Having recently moved i am having trouble securing work due to clients window shopping.
I primarily build entire gardens and where i lived before work came through the door by recommendation. As such, clients tended to already understand what i am about and so the design and quote process was generally just a formality.
However, where i am now, trying to re-establish myself, i feel i am being led a merry dance by clients using me for design ideas, unrealistic price expectations and generally just shopping around.
A huge issue at the moment is that i am giving away my so called intellectual property in the way of design work and i need to stop this. Recently designed a 25K garden with 4 different areas that took a week of my time only for it to become a dead end lead.
My question is how do you guys in the design and build side of the industry sort the wheat from the chaff.
At present the format i work to is, i meet a client, discuss there needs, go off and tidy up there design ideas or come up with complete designs, sometimes i make a second visit to approve the design idea and then i still have to price it and then don't get the work. Sometimes i can find out the budget but to often i find i am working in the dark regards budget. As one client once said, "If I tell you the budget available you will just spend it all." The implication was that if i could do what they wanted for less and i knew the budget that i would just load up the quote. Not my style but i understand the sentiment to a degree.
So i need to find a way to stop wasting my time on jobs i'm not going to get, find out the budget and get re-emburshed for the design process.
Iv'e been chatting to various people in various trades so have some ideas but i want to get it right as so many people give free estimates and i don't want to lose out to those guys by charging for estimates.
Problem as i see it is it is difficult to price something if you don't know what you are going to build which is why i have always designed first and then priced second. However i generally have a pretty good gut instinct about what a job will cost once i have an understanding of what the client wants but it is a ballpark and when sitting down to seriously price it i can still get variations of 2-3K either way depending on final material and detail choices.
So the main idea to get round this is,
1) Use my gut to give a quick free estimate. Verbal or written??
2) If the basic estimate is approved by the client, charge a fee to finalise a design and produce a fixed quotation that may/may not be redeemable in part or in full if they give me the work.
3)In conjunction with the above have a contract of some description that sets out the above and binds them into paying for the design and quotation process so at least any time spent on it is compensated for. Contract ideas welcome.
On point 2) I have never really charged for designs but feel there is a case to have a charge of some nature to cover intellectual property which would be the design itself.
Also - methods to get a client to divulge their true budget, and not the one they tell you to get the cheapest deal but the budget that they are really prepared to spend?
My main intention is to weedle out the chancers as quickly as possible and move on if they are not interested. I'm wasting way too much time on stuff that comes to nothing and i've got plenty of better things to do than quote stuff i won't get.
Love to hear feedback and any thoughts and ideas on the above.