already been going on in the leadup. I can’t speak for all designers who need to do this (for any designer-folk reading this, would love to compare notes.. Leave a comment!), so the following is just my experience. Anyway, enough of the prelude..
Here is a list of ten reasons why I would recommend your company to my Client over another:
1. Capacity and
It goes without saying that I’m going to feel more confident in recommending someone whose work I have seen, that has the capacity and ability to actually deliver the type of work that is featured in the design and who is able to demonstrate that if given the job, they will produce an outstanding result. In the context of this discussion, this is just the beginning.
2. Quoted cost and value for money
Having been a landscaper and worked for a pool builder myself, I understand not only how a project comes together, but how it might be costed as well. My job is to act in the best interests of my Client; it’s worth keeping in mind that not only are they paying me good money for design, they also entrust me to exercise my knowledge and judgment to determine whether the costs and value for money being presented are a good deal for them. What I find difficult to deal with and rarely appreciate is a contractor who is clearly pricing a job on feel, rather than substance. The honest way to price a job is by determining its cost and multiplying it by the margin you can reasonably apply to each item, not by looking at the value of the car parked in the driveway. It annoys me when people say they priced something to “see what they can get away with”.
3. Invitation to view work and client testimonials.
The people who are truly able to vouch for the quality of your work, value for money and the experience of working with you, are your past customers. One of the most powerful things that can sway my decision is an invitation to contact a Client and request a site visit to look at the work you’ve produced. This level of confidence and the positive relationship you have built with a previous customer is much respected and incredibly persuasive.
4. In house capabilities and minimal subcontracting.
Pure and simply, projects which are more or less “Project Managed” with numerous subcontractors coordinated to complete the specified works almost always suffer in quality, cost and delivery than those which are undertaken by crews of skilled, dedicated contractors who know their own capability and exhibit an air of competitiveness between their own team members to do things right. Both swimming pool and landscape construction companies that have greater in-house capabilities are generally perceived in a much better light than those who outsource all the important resources in a project in order to be able to undertake more projects simultaneously.
[UPDATE June 2018 ] Since I wrote this article, I believe some things have changed with regard to subcontracting. Company sizes are shrinking in the construction game, while long term working relationships with trusted subcontractors (sometimes even former employees) are on the rise as everyone trends towards future-proofing their businesses by maintaining a compact staffing structure. It is totally possible to deliver high quality work with the right combination of management and reputable subcontractors.
5. Prompt correspondence
If you want to stay in my good books, I expect a phone call or an email to be returned within 2 business days. As you know, a problem can be resolved sooner and less painfully with a simple honest phone call. To avoid questions or to delay your response under the guise of being “busy” shows poor business ethic and a lack of commitment to assist others. Keeping an eye on your phone or email account and responding to queries, concerns or praise is paramount to nurturing a positive relationship between your business and mine.
6. Transparency and honesty to enquiries
As I mentioned, I’ve been a landscaper and a pool builder in the past, so I have at least some experience of what your job entails. To that end, it always amuses me when contractors use poorly thought through excuses in an attempt to pull the wool over MY eyes. Honesty is a much better approach, if you’re having difficulties understanding the plans or if there is something that is bothering you, it would be much better to express this as soon as possible, rather than waiting until it’s too late.
7. A well presented quotation
When I receive a quotation that is little more than an email featuring the line “Quote to supply and install X is $Y as per drawing” I literally cringe.
You may not realize it, but a piece of correspondence like that tells me you are probably lazy, disinterested and looking for the quickest way out. At the other end of your quotation is a paying client who has worked hard for the money you are asking for and I believe that deserves a basic level of diligence and respect. From my role in assessing quotations, I find it difficult to accept quotes like this because they simply don’t provide enough information. As a bare minimum, on every quotation I expect to see the name of your business, your contact details and business registration number. I think the date of quotation is important. I then need to see a description of the work you are going to undertake which will demonstrate that you have actually looked at the drawings, and lastly a list of any further inclusions, exclusions, provisional sums or conditions that will allow for unforeseen circumstances. After these essential items, things like a logo, neat set-out with itemized categories and headings and so on all earn you bonus points in my books. This sort of attention to detail and professionalism is something I will assume is carried through your work. No doubt you are a professional, but it’s difficult to see this on a bare quote with few details.
8. A site inspection
This is not always essential, but regardless of that, I feel much more comfortable in the knowledge that you have attended the site. Even if it’s just a look over the fence. As a skilled contractor you will be able to see things that I completely miss. I always see opportunities and I guess you could say, you will identify potential issues. If I know you have been to the site, there is a good chance I can rest easy in the knowledge that two of us have now confirmed it’s possible to build the proposed design.
9. Well written emails
Well written emails are an early indication to me of how you will communicate with the Client. Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation show me that you’re able to communicate well and will present well to the Client too. Some contractors I’ve dealt with in the past have a chip on their shoulder that good english somehow equates to being “stuck up” or snobbish. To me good english equates to professional service and a team that is pleasant to have on site; we can all swear and be gruff and carry on as any man does, that’s easy. As with the well presented quotation, a well written email demonstrates that you respect our working relationship and the transaction of exchanging someone’s money for your services. The best part about this is that most email programs have a built-in spelling and grammar correction tool so it’s not a huge ask.
10. Problem solving for free
This is something most contractors are really good at, and I’ve always appreciated it. I often need to ask the opinion of the people who will be installing the work to make sure certain details or construction methods are feasible. I have in the past encountered those who aren’t interested in offering “value” up front, but rather deflect questions about the details until they have a signed contract in front of them. That’s fair enough in some respects but sometimes you need to pay it forward in order to build trust. Once you’ve built trust, you win work, it’s that simple.
What are your thoughts on these deciding factors? Are they all something you are conscious of in your dealings with architects, landscape architects and garden designers? Are you a designer with a different take on the subject?
Please leave your comments and we can keep this conversation going.