The Why Question is the Most Important One That Gets Asked the Least

WHY is That… and What Do We Do About it?

As I’m working on the workshop for Building a Better Proposal system, I was contemplating WHY questions.

Why –

  • Should construction contractors do proposals?
  • Don’t they?
  • Does a customer want to do a construction project?
  • Do we do the same things over and over expecting different results?
  • Do people in horror movies repeat the same bad decisions?

Small children constantly ask the why question, over and over and over…? You know what I mean. This is how they learn. Why do we outgrow this sense of curiosity and stop asking the WHY questions?

The answer to all questions starts with WHY.

  • Why should construction contractors do proposals?

This question is the one that baffles me as much as any. How can contractors expect customers or production crews to know what work is going to be done and what it’s going to cost without some clear communication? I don’t think you would buy a truck without knowing what you were getting. I know I would be disappointed if I ordered a new $70,000 truck and when I got it, it was a 1999 ½ ton pickup missing a wheel and the driver’s door.

  • Why don’t contractors do proposals?

The most common answer to this question is that they simply don’t know how. This is something that just isn’t taught. Most contractors start out doing construction, not paperwork. They figure out some guesstimation process and then wonder why customers are upset when they get a bill that is higher than they expected for less work.

  • Why does this customer want to do this construction project?

This should be the primary question that a contractor gets the answer to. It is more important than what. The “what” answer has a “why” answer behind it. The why question doesn’t have to be asked directly, but regardless, needs to be answered. The why is the foundation for the customer’s dream. A foundation is critical to building construction projects and dreams.

  • Why do we do the same things over and over expecting different results?

We all do this to some degree. Why? Why do we continue to repeat things thinking it will be different this time? We shouldn’t do things just because… “we’ve always done it this way”. The more we walk back and forth in a rut the deeper it gets and the harder it is to get out. I heard it said once that a rut is just a grave with both ends kicked out. Stop walking and determine if this what you want and if it’s the best plan. If not do something different.

  • Why do people in horror movies repeat the same bad decisions?

This question is a fun example of the previous one. If you’ve ever watched any horror movie you’ve seen this. The teenagers are in a dark scary place and instead of getting out they continue to hide in a basement, an attic, a cemetery, etc. The GIECO “horror movie” commercial is a great example of this.

It’s up to us to decide, are we going to do something different or stay in the rut?

These are just a few questions about construction proposals and…horror movies. 😊 We should be asking the WHY question about everything. This is the most important question there is.

We have the choice. We can just keep doing things the same way…or we can stop and ask why. Why are we doing this? Whatever “this” is. Until we answer the why question all other questions are harder to answer.

Be like a child and ask, why…why…why…why… and never stop.

Spinning So Many Plates at the Same Time Can Make You Dizzy

It’s Up to You How Many You Spin

This title might seem familiar, and it should. I used a very similar one for a post in March of 2018. That post’s focus was on trying to run a business without a plan.

This post is going to address a different question that has been coming up in almost every construction conversation I’ve had over the past several weeks. These discussions have been with other contractors, sub-contractors, my team, customers, and even with people in other industries. This is not a new topic but seems to be reaching an increased ‘plate breaking’ point.

Most of us have seen plate spinning acts in some form or another. When I was growing up, I remember seeing Erich Brenn performing his plate spinning act on the popular Ed Sullivan Show. I remember him running back and forth, trying to keep all the different plates spinning at the same time. It was amazing. (Be sure to watch this video)

I’ll bet you’ve felt just like him.

Most businesses are operated in a way that feels a lot like trying to keep all those plates spinning at the same time. Just like the performer who keeps putting more and more spinning plates up on the end of sticks, we keep trying to do more and more.

There is a limit to how much we can do. We can only run back and forth keeping the plates spinning for so long before they start falling and breaking. This means there is a maximum number of people that we can provide service to, before things begin falling around us.

Why do we continually keep adding more plates?

That is the million-dollar question. There seems to be some inherent traits that self-employed people are born with that causes us to continually take on more. I believe that it is directly connected to having a servant’s heart. We have a God given talent that someone needs the benefit of. We instinctively say yes to help those in need of it.

The problem of course, is that there is a limit. A limit to how much we can do, to the amount of time we have each day, to the number of people we can help. And we instinctively know this. When we say yes to that next thing, the voice inside our head says, “How are you going to do that?”. We shrug our shoulders and say yes anyway.

Trying to do everything makes it hard to do anything well.

This is a problem that has been around as long as people have. The question is…What are we going to do about it? How are we going to get this plate spinning madness under control? I keep asking myself this question over and over.

The answer to this question is inside each of us and there are as many answers as there are people asking the question. The answer starts with realizing the problem and recognizing that we have control over it. We can choose to answer it or pretend it doesn’t exist and keep spinning more and more plates.

