How to Do an Onsite Job Estimate for a Painter or Fencebuilder

We could say this is about how to do a sales call. But we really don't operate that way. We're as far away from sales calls as you can get. I used to think of going to do an estimate that way, but I would always get caught up with the sales techniques, and other stuff, and not really pay attention to the customer's needs. Instead we do 5 simple things, and we do them in a very detailed way. Our results are really good!
5 Steps to getting the job:
Step 1. When the customer calls for an estimate:
It all starts with the initial call. When the customer calls, and in the construction business that's how it works. Through our contacts, customer referrals, and our advertizing we get calls. Try to answer within the first 3 rings, I haven't met anyone yet that likes to wait. We answer all calls like this: Brilliant Coatings Painting Co., this is John, may I help you. We say it in an uplifting voice pronouncing every syllable. Notice I said we, make sure you have a standard way to answer the phone and every employee answers like this, every time. No more, no less. Stop whatever you are doing and pay attention to the person on the other end. Do not try to multi – task during the call. It is off putting to the customer, they will know if your mind is elsewhere. Do not have anything such as a TV, or radio, going on in the back ground. Smile – one of the tricks I have learned to use is to look in the mirror and smile. Your mood comes out over the phone. Be in an upbeat mood, look in that mirror and smile. My desk faces a wall and there is a mirror on it. When I'm In the truck, I have a mirror on the visor to look at. If they do not give you their name, ask for it, and use it a time or two during the conversation if possible. Also use ma'am, and sir when addressing your prospective customers, good manners are always in style. At this point – LISTEN. They will have a question, or a request, or both. Either way the person answering the phone should be trained and able to answer their questions, or pass them along to the person who can. We don't like to take messages for new customer's who are calling for the first time, and have to tell them we will have somebody get in touch. We like to answer their questions, assure them that we are the right choice, and schedule their appointment, all right there in that initial call. The early bird gets the worm. If you take a message they may move on to the next contractor on the list, while waiting on your call back. Don't chance it, if you can help it. We will spend all the time required to answer their questions, and satisfy their need that they have reached someone that can do what they want done. Never hesitate to say that you can do the job, and don't be wishy / washy on anything in general. They want to talk to an expert, make sure, that you are! If you cannot project that you and your business are competent professionals, people will loose confidence in you fast. Always talk in the affirmative, as in, yes, we can get somebody out there, yes, we can complete the repairs, yes, we can schedule an estimate for tomorrow… and so forth. Once this question answering, and confidence building (building the customer's confidence in you) is complete, the next object is to move to the scheduled estimate phase. We go to this by saying: "Ma'am let us get some basic information from you and then we can set up an appointment to have someone come out and give you an estimate."
We have a standard form for gathering this initial contact information. You'll need to get the following information from the customer :
Phone numbers:
E-mail address:
General description of the work being requested:
Job Specifics: (such as what materials, types of work, time frame for job completion, homeowner animals and so forth)
Date and Time for the estimate:
While taking down their information you may quickly jot down any specifics about the conversation. You should do this in more detail right after the call has ended.
When setting the appointment time, there are two trains of thought on this. First you can take a look at your schedule, and work around that. Just say "we have an opening at 4:00pm tomorrow is that good for you?" Or you can ask when, both the husband and wife will be available, and schedule the appointment when they are both available to be there. One will be the dominate decision maker and you don't know who that is yet. It's best to have them both there if possible, You can see the advantages of both ways. Make sure you have all the time needed to do the estimate.
Lastly, we will recommend them to go to our web page with the info about their specific job, or the job materials they are looking at. "Please check out our website, Superior Services Deck and Fence the page on Chain Link Fences for more detailed information! We also send them to specific manufacturer sites, where we sell their products, such as Specrail Aluminum Fences, and Westech Vinyl Fences.
Step 2. Preparing for the estimate:
We then take the customer's address and map quest it, and staple it to the contact form. Next we add any brochures, and samples we need, and we are ready. We consider these brochures and samples as big a part of our presentation as what we say to them verbally. We place our name, location, and other important info on every brochure and sample we hand out. These stay with the customer long after we are gone, and they help move us from the price phase to the picking out colors, and materials phase. They are very, very important.
If it is a job we have not completed in a while, or one we may have never completed, we will do some homework. The home work may consist of Googling the subject and reading some articles, and studying some materials that may be used on the job. Perhaps watching a video on You tube. We want the customer's job on our mind when we meet them and this is a good way to do it. We don't want to be caught off guard with a customer's question, if we can help it. We consider it one of techniques to be as detailed as possible when talking to the customer about their job. Over and over we here the line "You guys really know your stuff"! And we love to hear it. It's really the sound of a customer saying, yes, we want to hire you.
Sometimes doing the estimate itself takes a little bit, give them a realistic time when the estimate will be there. Always get it to them on time.
