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Dealing with the business of spring

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by Red Shed Landscaping, Apr 25, 2014.

  1. Red Shed Landscaping

    Red Shed Landscaping LawnSite Member
    Messages: 183

    I was wondering how you guys handle the all the calls from people wanting to get estimates/proposal for landscaping, going to look at their yards, doing the proposal and finding time to do the field work?

    Do you get to a certain point where you just say that you can't come for a while or not going to look at their yard until you are somewhat caught up? Right now I have work into August and have been telling people I wouldn't be able do the job until then but that I can come look and get them a proposal.

    Right now I am spending lots of time on looking at places and doing proposal but not being able to do the actual jobs yet. Does it take you guys a while to get an estimate back to them? The majority of my estimates take 4-8 hours each and have 20 to currently do, it takes a lot of time.

    I have been charging more this year and have been getting more of them that I thought I would. Right now its only me until school it out when I get a guy for the summer.

    I called a electrician a couple years ago and they said right away that they couldn't or wouldn't look at what I wanted done for at least 4 months so said ok and called someone else. I feel like that is not a good thing to do but maybe necessary?
  2. BMB Hardscape

    BMB Hardscape LawnSite Member
    Messages: 40

    Yeah I'm currently going through that right now too, it's getting pretty difficult to handle.
    In the beginning of the season before I start any jobs is really the only time I have to go look at jobs and come up with an estimate. Once I start into the season I'm working 12 hours a day seven days a week on the jobsite, then come home and try to get the office work done and spend time with the family.
    So I'm trying to get my wife involved, train her to help on the office stuff, talking with customers and possibly at some point going to look at jobs.
    I'm on my own as well, aside from a part time guy when I need him and subs that I use. So right now it's all on me.
  3. zedosix

    zedosix LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,665

    Red Shed,

    4-8 hours is way too much time on an estimate, even if you include drawing up a plan.
    1/2 hour meeting with client
    1/2 hour quick draw on dynscape (or whatever you use)
    Quick informal quote by email
    Wait for response.

    Total time invested 1.5 hours max.

    Your client will come to you with a response which could be "This is way more than I want to spend" which at this point you actually could of prevented by giving them a rough cost while on site, but you only spent minimal time on, or they say "I would like to meet with you and discuss". Now I'm willing to spend another 1/2 hour or more with them.

    I used to spend hours drawing up complicated plans, racking my brain over design, etc and what was it all for?, 50% of the time I wouldn't even get a response. Some of these plans I spent 10 even 20 hours on!! Shame on me.

    Clients come in many forms to
    Like the word of mouth client (some of your best leads here) They can be worth the extra time.
    Found you in the yellow pages (can work, but often tire kickers) 1/2 maybe or just a quick few questions while they are on the phone.
    You did my neighbours place (good lead, but not always) At least they see your work.

    When you book one week of estimates, take the following week to follow up. Don't book a damn thing until you are caught up. Once you see the client, they will expect an answer within 48 hours or so, depending on job size. So you're better off making them wait a week for a meeting than making them wait a week for a price.
  4. tthomass

    tthomass LawnSite Gold Member
    from N. VA
    Messages: 3,498

    If you find yourself overwhelmed with phone calls, hire a call center. We use a local one in the spring to take calls because with three phones we simply cannot keep up. They answer, collect the information we need, I get an instant email and the appropriate person returns the call. Calling us people never know it's not our "office" answering the phone and it doesn't matter when someone calls, 24/7, they will always get an answer and never a message. Just a thought. Costs me $65 a month.
  5. Red Shed Landscaping

    Red Shed Landscaping LawnSite Member
    Messages: 183


    You make some good points that will help me out. Like waiting to meet with new prospects.

    Yeah I used to spend even longer like you had done too on designs but have been making it shorter. So many of them are asking to separate prices for parts of the work they may want done and then with those separate items they want prices with different types of materials.

    I don't have a design program so I always have to draw it out even if I don't give them a plan so that I can correctly calculate materials so that does take some more time. When I type up each estimate I try to explain each step and be specific so they know what is included in the price and what is not. This is also a time killer as well.