This is where things begin to get tricky. Looking for and figuring out your answer, the one that is exclusively yours, takes time. I know that you are already too busy spinning plates to add another.

If you don’t spin this plate you will never keep the rest spinning.

It’s Hard to Remember That Not Everyone Gets It Like I Do

We Have to Look at it From Their Perspective

We are so close to who we are and what we know that when we’re communicating with others, we assume they understand. This is not the case. Most of the time when we’re talking about that thing we do…they’re overwhelmed.

We need to sperate ourselves from our calling if we’re going to communicate clearly.

We forget, or don’t even know, that what seems so basic and simple to us, isn’t to them. We’ve all been made with a specific unique gift, one that only we have. Sure, as many people as there are, there’s overlap. I’m not the only construction contractor in the whole world. I am however, the only one who does it the way that I do it.

This situation has become evident in several different situations recently.

Last week I wrote about my preparing to work with Bryan Switalski with Clarity Consulting. After our meeting I was feeling more overwhelmed than before. I was questioning if I had what it was going to take to do the digital marketing thing.

The next day was our weekly mastermind meeting. As I listened to the others in the group share their frustrations in connecting with the people who they knew would benefit from their knowledge or products. In my mind I was saying “Amen, preach it.”

Often before when listening to the group I would feel overwhelmed and inadequate. Listening to them I thought I was in way over my head. They would use terms that I didn’t know or understand. What struck me the most this day was how I realized that they’re struggling with the same struggles I am.

Then the light bulb came on. They, like me, were too close to their calling.

Their struggle, like mine, is the need to step back and look at this from the customer’s perspective. Over the years I’ve figured out how to do this with my construction customers without even knowing I was doing it.

This was confirmed the next day when I met with some potential customers for the third time. As we reviewed the floorplan of the remodeling project, they had questions. As we discussed the project more, I became aware of additional information that helped guide the direction of the project. Now we’re heading in the direction moving them toward their dream.

Too often contractors wouldn’t meet this many times or listen this much. Too often customers would just presume that the first plan was the only plan and this is as close to their dream as they’re going to get.

Now if I can learn to do this same thing with coaching and consulting customers.

After meeting with the construction customers, I began to think about my meeting with Bryan. As a customer I didn’t feel that I had given him enough information to do his job. I was feeling that “lost and overwhelmed customer feeling”. I sent him an email apologizing for my earlier rambling when we met.

Later that same day I received a response with a 10 minute recorded video explanation of the plan and how the parts will fit together, more details, a reiterated short list of what he needs from me and the reassurance that this project will be great when we’re done.

I’m sure Bryan was thinking, this is so simple and easy, but he never hinted to that. That’s what we professionals do when we’re working in our called vocation.

It’s hard to remember that they don’t get it like we do and to view the project from their perspective.

Now I need to separate myself from my calling and come up with a list of reasons that construction contractors need to make better proposals.

Getting an Estimate for a Construction Project Can Be a Big Mistake

It’s Like Guessing What a Bag of Groceries Costs Without Being Able to See in The Bag



One of the most frequent questions that I get asked by customers considering a construction project is…what’s it going to cost. Don’t get me wrong this is one of the most important pieces of information needed before moving forward with a project.

The problem with answering this question comes from the lack of information available in the early part of the process. Sure, there are some basic square footage prices that can be incorporated into giving a quick price, but I learned a long time ago that giving an ESTIMATE without having enough information is a recipe for disaster.

When my customers ask me this question, I tell them it is like looking across the room at a brown paper bag full of groceries and telling someone what it cost. Before I can answer that question, I need to know what’s in the bag. It makes a difference if it is paper towels or steaks, how many and how well they were packed.

The same is true for a construction project – what materials are going to be used, how much is going to be used and how well do you want it built? There is a wide variety of products out there and it is important that your contractor asks enough of the right questions to know what and how many ‘groceries are going in the bag’.

Rarely will I give an estimate. Sometimes, depending on the project, I will for a preliminary ballpark figure. It might save both parties the time and trouble of going forward if there isn’t enough of a budget. The level of accuracy with an estimate is minimal at best.

I encourage my customers to let me give them a proposal. Even if they pay for the proposal, it is much less than the cost of the project and a sound investment. When pricing a construction project, the dollars are significant enough that you should know what to expect before you get started and run out of money.

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

Luke 14:28-30, NLT

Doing an accurate and detailed proposal takes time and effort. Most contractors are more focused on getting to the money generating construction and neglect the proposal process. I’m convinced that the proposal is as important of an investment for the contractor as it is for the customer.

You can see an example of our proposals here –

The number of stories that I have heard of unhappy customers or contractors not getting paid for all the work they did is unnecessary. This problem can be enormously reduced by giving an accurate, agreed upon price in the beginning. That way when the project is finished everyone can be happy.

