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Providing An Estimate VS. Bid / Steps Of A Consultation


LawnSite Senior Member
My company does about 95% of our work in maintenance contracts. I am looking to diversify more over the next few years as gain some more knowledge in the other aspect of the industry and gain some experience in it before I offer it as a complete service with a warranty.

I am about to begin studying all the books and manuals to become a certified horticulturist. Last spring I attended an ICPI and NCMA installer class. I learned a lot, a lot of information was crammed. Ofcourse everyone has to start off at the bottom of the totem pole and work their way up. I have completed 2 small walls just to start to get comfortable with the hands on and get in the routine of how things need to be done. I am looking for your help on how you interview your prospect clients for a landscape job. Most of the larger companies will offer a free initial 15-30 min consultation, then the next step is to design which you charge for before you can give a bid. How do you handle when to give an estimate versus a bid? I have seen a lot of people want an "estimate" to know if they can afford it before they pay you for a design.

Consultations. I think you need to show up for an initial consultation for free so the prospect can see your smiling face and get to know you, and you ask what do they want done, their function and needs etc. but where do you draw the fine line so your not giving them all your expert advice for free?

I guess I'm just asking what are the steps you take in the process from the time they contact your office, how you interview them, what information you go over, and when do you ask for a first check?

I have found with maintenance contracts you will spend half an hour roughly to drive to and from a site, a half hour interviewing the client, figuring out their needs and telling them how your company can better service them, then about another rough hour to estimate all services, prepare a bid, submit it to them and and a follow up, averaging 2 to maybe 3 hours, which sucks when the prospect decides not to sign a maintenance agreement with you, but I figure that into my overhead because it is hard to charge someone around here for a bid on maintenance.
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LawnSite Senior Member
Well u said it yourself for the most treat these estimates like when u bid. There the same words in a way. I always have a place you can sign so hell there all contracts lol. Any way i give my proposal (another same word) after we meet. In our first meeting i pre qulify them . Like a credit check of sorts. Can they afford me? Do they know what they are thinking is around
6k ? As does that blow their mind?. One guys answering machine said he had a 3k min. Right now ithought wow what kahunas. But now i kinda respect it
they got a budget of $300 i want to give my help that much. Hell i feed on most landscape jobs. I leave nothing with the customer without money and a signature. I have learned not to talk to much . A few ppl have done the work off my estimet/proposal and our conversation. So time is money. As a landscape designer i want $75.00 perhour. A 60% deposit on smaller jobs under 4k after that i get draw on the balance. On new builT HOUSES i have a 2.7% of the house value minimum, on the landscape install, not including turf.
Tree work is easier to price i think you just get a good letter head invoice/proposal/bid/esimate pad a show up look it over a fill in your sheet.
Work on your logistics for hardscaping. Weather and deliveries. Can put yo out of business. Crushing a drive way corner a tap ing a utility. Becarful its not mowing and mulching.

Dreams To Designs

LawnSite Bronze Member
MCW, I don't work for free. Whatever I'm doing for a client requires compensation. But when do they become a client? I'd agree with String, very little information and [pencil does not touch paper until money is in hand. I'm a bit lax on the signatures, but having been cheated by a few, mostly so called professionals, I'm a bit selective with my clientèle. My business is design and project management, so the majority of my clients are landscape contractors and the occasional homeowner I inherit, that typically becomes a property management client. If you value your time, your client's will as well.

The advantage i derive from working with contractors, that are the one paying me, is they have, hopefully, prequalified the customer before bring me in. You have to do the same thing, but for yourself. If you can't get enough information over the phone, and you make the visit to meet and great, estimate the value of the project and prospective client and let them know the value range of similar projects right away. Good design costs good money, you need to know if a client is willing to go that route, or you need to change your strategy.