Being Aware of Bid Mistakes is the Best Way to Avoid Them

This is the First Step in Building a Better Proposal

Even though Gene was still overwhelmed, and his schedule was packed, he knew the only way to ever get control was to keep his upcoming appointment with John.

Gene had spent a lot of time this past week considering the questions John had asked at the first meeting.

  1. Why do you do what you do?
  2. Do you love what you do?
  3. Why do we need to do proposals?

As Gene was driving to the office of SMR Construction, these questions were still banging around in his head with a wide variety of answers and no real clarity.

As he entered the office, Gene smelled something amazing. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was. John was providing lunch this week, and the smell made his hunger apparent.

In the conference room John was stirring some chili. “Lunch is ready. Grab a bowl and let’s get started.”

As they sat down John asked, “Did you come up with answers to the questions?”

Gene sat there for a minute and said, “I’ve come up with way too many answers. About the time I think I have it figured out; another answer shows up.”

John grinned, “That sounds about right.

The important thing is not having every answer to every question, but rather to continually be asking the questions and actively looking for the answers.

I still ask and answer questions every day.”

“A good way to find WHY answers is to figure out things that work and things that don’t. Let’s start with a WHAT question. John handed Gene some papers and said,

“What are the most common bid mistakes contractors make?

Here are seven mistakes that construction companies consistently make that cost them a fortune in both time and money. The first one is…

#1 Customers lack clarity – You remember the story I told you last week about that misunderstanding I had with a customer? This is a perfect example of how the lack of customer clarity is a problem. You need to provide a clear detailed description of the work and the materials you’re going to provide. A clear scope of work helps avoid customer confusion. The Building a Better Proposal provides a system to give clarity to your customer.

#2 Production crews lack clarity – The scope of work not only provides customers with clarity, but it also gives the production crews a clear understanding of the work to be done. This prevents subcontractors and employees from doing more or less than the project includes. Too much work done means cost overruns. Too little and the customer is unhappy. The Building a Better Proposal system gives the production crews a clear description of the work to be done.

#3 No production budget – When the production crews don’t know what the budget for the project is, they often spend more than expected. These cost overruns mean less profit.

When I was just starting out in business a banker told me…

If you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.

Let your production crews know how many pennies they have to spend. This will lead to more dollars of profit. The Building a Better Proposal system provides the production crew with budget numbers.

#4 Unsatisfied customers – Unhappy customers can be a series problem. Not only can they be a drain on company morale, but they can cost you money and hurt your reputation. They’re paying you to have their dream turned into reality. When they don’t have an accurate project amount before the work’s done, they won’t be happy when it’s finished and costs more than they expected. The Building a Better Proposal system gives the customer a clear expectation of cost before the work starts so that when it’s done for that price, they’ll be happy.

#5 Unprofitable projects – One of the biggest problems in construction is Guesstimates. Guessing at the amount of time and material it’s going to take to do a project is a big risk. Different size projects require different overhead and profit margins. The Building a Better Proposal system provides predetermined options of overhead and profit when preparing a proposal.

Proposals done this way can increase the profitability of your projects.

#6 Trying to do everything yourself – Most small construction companies only have a few employees. Their focus is usually on the physical construction which doesn’t leave time for doing accurate detailed proposals. Most contractors don’t like paperwork. This leads to hasty, inadequate, and oversimplified proposals. The Building a Better Proposal is a system that allows you to focus on doing construction while office staff does paperwork.

#7 Your bidding system isn’t customizable – Most construction projects consist of a variety of different areas of construction. You need a system that gives you the freedom to pick and choose what’s included and what’s not. Because markets vary greatly based on geographic locations, you need a system that you can adjust to your area’s specific requirements and rates. The Building a Better Proposal system allows you to customize proposals in these ways and more.”

John could see that Gene’s eyes were glazing over. “I know this is a lot to take in and doesn’t feel like we’re getting any closer to actually doing proposals, but I assure you…

Getting clear on these mistakes is the first step to providing better proposals.

Next week we’ll break down and look at the parts that make up the Building a Better Proposal.

You can check out the other Business BUILDing Tools that John uses here.

If you have questions about the Building a Better Proposal tool or how we can help you take control of your construction business, set up a free 30-minute construction company consultation.

What is it About TOOLS That Building Contractors Love So Much?

