In an effort to reduce the unbilled hours (as much as practical), I no longer do free estimates. Usually this discourages the shoppers and encourages the buyers. In a moment of weakness I did a 2 hour free estimate on a job (grumbling for hours after). I did get the contract, so all is well, but I have a terrible time explaining it well on the phone.
I don't want to say "I don't do free estimates", but often it ends up a version of that. It's easy when it's an emergency, but when it's a small remodeling project like changing some fixtures or adding an outlet, people want a free estimate. I used to do it & many around here do it also. I don't mind loosing the little jobs, but this one I got this week could easily turn into $5-10,000 this year. If I hadn't spent the 2 hours with her, and stuck to the deal of "I charge a small fee to come out and then give you a price up front" I could have lost it.
Its tough whith those lenghthy walkthrough's. however, it kind of comes with our territory. Often i get calls from out of state General Contractors asking if im interested in bidding an upcomming project with them. When the plans arrive i often have 3 to 4 days to take off the drawings and plug in the numbers. The more you bid the more your volume increses however. The cost of owning a buisness i guess. the worst thing is arriving on an estimate and 1/2 way thru you already know that your just there to keep another electrician honest. Again, the cost of being in buisness...
Most of our jobs are estimated using a flat rate by my electricans. If they don't close the sale, they collect a fee. If they do close the sale, the fee is waived. If we get a call that is a hot lead (referral or past customer) for a decent sized job I do the estimate myself and generally don't charge a fee, but my close rate on these jobs is probably 90%. Basically I know I have the job upfront or they pay a fee.
Side note. Over the past year our rates for service work have almost doubled, yet we still close about 75% of all calls. We'll keep raising until the market tells us to stop.
Electric Eagle,Iam thinking of doing the same thing. I would charge the customer a 40.00 trip charge to come out to the house.Like dave was saying i too need to cut down on all the "driving around for nothing" and eliminate the price shoppers. I had one guy not to far from my house want 3 seperate prices for a service upgrade from me. i told him ok, that will be 75.00 an hour and a 4 hour mininum, to cover my time to give him the estimate he wanted.He looked at me like i was crazy.I told him we dont work for free and that my time and knowlege have value. He didnt seem to agree,Oh well i would rather loose a job and not make any money and be with my family, then to work all day and come home with nothing to show for it and time lost with the family.Just the way i see it.Get paid for everything that you do business is buisness.
Back when we did residential work we offered free quotes. We even had it printed on our cards. I quickly learned that was nothing more than an invite to be a pricing service. This practice was eventually abandoned. (and new cards made) That was <1980. Now, we only offer N/C quotes to regular customers where we actually have 95% of our quotes approved. We sub sign work (Neon) and the sign contractors charge $250 per quote flat rate regardless of the size of the job.
[This message has been edited by LearJet9 (edited 04-30-2005).]
I had a 4 hour "free estimate"/bid on a $10,000 job. I hope I get it. I don't mind doing it on the big ones. I try to discourage the shoppers on the small ones by charging a fee. I got a call today for a bath fan. I didn't really want to spend an hour for a 1 in 3 chance at that.