Starting out - Problem customer?

Discussion in 'Business Operations' started by Doogiegh, Apr 14, 2002.

  1. Doogiegh

    Doogiegh LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 871

    Ok, i'm just starting out this year and got my first 2 jobs today. Both were spring clean-ups and mow, both very small residential customers. I visited both customers earlier in the week, talked very specifically about what they wanted done, and agreed about what they wanted done now, and then plans for the future. No contract was sign, but I wrote down what they wanted so I knew what the heck was going on. <G>

    First one went great, customer was home, game me my money, liked the job I did and that was that. I'll probably be able to make her a weekly mowing account, works for me fine. In addition, I feel that I bid this job properly and earned a "fair wage" for the job that was to performed. I've carefully reviewed by expenses and what I need to make, and I felt very good leaving there.

    Went on to the second customer who was not home (they told me they would not be so I knew that going in). I'm out in the backyard, yard looked like it hadn't been mowed in a long long time, so I wound up triple-cuttng it. Grass was so long I had to cut once at the highest deck height, then again, followed by the last cut that was bagged and I took the clippings away, I have a place to dump, no problem there.. This turned out to be much much more work than I had expected, but it had rained earlier so the grass was wet, led to clumping so the reason for the 3 cuts..

    Anyway, as I'm doing my work, next door neighbor guy approaches me and says what's up.. After the formalities he tells me that this customer has had 2-3 previous lawn guys there, and she's stiffed every one of them because the customer is gonna find something 'wrong' with the job I did, somehow, someway and isn't gonna pay me. Now I'm freaking mad to no end, cause the job I totally underbid on, but I'm stuck. If I don't do the job 100%, then she could say I didn't do it all and therefore not pay.. So I'm stuch doing all the work as best as I can, knowing that I very well might not get paid for any of it.. Now, raking leaves off the fence line, out from under the bushes, followed up with a mow, trim and blow is basic stuff.

    I tell him thanks for the info, and go about my business as best as I can. Should I of packed up my materials 1/2 way through a job because of a strangers 'hear-say' to me? What is it's the neighbor that's not truthful or doesn't know the whole story. Could of been the previous 2-3 lco's were 17 year old kids who did a terrible job, and not worthy of the money to begin with.. I don't know.......

    About 10 minutes later, just so happens that a lady pulls up in the neighbors driveway. She looks over to me and starts to say the same exact thing (non-payment for 2-3 previous guys). I asked her if she was the guys wife (who had warned me not 10 minutes earlier) and sure enough, she was. And she goes on to says that alot of the neighborhood knows her act. She calls people in April to cut the grass and do a spring clean up, doesn't pay and then will do the same thing in September after the grass is 14 inches high again... I know that it seems grass really only gets to be "so tall" until it falls over on it's side and kinda stops growing.. 12-16 inches seems to be about max.. So a twice yearly mowing sure would be a ******, wouldn't it?

    I left the customer their invoice in the mailbox that I had made up the previous day on the computer ahead of time. The invoice detailed exactly what I had done as described earlier in the week, amount owed, where to mail payment, etc etc.

    I also had put on the invoice that if you're not completly satisfied with my performance, please contact me within 24 hours of service to discuss.

    So far, I haven't heard from her. But I still have Sunday to go.

    And being that I left her an invoice, should I ride past the house tommorow to "collect' and then drop her like a hot potato just on what the neighbors told me? I have no reason to believe the neighbors would make up this 'slander' for no good reason.

    If she *does* call me to complain, for what I'm not exactly sure what it would be, what's the best way to get the money that she owes me already before doing any more work?? I am being eaten alive that this is my second account and I *already* might be beaten out of money.. I've been doing as much research on here about every possible topic since last summer so I can do things right and now this. (unexpected).

    Any ideas or tips?

  2. garydale

    garydale LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 813

    Wait till you hear from customer!!

    Stop worring about what might happen.

    Note to self: Next time you come across a neglected lawn get a 50% deposit before you start.

    It's going to happen,you know it is, we all know it is. PLan for it cover your ass and "STOP WORRYING SO MUCH!>
  3. Stonehenge

    Stonehenge LawnSite Bronze Member
    from Midwest
    Posts: 1,277

    She likely won't call to complain - that's your rule, not hers.

    There are some lessons that are learned best when learned the hard way - I learned one like that to the tune of about $7,000 almost 3 years ago. Still in court over it.