Wielding a Power Tool Gives Us a Sense of Control and Respect

Last week we discussed how to build the construction company of your dreams with a plan and the right tools. We talked about how scary it is to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. We also discussed how this plodding back and forth can get us stuck in a rut.

You need some powerful business building tools to help you get out of your rut.

The feeling of that power in our hands is amazing. We are in control, but the machine can never be tamed. We have to respect it, or we will regret it. We pretend to be in charge of the “power tool beast”, but we know better.

Power and control

  • Power tools have the power to create. When the power tools come out, we have no idea what is about to happen. Every time we connect with that much electricity, a child-like excitement oozes from our pores.
  • Power tools have an untamed spirit that screams: “Anything can happen.” Turning on a generator makes you feel like you are The Generator. For a few minutes, you’re off the grid and in-charge. You have the power and can decide who you will bestow it upon.
  • Power tools let us pretend that we can do anything. Don’t fool yourself, your power tool is in charge! Just look at the sticker on your SAWZALL: “Warning this device is powerful and is capable of doing serious harm to your home, your person, or your entire way of life.

Meditate on the raw power, the Amps and the Volts. Be in awe and imagine where your power tools may take you.

This fascination with tools is very similar to the reason most guys would take almost any ridiculous “man challenge” for the promise of a gold sticker on their forehead and “buddy cred”.

“Hey, I bet you can’t crush that can with your head!” Sound familiar?

Hopefully, most of us are smarter than this.

As builders we love the rush we get from building something. That sense of accomplishment that comes from creating a dream home out of that stack of boards. Tools give us the power and control to do this.

A tool that is even more powerful than the biggest, meanest chop saw is the Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal.

I know it doesn’t make as much noise or make your arm numb after using it all afternoon, but it’s a tool that will allow you to build your business into a skyscraper of success.

The hardest thing you will ever build is a business. The tools used for this kind of building are different than what we normally think of when thinking tools.

During my forty plus years of building my business, I’ve continually worked to achieve and maintain a sense of control over my profit and build the successful company of my dreams.

Just like any other building project, it’s important to have tools and know which ones to use in specific applications. You wouldn’t use a cordless screw gun to saw a board, or a reciprocating saw to nail down a shingle.

You can saw a board with a hand saw or you can use a circular saw. We both know which is faster, easier, and makes more sense.

The same thing is true when building a business…you need to have the right tools.

Why is it that we builders are so stubborn when it comes to trying something new and different. Business building power tools sound too good to be true.

You can use the old school “guesstimation” method or you could use the new and improved Building a Better Proposal power tool.

It’s important to have the right tools for the job.

Maybe you uncover some termite damage, or your customer decides after the project has started that they would like to do some additional work.

These kinds of things happen on construction projects quite often. This presents you with the option of moving forward without giving your customer a price or preparing a change order.

I know it’s another one of those uncomfortable “get out of the rut” kind of situations.

What if there was a power tool for preparing a change order…oh that’s right, there is! It’s called Building a Better Change Order.

These are just two of the power tools that will be available for you in the digital Business BUILDing Toolbox. We plan to have these tools and more available later this month.

If you or someone you know would like to feel the power of a tool that provides control for building a successful construction business, while respecting that power without regret…stay tuned for updates on when we open the lid on the Business BUILDing Toolbox.

If you have questions about how these business building power tools could help you build the business of your dreams, you can schedule a free 30-minute consultation here.

Why We Need Numbers to Help Construction Contractors Achieve Excellence, Part 4

How Else are We Going to Know How High the Bar Actually is?

Over the past several weeks we’ve discussed how low the bar is regarding the construction industry and the need to raise it. We talked about how most people working in construction aren’t even aware that there’s a problem. Then we looked into how an evaluation system could improve those standards. Last week, we broke down what construction contractor excellence should consist of.

This week we’re going to look at the hard part of the process…putting numbers to performance.

The number of goals made or correct answers given provide a numerical value of a person’s accomplishments. Evaluating performance is harder, it’s about expectation and perception.

The variation of perception is one of the main reasons this process gets left undone.

What’s acceptable to me, may not be acceptable to you and vice versa. This is why a system for giving a fair evaluation is important.

The rating part of the process –  

  • This is an objective form of reasoning used to analyze and evaluate companies, contractors, and individuals in each of the five (5) different rating categories.
  • Evaluations must be based on the company’s or individuals actual performance, not the comments or opinions of others.
  • The evaluation must reflect the combination and culmination of events during the entire project. Single events of outstanding or faulty performance should be considered in context of the overall project.