Part of preparing for the estimate is to look like a contractor. Clean clothes, your shirt with your logo on it. Your pants should be of Contractor grade jeans, or khakis. They should fit properly. Professional clip board, with pad of paper, pens, calculator, tape measure, moisture meter, paint book, and any other materials your specific trade may have. Short Haircut and finger nails trimmed. Did I really have to say that? Unfortunately, yes I did. We don't like anything that may turn a customer off. You can not have tattoos and long hair and work for us, it's a standard. This brings us to the 3rd step.
Step 3. At the onsite estimate:
If your vehicle leaks don't park it on the drive way. Knock, knock, if they have a doorbell, or door knocker use it. If not, knock on the door, but be aware of how hard you knock. Ever had someone knock really hard and loud on your front door. Puts a frown on your face doesn't it. Not the way you want to meet someone. "Hi, I'm John from Superior Services Deck and Fence, and I am here to look at your job." Shake hands. If you go in the house make sure your boots are clean. From this point forward try to engage the customer. Don't be forceful. You are trying to develop a rapport with them so they feel comfortable and will open up. Them opening up means they will tell you more about the job itself, their concerns with hiring someone, financial situation and so forth. When you know their concerns you can address them. At the front door introduction site we normally will give them our business card. Give one to both of them, man and wife.
Let the customer talk and tell you about what they want, and how they want it, if they think know that information already. Ask job specific questions to ensure you understand. But try not to disrupt the customer's flow of speech.
Educate your customer. We like to give the customer all their options. The pros and cons, if any, to the materials they may choose from. How long it will last, and how to maintain it. We tell them in detail how we will accomplish the work, the work hours, how we will take care of their property, we inform them of our no smoking policy on a customer's property, and that trash will be picked up daily. We let them know how much tools and equipment we will need on the site, and work out a place to store it.
Be ready to give the person your professional opinion on things. Often a customer is not sure and wants a professional opinion. Other times they want to be assured they are making the right choices, and when they are and need that assurance by all means pass it in. If you believe they are making a wrong choice it is your obligation to mention that also.
Ensure you get all the information you need to give them a detailed written estimate. Materials, sizes, types, grades, colors, demensions, and so forth .
Things you may need to ask the customer: When are you looking at getting the work started? Have you seen anything in the neighborhood you like. Always ask for your own marketing purposes: How did you find out about us?
Often times we will leave the estimate with the customer still deciding on specific products. In that case, we try to set up a time that they will call us, with that info so we can get the estimate to them.
Step 4. Writing the estimate:
An estimate is simply a way to calculate the value of something. We break it down into materials and labor. Remember the who, what, where, why and how from English class. Well here's where you are going to use it. We do not use the standard contractor form, we have our own computer generated forms with the company Logo on them. We list exactly what they are getting, the name item, it's dimensions, style, height, and width, and any accessories that were ordered to go along with it. Colors, grades, and brands. We specify how it is connected, bolted, screwed, nailed, or welded. Flow rates, brushed, sprayed, or rolled. We give a start date, as per our schedule, or the agreed upon date between us and the customer. We say what we are going to provide. If the customer is to provide anything we list that as must be provided by the customer. Working Water spigots, electrical boxes are often listed here for when we pressure wash a house, for example.
After describing to the customer exactly what they will get. The actual price is listed. You can just give the customer one price that includes all materials and labor, as we do. Or it can be broken down into Materials, labor costs, and overhead separately. Either way is fine. All of our estimates are done on the computer, so as to have accurate updatable records. We haven't actually written an estimate in over 15 years.
Step 5. Sending or delivering the estimate, and follow up:
Delivering an estimate to the customer can be completed in a couple of different ways. It can be hand delivered. This may be a good way if you have to drop off some samples or take another measurement. By mail, which is okay for a very few types of jobs. But the best way today, is by e-mail, it's what we do, and the customer's seem to like it too! It's sure and it's fast. They can shoot back an approval real fast too. Or come back with a question, if need be.
Following up is a biggie. We don't press the issue, in fact we never do press the sale. We are there, however to converse with the customer about their project at any time, and I mean anytime. This is unlike most business people who are open 8 to 4 or some such, but we love to work. We will wait at least 3 days and up to 5 before doing a followup phone call, never an e-mail, always a personal phone call. They should expect it because you told them during the onsite estimate you would be following up after you sent them the estimate via e-mail. Just to see if they have the estimate and if they have any questions. There can be numerous reasons why they haven't got back to you yet, so if they have not made a decision I may wait a week or 2 and get back in touch with them again.
Extra Tips!
Always use the common verbal courtesies when dealing with customers. Some of them are:
A. May I
B. Please
C. Thank You
D. Your Welcome
E. Have a good Day
In addition, be gracious, never use use foul language, even if the customer does. Shake hands and speak to the kids, and pet the family dog.

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