    If it was a small residential, do whatever you legally can to collect, but learn all you can from the experience, like getting signed contracts, and deposits on projects that sound fishy. Or learn to recognize them before you contract with them, and never do work for them to begin with (this is one of the things I learned with lesson I mentioned above).
  4. SCL

    SCL LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 543

    I've had a couple of problems like this. Last one this guy I know calls and wants a retaining wall. Tell him we can do it and I'll get him a written estimate. He says he doesn't need one just be "fair". I gave him a ballpark and left. Next he calls and upgrades to a more expensive rock and I give him another ballpark on the upgrade. Then the day before we start he calls and tells me there's an underground wire to his pool, so we have to hand dig the footing and not use the backhoe. We found an underground rain drain with the backhoe and had to fix during, and taking out the old wall was extra and this was discussed upfront. Get done and got $1500 of a $2900 bill. Says his lawyer fighting his ex..blah blah. I cut him some slack.. 1 month later another $500, then 2 months later another $300. And that's it, sucker still owes $600 and won't return calls and can't catch him home. A month after I started his ex's boyfriend, who is a friend of mine and a local mower, Asks if I got stiffed, and says this guys telling everyone I screwed HIM. Then tells me he does this to contractors all the time. Live and learn. By the way, filing the paperwork next week.
  5. heygrassman

    heygrassman LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 509

    Assume the customer will pay until they don't. If they don't start collecting. If they still do not pay, mechanics lien against the house. You will get paid eventually..

  6. Stonehenge

    Stonehenge LawnSite Bronze Member
    from Midwest
    Posts: 1,277


    If he's telling people you did him wrong and hurting your company name, you have nothing to lose in getting ugly with him.

    My personal preference is to write him off - the time spent chasing this money would be better spent getting new work. And it'll likely result in more than $600 in profit.

    But otherwise, the only thing a customer like that can hold over your head is telling people bad things about you. Like when I worked at an insurance company. When people threatened to go to the media, we listened very intently. When they said they already went to the media, we had nothing to gain by making them happy, and we took out the screws.

    Since there's no written contract, who's to say the agreement didn't also include a "we tear everything down if you don't pay" clause. 2 minutes with a skid steer and he's back to square one.

    But like I said, my preference would be to write it off. Blood pressure stays lower that way.:angry:
  7. LawnLad

    LawnLad LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 738

    It should be expected that you get paid for your work - and it's the assumption you have to operate on.

    However, if you have bad debt or uncollectibles, I would recommend pursuing them and not just letting them go. If you can get a reputation in some circles for quality work, you can get a reputation for not collecting all your money on a job.

    I'd rather have those that play games know they can't play 'em with me. Don't be shy about asking for money or telling people what your terms are up front and that you expect timely, prompt payment according to your terms. You shouldn't be thankfrul for the job and then thankful when you get paid from them. You should just expect to be paid when you complete the job.
  8. Stonehenge

    Stonehenge LawnSite Bronze Member
    from Midwest
    Posts: 1,277

    LL, I'm with you.

    Except that I try to remove emotion from these scenarios as best I can (which it sounds like you also do), and try to decide on the most cost-effective decision at that time.

    While that may result in a reputation of non-collection, I question whether deadbeats talk to eachother, enabling growth of that reputation.

    What's more, maintaining the reputation of collecting every penny might end up being more costly than it's worth, in filings, attorneys fees, lost time, etc.

    I should qualify what I say in this case: we have 70% of our money the day we start, and have a net 15 policy for the remaining 30%. Day 15 results in a phonecall to see if everything is OK. From there we try to make everything move quickly to resolution. It's at that point I make that call. If it looks like it's going to be an expensive $600 to collect, I just stop hounding them.
  9. LawnLad

    LawnLad LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 738

    I would agree - I don't think there is a Co-Op of stiffs and non-payers out there.

    However, there is the, "I know a guy that will give you a deal" type conversation between friends/aquantances. Those customers who share names of contractors that will just arbitrarily cut prices so the customer thinks they're getting something for nothing - are often slower to pay and you'll have increased collection problems. Is this scientific - no. But since I got away from and have steered away from customers like this, I haven't had a collection problem in five years.
  10. Stonehenge

    Stonehenge LawnSite Bronze Member
    from Midwest
    Posts: 1,277

    I'm with ya.

    Raising prices, clamping down on receivables and filtering leads a little better have all led to almost zero collection problems for us in the last couple years (with the exception of the tremendous aforementioned learning experience ).

    I think there's almost a vortex of frugal, ill-intentioned customers that, when you price things/cut prices to their liking, you always end up with referrals from those folks, and you think that's the way you have to do it, because they really squawk when you raise prices, seemingly keeping you in that price range, and among the people who can't justify a $5 difference in price.

    But you raise prices enough and it seems you get ejected from the vortex, into a place where people value good work, and respect you as much as you do them. And you feel better about going the extra mile for them, because neither payment (nor margin) are in question anymore.

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