The following tendencies need to be recognized and avoided in order to keep the ratings as objective as possible.

  • “Halo Effect” – rating the company or individual the same in every category based on a general opinion of their performance. Each category must be evaluated separately and objectively.
  • Bias – rating a company or individual based on whether or not the person doing the evaluation likes or dislikes the company or individual being evaluated.
  • Undue credit for length of service – rating a company or individual based on their length of service instead of the quality of their performance. In other words, thinking that they must be exceeding industries standard because they have been doing this work for 15 years.
  • Loose ratings – giving higher ratings out of a desire to please and remain in a positive light with the company or individual.
  • Tight ratings – rating companies and individuals below standards due to the person doing the evaluation being a “perfectionist”. If all the companies and individuals are rated too low, it reflects on supervision!

We need a consistent and simple way to score each of the five (5) areas of accountability that we discussed last week; time management, attention to detail, communication, quality of work and respect for the budget.

Each area was divided into various sub-sections that scored independently and averaged together make up the score for each area being evaluated. These five (5) scores then averaged together give us the overall score of the evaluation.

The following notes offer a further explanation of ratings and describe standards of performance. They should be taken as general illustrations of the standard expected rather than as comprehensive definitions. Evaluators should use their judgment in determining other factors which should be taken into account in particular situations.

Here is the numbering system for rating each area


This is the highest level of performance. Few companies or individuals will score at this level. It is only attained by top performers, if ever. This performance rating is characterized by an exceptionally high quality of superior craftsmanship done in a timely manner. They constantly seek out and assume responsibilities above and beyond expectations and contribute new ideas or ways of improving operational and/or procedural matters.

  • EXCEEDS STANDARDS 4.0 – 4.7 –

Evaluations in this range are very desirable. Companies and individuals who score in this range demonstrate above average performance in their position. Performance approached that of excellent in craftsmanship and production. Require a degree of supervision that is less than typical of most companies and individuals. They make significant contributions to production and periodically seek out and assume responsibilities beyond expectations.

  • MEETS STANDARDS 3.0 – 3.9 –

Performs in a responsible and comprehensive manner, however, improvement should be expected on future evaluations. Requires a higher degree of supervision than should be needed. Performs work in a professional manner and makes acceptable contributions to production.


Companies and individuals scoring in this range are considered marginal. Performance of is barely adequate. Requires extensive direction and review to keep projects moving forward. Companies and individuals scoring in this group should be informed that if there isn’t improvement they will NOT be used on future projects.


Companies and individuals should never score this low. Performance in this range is nowhere near acceptable standards. The performance is low and chances for improvement are unlikely. Every project that this company or individual is on is sending a message to customers that job performance and quality are not important!

Once each of the areas has been rated based on the performance on the project and the overall average has been determined, that number is multiplied by 20 to give us the overall score.

These scores then will be as follows:

            94 – 100     FAR EXCEEDS STANDARDS

            80 – 93       EXCEEDS STANDARDS

            60 – 79       MEETS STANDARDS


            < 40          FAILS TO MEET STANDARDS

Today’s post along with the three previous ones will provide a construction contractor evaluation system that will begin raising the bar to a level of excellence.

Like most things, this can seem a little overwhelming, but so did your first construction project when you started it.

Just start building the wall one brick at a time and before you know it…it’s done.

The key to building anything is having a good plan and following it. This construction contractor evaluation system is a part of such a plan.

Here at Timber Creek Construction, we’ve been looking for a process to hold ourselves and our production team accountable. Implementing this plan is how we’re going to do just that.

An Eye-opening Process to Hold Contractors to a Higher Standard, Part 2

The First Step is Raising the Bar High Enough So an Earth Worm Can Get Under It

I talked last week about how poorly the construction industry is viewed and the contractor’s unawareness of how low construction standards are. It’s pretty sad when the bar is so low that an earth worm can’t get under it.

We discussed how important it is for a professional builder to –

  • Communicate clearly
  • Listen intently
  • Respect other people’s time
  • Be responsive
  • Be accountable

And how we should live and work using the “golden rules for construction contractors

As a general contractor I’ve allowed myself, sub-contractors and laborers the latitude to leave the bar where it is. When this is permitted as acceptable, it leaves the bar laying in the dirt.

