Blakesmaster, New York: “I just bid the biggest job I’ve ever bid. I bid it poorly. A lot of oaks in a backyard needed to come down. Wood stays, brush gets chipped and hauled. As I’m adding up the dollar amount for each individual tree in my head, I got to a total I couldn’t conceive of asking for the job. As the clock’s ticking (keep in mind we need work right now), I didn’t want to come off as unprofessional or inexperienced to the customer, so I spit out a number far less than I originally totaled, and the worst thing happened. They said ‘OK.’ Driving away from the job, rethinking these trees, I wanted to bang my head against the steering wheel. It’s not that we can’t handle the technicality of these trees, but it’s going to take a lot of time and patience to get them on the ground.
“So, two questions. Is this something other people just starting out have come across and how hard was it to begin giving those higher bids? And, also, do you think taking too much time while bidding a job, looking over everything twice to make sure, comes across as unprofessional?”
Alanarbor, Pennsylvania: “That is an issue that is hard to get around. Remember, you’re talking about the client’s budget, not yours. They usually have more of it than you. It gets easier with time.
“With big jobs, I usually stop thinking about each individual tree and start thinking how many days. That usually makes it a little less daunting. Another thing, it’s perfectly professional to ask for the time you need to give an accurate bid. That is in the best interest of the client rather than flying by the seat of your pants.
“Consider this ‘Mr. Prospect, I’m going to need a little more time to put this together for you. This is a large project, and I want to make sure I furnish you with an accurate and complete proposal. I’ll have it ready for you by (insert time frame here).’
“Even on more routine bids, I ask the client for five to 10 minutes alone to complete my proposal, so I don’t have the pressure that comes with being stared down while I am trying to get my numbers together. Sometimes you have clients that are really pressed for time, and you need to be on your toes, but you should know what kind of time they can spend with you at the beginning or before the appointment.”
Treeman82, New York: “Depending on who I am dealing with, I’ll sometimes tell people ‘I’ll have a price for you in a few days.’ I will normally call them back the next day, or even later that day, but it helps me to walk away and think about things before I blurt out a number.”
Mikecutstrees, New York: “I have the same problem. Jobs that add up to $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, etc., I always think are too much and I screw myself. I’m getting better though. I always tell the customer I will call them later that night or tomorrow. This gives me time to figure out exactly how long it will take, trips to dump chips/wood, tractor time if it’s big wood, etc. Bid it correctly. If they can’t afford it, then they can do it in smaller chunks. Good luck, I find bidding to be sometimes harder than the actual work.”
BCWetCoast, Vancouver: “Just tell them you need to go back to the office and crunch the numbers to get them a fair deal. You need to confirm dump cost for this volume of chips or talk to your firewood cutter to confirm value, whatever reason you want to use. This way you can prepare a typed quotation after thinking about all the costs involved. The sober second thought, so to speak.
“If you underbid, keep good track of your times and use the data for future reference. And try and minimize your out-of-pocket expenses. It’s one thing to not make as much money as you want and another to pay out more than you bring in.”
Ropensaddle, Arkansas: “I sometimes figure large jobs at [an] hourly rate and tell them $125 per hour for me and one helper. They get my bucket, grapple, stump machine and hardworking men for that. I make better than that on some bids, but that will keep the lights on! If they balk at hourly, I will then tell them it will take a while to figure, ask if they have a fax and either fax or come back when I have it figured. It does not take burning yourself too many times to learn to bid higher than you think you should. One other thing, don’t be afraid to say, ‘Ma’am, this job is large and I have to make sure I am covered, so my bid may sound high, but if the job goes well, a discounted rate can apply.’ This does many things: one, they tend to be less nitpicky; two, they won’t throw in extra work.
“Also, a large job is sometimes better to do in quarters so it does not sound too much for them. I want what it’s worth and try to avoid thinking what they can pay. I don’t get every job, but I make money on the ones I do. It all goes back into the business though, and that is the tough part.”
John Paul Sanborn, Wisconsin: “There will always be a problem with price and expectations. Quite often, when I’ve pared my numbers down before talking it over with the client, I still end up kicking myself, no negotiating room, they want more, they want it tomorrow.
“Day rates are good, but another way is to bid the work in sections; this clump here, that one there. Areas where cleanup is comingled between trees and time can be saved from the per-tree bid rate.
“Another way to come down on price is to bid it as ‘at my convenience.’ If it is big enough and near the shop, you can pick up parts of it on the way to or from other jobs.”
“In Your Own Words” is contributed from the forums at www.ArboristSite.com. Visit them, and join in the discussions!