    I do notice the difference when they call what type of person they usually are. Like you said about if they say a someone referred me then I know they will have a better idea of my quality and cost. I haven't learned how to say no to the "I am getting 8 estimates" type of person. I guess I did tell one guy wanting some ideas for his yard that I would have to charge for a design and told him the hourly rate and how long it usually takes which he then said he would pass.
  6. Lite4

    Lite4 LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,186

    I think everyone missed it, but Zedo gave the best advice in his first post. "The soft sell". I do it every time I meet with a prospect. "MR and MRs Jones, based on our conversation here today, if I was to simply give you a rough ball park price of what this project COULD cost, I would expect it to be in the range of "X" to "Y". I have no idea what you are budgeting for this project, but do those numbers fit within your budget or do we need to tweak the design a bit? Tell me, how much did you plan to budget for this project?"

    This little conversation will save you hours and hours of frustration and will eliminate you from designing projects you only "hope" you may get. Always test the waters early- you and your prospects will both be happier. You are going to have to talk about the money at some point, might as well get it out of the way early.

    If you want to really screen out the wasted drive time to unqualified leads, put up some sample projects on your website with "rough" costs.
    Picture of patio A with a small seat wall costs in the range of "X" and "Y"
    Picture of patio B with 2 tiers and custom staircase is "?" square feet and costs in the range of "X" and "Y"
    Picture of Firepit- estimated costs could be between "X" and "Y"

    The whole idea is to pre-qualify your prospect based on costs before they even call you. On the- contact us- page of your website, put a link that says "before calling for an appointment, please review our project costs page and appointment requirements". From the "prices" page, redirect back to the contact us page. Once they review some of your projects and price ranges, they will have a pretty good idea what to expect from your quote (Although, I do know job sites can vary widely and difficult ones will undoubtedly incur greater installation costs)- this just gets them in the ballpark so you know if you can play with them or not.

    I have used this method for years and it has saved me tons of wasted time chasing down dead end leads.
  7. zedosix

    zedosix LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,665

    There are a few things I've learned and like a bunch of the veterns on here no doubt, is that you need to sort thru the waste (for lack of better words). You need to direct your energy to the clients that are:

    1.Not afraid to give you a budget, I mean how can we design a back patio and sidewalk if a budget $3,000. This comment alone will save you countless hours of design-estimation work.
    2. Not asking you to list all details and cost breakdown,(reason here is obvious) Some want the job process spelled out in detail so they can attempt on their own. I've seen this countless times and have wonderful pictures of their attempt as proof. You can see this in the "hardscaper hacks" thread. :laugh:
    3. Not be afraid to tell them exactly what your intentions are. I tell my customers to expect a quick email with a quick breakdown of what I'm giving them. No detailed plan dropped off at their front door, no breakdown. I write a line in my work that says "as per ICPI specs". Its defaulted along with a description of how I lay my walls and bricks. This is all they need to know IMO.
    4. Try not to get too many subs involved in your work, ie paving, electrical, carpenters etc. If you do, you will be liable for their actions and screwups if any arise on the job.

    You are not alone though in your frustration, I've been at this on my own with no outside help since 87' and trust me if I would of taken all these points in consideration years earlier I would have less grey hair than I now have.
  8. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,601

    I do not agree with what Zedo (Andy) initially wrote as it is a blanket statement.

    I have had jobs where I have easily had at least 16 hrs invested in meetings, designing, building the price, drafting the proposal, calling / emailing venders for prices.

    And the talk about how glorious pre-qualifying is - is not all so fool proof. I'm a believer in pre qualifying, but many people do slip through the cracks.

    This business is not for everyone. Plain and simple. Some people are just not cut out to be self employed.
    Posted via Mobile Device
  9. DVS Hardscaper

    DVS Hardscaper LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,601

    Years ago, I had a secretary. She worked from her home. I would forward my office calls to a business line that I had installed at her home. She managed my phone calls and did all the appointment scheduling for me. On Friday's she would e-mail me my appointment schedule for the following week.

    It worked out great. She stayed home and took care if her elderly father in law and made an income, I had someone do office related stuff, it was a win win for all of us.
    Posted via Mobile Device
  10. Lite4

    Lite4 LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,186

    Whatever works for ya

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