Quoting clients for new projects can be a time-consuming process, but is charging a fee for providing the service a viable option? Master Builder talks to three FMB member companies about their experience.

Builders invest many hours of their time preparing detailed quotations for new projects, often visiting sites, meeting clients and engaging with subcontractors and suppliers. However, these efforts are not always rewarded, with companies later discovering that potential clients were just looking for a cost comparison or were never serious about getting the job built in the first place.

This can be particularly difficult for smaller builders whose time could have been better spent making money elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, like all small businesses, we learned the hard way,” explains Clare Booth, co-owner of Coldwells Building Company. “When we started in 2016, we offered free quotes and kept finding ourselves in the same frustrating cycle, investing 30+ hours preparing a quote, only to learn that the client was just shopping around, or that their dreams outweighed the reality of their budget.”

In order to maximise the amount of time actually spent making money, builders often deal with project leads and quotations on the weekends or late into the night, which can eat into valuable family time. Booth says this left her workers feeling “tired and unhappy”, and made her realise that “something had to change”.

The company began charging for quotes, and soon discovered that it was an effective way of separating the wheat from the chaff. “We’ve learned that getting commitment from potential clients is critical to save ourselves huge amounts of time preparing a quote that won’t go anywhere.” She adds: “A commitment involves money money changing hands.”

Could charging for quotes deter potential buyers?

There is a danger, however, that buyers may be put off by companies that are charging for quotes. A simple Google search will generate numerous results for building companies offering free quotations, and it is only reasonable to assume that potential clients would look to compare the cheapest options.

KG Construction offers what it calls an “affordable quoting service” for those who just want an accurate price with plans to invest later down the line. Marketing and Operations Manager, Luke Greaves, says it is important to provide quotes for people of varying incomes. “We all lead different lives, all with different household incomes and savings pots,” he says. “Not all clients are ready to proceed with their desired project and wish to acquire accurate pricing before undertaking any work, while others are happy to work around a rough estimation.”

There is also evidence to suggest that charging for quotes can actually attract buyers. Research by the Association of Professional Builders found that companies that charge for quotes are eight times more likely to win a job than those that do not. Booth says 85% of her prospective clients are willing to pay for a quote, and that a high percentage go on to have their projects built by the firm.

“We’ve actually had clients tell us they respect the fact we do charge,” she says. “Those who don’t want to pay move on and we don’t hear from them again – no one has ever criticised us and said ‘this is outrageous, how dare you charge for quotes!’”

Building relationships with your clients

Charging for quotes allows builders to give extra attention to detail, safe in the knowledge that they are not wasting their time. “To build rapport with prospective clients, we visit them and talk about their project in depth,” Booth explains.

“We work out whether there is common ground on which to build some trust and eventually a good working relationship.”

It takes a builder one to two weeks to prepare a quote on average, according to Resi architects; but if a company has very few staff, it may simply be financially unviable to provide these free of charge. Josh Mulholland, co-owner of K Mulholland & Son, explains that he can travel up to 20 miles on the weekend, meeting numerous potential clients, only for them to end up doing the job themselves based on his advice.

“If I’m not successful with any job due to time wasters, that’s a whole day’s work I’ve missed out on,” he says. “But if I was to charge £30 per enquiry, that would at least pay for my time and fuel. I’m only a small business in the heart of North Wales, so every day counts to make money.”

Mulholland is a fully-qualified bricklayer and plasterer at Level Three, and fully qualified slate roofer at Level Two, and clearly takes a lot of pride in his achievements. “So why should my time be for free when I have worked so hard to earn all of those qualifications, and when I am a member of the Federation of Master Builders and TrustMark?”

Time is money for small builders

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact and more than three quarters of FMB members expect material costs to increase in 2021. These strains have made it more important than ever to ensure resources are allocated efficiently.

Since introducing a new online estimation form in 2020, KG Construction has received 120 submissions, and has enjoyed a drastically increased conversion rate. “This means we spend less time providing in- depth quotes for every single enquiry, and more time focusing on how we present our quotes when a client is happy with an estimate,” Greaves says.

“We also get many enquiries through our partners and government platforms requesting services under the Green Homes Grant, which is not a service we offer. We’ve since received only a small percentage of these enquiries, whereas previously, we’ve been inundated with them.” This year, the company will trial a full quoting service from £195 across a select number of clients to determine whether this should become a standard service for every build.

When considering charging for quotes, Booth says that Coldwells Building Company simply asked, “what have we got to lose?” The firm ditched free quotes from its advertising, and has since saved valuable time and money. “If we are the successful contractor, the quote is credited to the client’s final invoice, but we want clients who understand that they get exactly what they pay for, no more, no less, and our current clientele value our time, quality workmanship and services,” she says. “Our time and skills are not free, nor should any builder’s be.”

This article was original published in the February / March 2021 edition of the Master Builder magazine. Members can login to view a copy, non-members can access the latest edition via email.

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