Step by Step
Published by the Remodelers Council of Lincoln • May 2011
Chairperson’s Message by Jenny Samek
Spring is in the air, well sometimes! It seems like mother nature keeps teasing us with spring this year! Fortunately we have had nice days when we needed them. We had great weather to tour Vantage Pointe Homes. Thanks Dan for the great tour. It was fun to see how they do it. We also had a beautiful weekend for the Tour of Remodeled Homes. We had 21 great entries showing everything from kitchen and bath remodels to decks and sunroom additions. I hope many of our members were able to get out and enjoy the weather while viewing some of these wonderful homes. I know I really enjoy getting to see the finished project. The next Remodelers Council meeting is Wednesday, May 4. We will be touring the Matt Talbot Kitchen. Please note the different start time of 10:30 a.m. as we need to complete the tour before they serve lunch. I encourage everyone to bring donations. The items that are most needed are HE laundry detergent, paper towels, canned fruits and vegetables. I’m sure any donations will be greatly appreciated. Hope to see you there.
Note special start time!!!
Join us for Coffee & Rolls and a Tour of Matt Talbot Kitchen & Outreach Wednesday, May 4, 2011 • 10:30 a.m. 2121 N. 27th St. Please send your RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-423-4225 by April 29. There is no cost to attend this month’s meeting, but we are asking you to bring a donation. The items that are most needed are HE laundry detergent, paper towels, canned fruits and vegetables.
The video from the Remodeler Council’s Better Business Bureau’s Integrity Award is now online. View it at
10 Lincoln Business Builder
Welcome New Members! Robison Design Build, LLC Dick Robison
Step by Step
Attention to Detail; Professionalism Among Best Practices for a Successful Remodeler It is often the small things that can make or break a sale, according to Sherry Schwab, CGR, CAPS, 2010 Remodeler of the Year, who stresses getting the details right in the best practices she and her husband have employed to run their company for the more than 34 years they have been in business. Their firm — HCS Construction Services Company — provides insurance restoration, remodeling, and general contracting for clients in the Seattle area. Schwab was featured in the November issue of Qualified Remodeler magazine, describing the steps she has taken in her business to thrive in a competitive market. And at the 2011 NAHB International Builders Show in January she presented her 10 tips for success. These tips, she said, have helped her family-owned business expand from single service insurance reconstruction in 1979 into today’s multi-faceted service company engaged in custom home building, commercial tenant improvement, insurance renovation, remodeling and handyman work. “This system has been engineered, added to, tweaked and is always changing to meet the needs of our company,” said Schwab. “We have adapted the parts and pieces over the years from insights we’ve received from other remodelers, meetings and magazines.” The following best practices “can be adapted to fit your business to allow you to build your own process bit by bit until it is perfect for you,” she said.
Make the Best Impression from the First Call
Develop a detailed lead sheet for taking calls from prospective clients. A company principal should take the calls because he or she is in the best position to make decisions about scheduling for an estimate and how to handle the project. Anyone answering the phone should use the lead sheet and take detailed notes for starting the client file. Use the sheet to develop a conversation and let the information flow naturally. “The first impression over the phone is crucial and is the key opportunity for making a solid impression and selling the professionalism of the company,” Schwab said.
Start the Job File
After the first phone call, enter the lead sheet into a computer file record and also start a hard file as well. Both electronic and hard files will help keep you organized and capture the details of each job. The estimate, contract, correspondence and all documents produced during the course of the job should be added to the file. As part of the file set-up process, check county tax records for home ownership and for the date of construction to comply with lien laws, asbestos and lead-based paint regulations. Keep records for at least seven years for when any warranty issues arise, if payment collection becomes a problem or if you need to track and thank large dollar referrals.
Set the First Appointment
The first appointment should be scheduled on the first phone call or by the end of the same day on a return call. Add the appointment to the company calendar and mark it in the new file to take to the appointment to collect details, including measurements, photos and other information. “This is the only time the
file leaves the office,” Schwab said.