Standard is just average. Average should not be what we’re striving for. Currently the industry average needs to be raised. Let’s work together to get the bar out of the dirt. We need to determine what acceptable standards are and then incorporate a process to evaluate performance as compared to the standard.

We should be working to achieve more than average. We should be striving for excellence.

Usually, we have every intention of doing better. Good intentions are easy, actually doing better is the hard part. It doesn’t help when we aren’t even clear on what’s expected. We need an accountability system to be designed and implemented. A process for sharing and explaining clearly what the expectations are and a way to evaluate how well they are being met.

Now the hard part begins…what is this evaluation system going to be, how is it going to work?

If no one knows what the standards are…it’s going to be hard to achieve them.

We need a way to evaluate the performance of everyone involved in the construction process. We need a system to –

  • Share what our construction business standards are and what is expected from ourselves, contractors and laborers.
  • Assist individuals and companies in making the best possible choices and decisions regarding construction projects.
  • Provide positive and constructive evaluation not intended to find fault, but to develop better contractors, laborers and companies.
  • Minimize differences in opinions and focus on the work done, not personalities and/or our differing perspectives.
  • Evaluate ourselves, contractors and laborers at the completion of each project.
  • Provide construction customers with the best work possible by not only working harder but also working smarter.
  • Reinforce appreciation for performing above and beyond industry standards while constantly raising that level of standard.

This system needs to have a way to rate each company and/or individual on their performance based on a culmination of events and actions of each project. These ratings then need to be accumulated in an overall performance rating to be used to compare to other companies and/or individuals when choosing who will do future projects.

We need to determine what areas we will be held accountable for and rated and reviewed in? We also need a numerical rating system for doing the evaluating.

We’ll get into these areas in the next post.

As I’m writing these weekly solutions, I’m developing an evaluation system that I’m going to implement at Timber Creek Construction. Once I get it finished, I plan to make it available at Solution Building for other companies that would like to help raise the bar in the construction industry standards.

Can You Imagine What It Would be Like to Build a House Without Power Tools?

So, why is it That Most Construction Contractors Will Do Proposals Like That?

Think about building a house by sawing every board and sheet of plywood with a handsaw. Mixing the concrete all by hand. And driving every nail with a hammer.

This sounds like a long drawn out, difficult method for building.

This is how most construction contractors do proposals.

The same way they’ve been done for 100 years. It’s like building with hand tools but it doesn’t have to be like this.

There’s a power tool for doing proposals.

When doing proposals, the old “hand tool” way the contractor will do them the same way grandpa would have.

If they are a particular person, they will determine the size and quantities of the material needed. This will include –

  • The cubic yards of dirt that needs moved
  • Cubic yards of concrete
  • Boards needed for framing of floor, walls, roof
  • Siding, exterior trim, exterior paint
  • Shingles, roofing underlayment, flashings
  • Insulation for floor, walls, attic
  • Doors and windows
  • Base, casing, stairways, misc. trim
  • Cabinetry, countertops, closets
  • Interior paint, stain, clear finish, wallpaper
  • Carpet, vinyl, tile, etc.
  • Plumbing pipe, fixtures
  • Heater, AC condenser, ductwork, registers
  • Electrical wiring, fixtures, receptacles, switches, breaker panels
  • Porches, decks, railings

Once these things have been figured and counted, they will get prices for each of them to determine the cost. Then they will guess at how long it will take to do the work and put a price to it.

Less detailed contractors just guess at the whole thing.

Building a house takes a lot of pieces. The same number of pieces…regardless of how you figure the price.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a power tool that would allow you to consistently determine the price whether you are a detailed person or not?

The Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal is a “power tool” for doing proposals.

This power tool provides:

  • A scope of work that communicates clearly with customers and production crews
  • A budget providing production crews with a clear understanding of time allowed and material costs
  • A system that allows for delegating portions or the complete proposal process

To get this “power tool” in more contractor’s business toolboxes, we’re offering a Holiday Special beginning Black Friday through the end of the year. This special includes a reduced price for the proposal system plus free bonus templates.

In addition to the reduced price for proposal system there’s going to be a contractor drawing for a…

DeWalt cordless tool kit

Check next week’s post (11/28/21) for details of how to get entered in the power tool drawing.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about how this power tool can help avoid the 7 common bid mistakes contractors make that cost them a fortune.

Click here.

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?