Should you be charging for quotes?

Today I watched a debate on the ‘On the tools’ Facebook page about whether trades should charge for quotes, and after weighing up the arguments, I think it’s definitely something decorators should be considering.

I’ll start by going through a couple of ways I think it could be done, and the advantages of doing it. Then I’ll cover the common pushbacks most people will have.

How you could do it

To charge for anything, you need to deliver some sort of value.

Now, visiting a potential customer and writing up a quote for them has some value.

Afterall, you are giving them some important knowledge.

However, the customer might feel that knowledge alone is not quite valuable enough to pay for.

One way of increasing the value to the point where you could charge for the quote would be offer something extra.

For example, if you offered a 1 hour colour consultation you could easily charge for that.

Farrow & Ball do. To be precise, they charge £195 for a standard in-home consultation and £250 per hour if you want one of the top dogs.

I’m not saying you have to charge this much, but surely you could charge £20 – £50 for a one hour consultation if you wanted to.

You could then include a free quote to do the work.

Another option is to split the process of quoting in two.

You could offer free estimates. This could even be done via video call. Here you would get to know the customer a little bit and just give them a ballpark figure based on your experience.

Then you can explain that if they want to arrange for a proper quotation it will cost £XYZ.

You can say the quotation would involve you coming out to visit them and will take about 1 hour. After that you will put together a detailed quote including measurements and recommended specifications.

You could explain to the customer that once they have this detailed document, even if they don’t choose you to carry out the work, then they will at least have a detailed works instruction to pass to another contractor and ensure the job is done correctly.

This also guarantees that if they do ask another contractor to quote, you know they are quoting a like for like job.

And of course, you can always tell them you’ll credit back the quotation charge if you get the contract.

Advantages to charging for quotes:

  • You won’t resent going out to do quotes – Now you know you are being paid for your time, you’ll be more than happy to go out and quote.

In fact, if you charge your standard hourly rate, you’d be happy to quote for jobs all day long. It would be an easy living!

  • You’ll do the quotes faster – Everyone knows that you can’t be bothered to do the quote straight away. And it often takes a few days for you to get around to doing it.

You also know that the quicker you get the quote across to the customer the higher the chances of you getting the job. If you were being paid to write quotes, don’t you think you’d be far more motivated to do them quickly?

  • Customers won’t feel guilty about wasting your time – This is not an obvious problem, but it can hurt in the long run.

Example: Say you quote to do Mrs Jones’ exterior and she decides to go with someone else. Or she decides just not to get the work done. The chances are she won’t call you to quote for the next job because she feels guilty about wasting your time previously.

If you’d have charged her a nominal fee of say £20, she wouldn’t feel this guilt. As she knows she at least paid for your time and effort to do the quote.

  • It’s a great way to qualify customers – Charging even a small amount early on in the process is a great way to see what sort of person you are dealing with. If they are not willing to pay a small fee for a few hours of your time now, then clearly, they don’t value what you are bringing to the table. This could be an early sign that they are going to be a nightmare customer.
  • Extra revenue – If you do 1 quote a week for £20 each, that’s £1,040 per year. If you charge £50 for a quote that’s £2,600. If you consider the time and petrol it takes for you to do these quotes it easily COSTS you this amount of money to do them. By charging for the service you can reinvest that money into better tools. This means you can do better work for your customers.
  • You’ll protect your time – By offering a free virtual estimate and charging for quotes you will have fewer time wasters. If you give a ballpark figure of £5k and the customer was thinking it would cost £500, then it’s better to find that out on a virtual consultation, rather than you spending hours of time driving to and from the property and putting the quote together.
  • More people will contact you – Lots of people are worried about asking for a decorator to come round and quote for work as they don’t have a ballpark figure of what you might charge. They don’t know if it’s going to be £100 or £1,000.

Imagine this…you put a post on social media offering a free 15 minute virtual consultation to help people get started with their next decorating project. In these 15 minutes, you give them an idea of the work involved, maybe help give them some ideas on colours and give them a ballpark figure for you to do the work.  You could get loads of interest. You might end up doing a few every night. And then any that turn into proper quotations are very likely to convert into paying jobs!

One more thing…don’t forget people feel nervous letting tradesmen into their home. Having a virtual meeting first will also help ease that anxiety.

  • It gives them an extra incentive – By saying you’ll credit back the quotation charge if they choose to give you the contract, you’re giving them an extra little incentive to pick you.

Common pushbacks:

Q: Nobody else in my area charges for quotes…so, how can I?

A: Well, think about it like this. Are you the cheapest decorator in town? Probably not. So, in the same way that some decorators can charge more for the work they do, why couldn’t some decorators charge more for the quote they write?

If I get a quick quote on the back of a fag packet then sure, I wouldn’t be happy to pay for that.

However, if I got a free estimate, followed by a detailed quote and works instruction I’d be happy to pay for that.

I can see it’s taken time and I know it is a valuable thing to have, even if I don’t choose that particular decorator.

Q: What about existing customers?

A: I think existing customers are actually more likely to pay for quotes. IF you explain your new process and the advantages.

Firstly, they are 99% likely to go with you anyway, so they’ll more than likely get the quotation charge credited back.

But also, explain how by charging for your time to quote, it now means if they don’t choose you, they won’t feel guilty. This is important for both you and the homeowner as it means the door never gets shut on future opportunities to work together.

Q: Could I just do it on larger jobs?

A: Ok, there is a decent argument that small jobs don’t take long to quote and so you shouldn’t need to charge. However, I’d say charging to quote on smaller jobs would be a great place to start.

It’ll take some balls the first time you charge for a quote and if you don’t get the job you’ll wonder if you messed up by trying. It’ll be easier to stomach the loss if it’s only a small one.

But think about it. Is quoting for a small residential job actually quick and easy? I ran a poll on twitter and found that the majority of decorators spend 30 mins – 1 hour writing the quote.

When you add travel time and meeting time to that you could easily be talking 2-3 hours.

Would you do a 2-3 hour decorating job for free? On the basis that the customer might ask you to do a another job.

Essentially that it what you are doing.

Remember, just because you don’t have a brush in your hand doesn’t mean you’re not worth an hourly rate.  

Q: Shouldn’t your profits cover your time quoting?

A: This is a good point. And essentially, it’s what everyone already does.

Basically, instead of charging everyone £25 to do a quote, you end up sticking £100 extra on the bill for the job you do get.

This means if you get 1 out of 4 jobs you’ve not really lost out.

But is this fair? This means the customer who actually gave you the job is paying over the odds.

They are covering the fact that you have to drive all round town every night quoting for jobs you don’t always get.

You could tell customers that you charge everyone for a quote so that you can be more competitive on the final price.

Ultimately, someone is going to pay for you travelling around quoting for jobs, as it comes out of your profit margins.

Better to split that cost across all potential customers and not just the ones who actually hire you!

What do you think? Have you ever tried charging for a quote?

After reading this are you tempted to give it a go?

I’d love to hear how you get on.

PS: This is in no way me telling you to charge for quotes. I’m just laying out the facts as I see them.

You’re big enough and ugly enough to make your own decisions on what to do.

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