Finish the Proposal
Complete the proposal and the contract within a day after the appointment, unless it is extremely long or complex. The proposed job specifications and pricing should then be sent to the client with a contract and personalized cover letter both by e-mail and by hard copy highlighted for signing. Clients can then return the signed contract and deposit by mail or drop it off at the office. Do not begin any work until the deposit is received, but you can begin scheduling a job upon e-mail approval of the contract. Be sure to send a hard copy of the signed contract with a cover letter to the client. Cover letters provide additional opportunities to profile your services and professionalism, and highlight your attention to detail. Your letterhead, envelopes, and invoices should be professionally printed with your company’s logo and branding.
Manage the Calendar
It is important to be careful when scheduling all dates on correspondence, appointments and any work. After the proposal has been mailed, set a follow-up date approximately a week later to call the prospective customer, answer any questions and close the sale. The best person to make the call is the salesperson from the original meeting who took the specifications. Presumably, he or she is the best informed on the project and has established some rapport with the client. Schwab’s tracking shows that it is more likely to get a future job with the client because these follow-up calls show personalized attention to detail. If the prospective customers tell you they went with a different company, try to find out why to help improve your sales process. “Don’t try to pressure sell, but watch for trends. Being forewarned and honest can tell you if you need to make changes,” said Schwab.
Plan the Job Schedule
Once the contract and deposit have been received, the job is scheduled. As mentioned above, don’t schedule or start work until the signed contract and deposit payment are received. “Adhering to policy is a sign of professionalism. If you cannot hold to the standards at this early stage and appear so hungry and desperate to work, don’t be surprised when final payment is delayed,” Schwab advised. “Also consider that if a client will not give you the deposit in good faith before you start work and while they are in the anticipatory stage, you could be in for a difficult time throughout the project,” she said. Spend the money and have an attorney prepare a contract customized to your business to best protect you if any problems with payment or disagreements should occur.
Continue Client Contact
Although it may become frustrating and time consuming, it’s important for you to keep the clients informed about the job and answer any questions they may have. This is how a company sells its service and emphasizes that the client is the priority. Keeping clients up-to-date helps them to understand the work progress and what to expect down the line.
When a client contacts you, find the answers to his or her questions and respond as quickly as possible. Even when clients seem to have excessive concerns, as a professional you must have the answers and communicate information to them effectively.
Track job costs on both labor time and material to reconcile invoices and calculate the profit margins. If a job looks more complex than average, request bids from subcontractors to stay on budget. As the costs come in, make copies of the invoices and enter the data. Ask outside vendors to bill monthly by a deadline so that payments can be processed on time. Copies of the invoices are important for the file in case of any future warranty work or if the client asks for an explanation of material costs. The cost data file should be kept separately from the job file, and also include hourly labor costs -- which encompass holiday and vacation pay, tool and phone allowance, health insurance, and state and federal employment costs. If you realize a client is only looking at costs when planning a job and you can’t meet the price he or she wants, withdraw politely and say, “Let us know if we can be of service in the future.”
Affirming the importance of consistent branding, print professional invoices with your company logo. Use the original proposal from the electronic files, change the heading to invoice, add any change items and print the invoice on letterhead. All this information enables the client to easily compare it with the original proposal and costs incurred with any changes. Send the invoices in branded envelopes by regular mail, which demonstrates your professionalism and grasp of important billing details for the client.
Close the Job Right
Before sending the final bill and closing the project, it is important to complete a full accounting of the costs. Once a final invoice is sent, it cannot be retracted and clients become unhappy with unexpected additional charges. Going through the project one more time and waiting for any lagging invoices from vendors can save your company from having to absorb excess costs. By adhering to these procedures, HCS Construction has created a detailed system to help maintain files, build client relationships, manage projects and complete invoicing. “Although these steps are basic and work well for us, I have found that it takes some oversight to make sure they are consistently followed,” explained Schwab. Developing a routine and double checking the work can keep the system on track and save headaches from missing files down the road. “You won’t miss the information until you need it, and then it’s too late,” said Schwab. “Our documentation is thorough and it has proven to be invaluable during sales tax audits and court collection.” Above all, Schwab advised developing a system that works for your business and establishing it as a routine. This dedication to your business will save both time and money. For more information about remodeling resources available from NAHB, email Kelly Mack or call her at 800-368-5242 x8451.
11 Lincoln Business Builder