What Is the Cost of Cheap?

The Importance of Knowing What You’re Getting, Before You Write the Check


Too often people decide to move forward with a construction project without asking the right questions. It is important to get the answers before you start. What is the purpose or reason for the project? Who is going to do the work? What is it going to cost? The answers to these questions will have significant impact to your satisfaction (or lack thereof).

The number of horror stories that I have heard from customers about previous construction experiences is unacceptable. A construction project is a big investment and should be a fun, exciting and dream fulfilling incident.

Just recently I served as a professional witness in a small claims trial between a home owner and a contractor. Both sides had valid arguments, but the whole problem could have been avoided with better communication. The project was started without any written agreement. It was destined for problems from the very beginning. The contractor didn’t get paid for some of the time they had spent working. The home owner had to hire someone else repair some work that had been poorly done. They both had to pay court costs and neither won their case. When the trial was over it cost both parties more money, more time and more heartache.

Cost is so much more than just dollars. It is also time, contentment, enjoyment, etc. Remember…ask the questions before rather than dealing with problems after.


  • How much is it going to cost? – It amazes me how often projects start without this question being answered. I understand that it requires time, experience, and commitment from a contractor to prepare this ahead of time. Just like in the situation above, starting a project with no agreement, no clarity of what the project consists of, just a verbal hourly rate, leaves too many unanswered questions.
  • What is the purpose of this project? – Why am I considering it? What is the reason or reasons I want to do it? It may be the need for extra space for a growing family. It might be to fix some problems or issues; leaking roof, sagging floor, unsafe wiring, lack of insulation. Maybe it’s just because you would enjoy a nice new kitchen, a man cave, a walk-in closet, an attached garage or a nice new deck. The list of reasons can go on and on. The important thing is to get clear on the reason(s) before you start.
  • What do I want in a contractor? – This is an answer that will be as different as the people asking questions. Your preferences might be quality, personality, integrity, price, etc. The important thing is for you to decide what is right for you before starting the project not after.

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish.”

Luke 14:28-29, (MSG translation).

There are many factors to consider and questions to answer when doing a construction project. If you do it before, it will make the whole experience better.

What questions do you have that need asked before you start your project?


Here are a couple of other posts that you might find helpful

Six Ways To Find Your Right Builder

To Hire or Not to Hire, That Is the Question?

What We’ve Got Here, Is A Failure to Communicate

And What Can Happen When We Don’t


The above title is a famous line out of the 1967 movie, “Cool Hand Luke”. In the movie Lucas Jackson, played by Paul Newman, is a guy with more guts than brains, a man who refuses to conform to the rules. After being sent to a prison camp for committing a misdemeanor he is constantly giving the camp bosses trouble. After his mother dies the bosses put him in the box afraid he might want to attend the funeral. When he gets out he runs and gets caught and runs and gets caught, the bosses try to break him but he just won’t break. They try to force their ideas and rules on Lucas, but he is having none of that. In this case neither side is listening to the other.

The point is that effective communication requires listening, not trying to force your ideas on someone else. We all have our own thoughts and ideas how something should be done. In a business relationship we need to remember who has the check book, whose project it is. Our job as the business should be listening to the customer and helping them accomplish their goals. Not telling them what we think they want. Most of the time communication is thought of as what we say or write to someone. We need to remember that communication is a two-way street and we need to be listening twice as much as talking. We need to listen before we write.

I was involved in a situation this week that is a good example of what can happen when there is little or no communication. I was in small claims court as a witness in a double law suit between a building contractor and their customer. The contractor sued for an unpaid balance for work performed. The customer counter-sued for inadequate and poor-quality workmanship. Both parties had legitimate claims and neither party won. When everything was over they both dropped their suits. What could have, no should have, been an enjoyable and rewarding experience for both, ended as a losing situation for everyone involved. This whole mess could have been avoided had they started communicating in the beginning. There was no written agreement of any kind, just a verbal agreement with an hourly rate. This left too many unanswered questions and assumptions.

When I prepare a proposal for a construction project I am thorough and write the description of things to be done in detail with prices for each separate item. Yes, it takes longer than just giving an hourly rate. Some people, maybe most, would say I spend too much time working on proposals. Maybe I do, but I would rather waste some time on the front end than waste it in court on the back end.

I have been asked several times over the years by other contractors about my proposals. They want to know how I do them and if there is a software or a program that I use. Actually, I have been designing and building and tweaking this system over the last 30 plus years. I have even been hired by other contractors to do proposals for them. This got me started thinking that I need to share this system with others. So, we are just beginning the process of designing and developing a system that will include blank templates, a customizable data base and instructions on how to use it. We plan to have this ready and available by the end of June.

If you or someone you know would be interested in using a program like this then please forward this blog to them.