Differentiate Your Bid
Construction is a competitive business and knowing how to win a bid is as important as doing the job well once your bid is accepted. After all, better bids mean more jobs and more jobs mean more money and a bigger business. But how can you increase your chance of winning the bid?
The first step to winning more bids is getting seen. After all, you can’t be selected for a job if the client doesn’t know about you! Fortunately for the client – and unfortunately for you – most projects receive multiple bids. With so many competitors, it’s easy to get lost in the pile of applications. Finding a way to stand out or be remembered can go a long way to increasing your success when bidding for a project.
You can think of your bid as a resume: it shows what skills you have, what the client can expect from you, and what value you add to the project. Of course, hiring managers only spend an average of 6 seconds looking at a resume before deciding whether to learn more about the candidate – and it’s a safe bet your clients are doing the same. They have a lot of decisions to make, so catch their eye quickly or you may be filed in the “not interested” pile.
So, you understand the importance of standing out, but how do you actually do it? One great way to is offer unexpected or novel upgrades that help the client offer something special without breaking the bank. The general contractor is worried first and foremost about doing a good-quality, low-cost job, but of course, he also has to stand out in order to find clients. Providing some creative options that he can execute quickly and cheaply satisfies both of his needs. This is particularly easy when it comes to drywall, since everyone thinks of the “same old, same old” boring drywall. It’s practical and plain, but not interesting or exciting.
So, if you want to get some attention, perhaps consider pitching the client some interesting upgrades. Change their idea of what can be accomplished on their budget with proposals like using decorative corner beads to go beyond boring, hard, 90-degree corners. These types of finishing beads can be used to upgrade windows, as well.
While one of the most common uses of decorative finishing beads is to re-create traditional finishes (like hand-cut millwork) on a budget, beads can also be used to add strikingly modern visual accents, such as trim-free doors delineated by a reveal. Minimalism is a natural fit for drywall – just be careful to build in visual accents to keep your bid interesting. To save your client even more money on both materials and labor, consider using vinyl beads, rather than standard metal. If your project calls for detailing like trim-free doors, a vinyl bead provides the same great look as metal, added flexibility to prevent cracks, but costs less to buy and involves less wasted product (won’t kink or rust like metal) and is faster to install without the need for backing (saving on labor costs). In short: between two otherwise identical pitches, the vinyl reveals provide a cheaper, more durable and thus more appealing, bid.
Modern drywall innovations also allow for techniques that minimize maintenance – saving the building owner money on maintenance and cleaning costs. For instance, you might consider baseboards that sit flush to the wall, preventing dust accumulation. Vinyl corner beads are dent-resistant (unlike metal ones), reducing the need for expensive touch-ups during the life of the building. Depending on the needs of the project, vinyl reveals even offer built-in expansion crack protection.
Finally, for the really creative contractor, the possibilities for custom drywall art are truly limitless. Projects like the “Cloud Ceiling Cafeteria” to the “Rocking Guitar Ceiling” show just how far you can go when the inspiration strikes. Custom installations are a great way to show your level of skill in a bid, as well as your understanding of the client – creating an installation that is tailored to their look, brand, or taste will show you’ve done your homework, regardless of whether or not they decide to build the drywall art you’ve imagined. For even more ideas, check out Drywall Nation, who specialize in creating unique details to express their clients’ personality.
Often in bidding, as in everything else, it’s not only what you know, but who you know. Maintaining good relationships with general contractors in your area will help move you up their mental list of who to recommend or whom to go to first when they get a new project.
Relationships are key even when you’re working with a non-expert, like a homeowner looking to remodel or build a custom home. In these cases, because the client isn’t an expert, they may not even know how to evaluate the bids they receive. They may not know how to tell good work from bad, or what questions to ask, so they rely on the recommendations of others (think how common it is to see a Facebook post asking something like “re-doing my kitchen – is there anyone you recommend?”). In the end, people rely on what others have to say when they make the decision about whom to hire – as much as (or perhaps even more than) they rely on the bid itself.
So, no matter who your client is – general contractor or a private client – word of mouth is your best marketing. and, Combine this with your ability to differentiate your bid, and you can really make a difference in landing more projects. If you become known for, say, the always finishing your work on time or under budget (or both would be even better!), other building professionals you know are more likely to recommend you when they hear a client is looking for interesting custom work. A flooring expert who knows you may say, “drywall? I know just the person,” if a client asks for their advice.
The more people you know, the more people who can recommend you. Search Facebook for trade groups in your area, contact a local union, and stay updated on trade shows and conferences. Know the major players where you are and find out when they meet to discuss upcoming jobs. For instance, city council meetings can be a good place to learn about major projects that will be coming up. You might even consider getting involved with social organizations like Rotary (or at least contacting them), as philanthropic organizations are sure to know the big spenders and key players in town. Volunteering a little time to a charity organization, such as donating some hours to a current project of theirs, is a great way to show your skills while also making a good impression on well-connected potential clients.
Once you have made the connections – met your councilmen and councilwomen, spoken with other industry professionals, etc. – remember that it’s important to stay on their radar without overloading them. Try to find out what really interests them about their job, the needs of the city, etc. and check in with them when (and only when) you have something interesting to offer. No one (especially busy people) likes getting an e-mail “just to check in.” However, if you’ve read an article about their area of interest or met someone whom you can connect them with, offering that is a great way to remind them who you are and that you are a hardworking professional who can contribute to their projects or help with what is important to them.
Of course, building relationships isn’t just about networking. It’s also about knowing your client. Take the time to understand what they want – not just the surface level (luxury condo or multi-family apartments, etc.) but what they may not have thought of yet. What can you offer to save them time or money? Do you have creative ideas about how to meet building codes on a budget? Stay up to date on current materials, techniques, etc. so that you can be proactive about meeting their needs, rather than responding to problems as they arise.
Understanding what the client really wants will help you make suggestions that can really wow them, as well as help you stand out from the crowd. A client that has the feeling you really get them is much more likely to recommend you to a friend, business partner, etc. Never underestimate the degree to which a good relationship with a current client can land you future jobs.
Become a Trusted Expert
Easier said than done, perhaps, but becoming a trusted expert is a great way to capitalize on both relationships and setting yourself apart. Excellent contractors who specialize and do it better than anyone else will never want, for work. Being “the drywall art” guy or the “custom doorways” gal, etc., will help you tremendously when it comes to securing projects. If you can build the recognition as a specialist in a particular area of construction, people will turn to you whenever they have that type of project.
Of course, building this kind of reputation takes time, but it may be worth considering what parts of the job you enjoy the most and finding out how you can improve your skills in that area. In addition to becoming a recognized expert, doubling down on the aspects of the job you love will help you build relationships – everyone likes to work with someone who’s enthusiastic and loves their job. Your excitement for the project will energize the client and leave them with a good feeling about the experience, as well asand the desire to recommend you to friends or hire you for other jobs.
For some “expert” inspiration, start by thinking about the contractors in your area – whom would you recommend if a friend asked you for the best eco-friendly builder in town? The best contractor for clean, minimalist looks? The best for complicated layered ceilings? Identify the experts you know and figure out what sets them apart. You may also consider looking at expert contractors elsewhere, too, such as who specializes in upscale drywall in homes and prides himself on attention to finishing details. While he works primarily in custom home design, his approach is valid in other areas of construction: he’s known for coming up with solutions that no one else had offered. Beyond that, Todd works in the best materials available and possesses up-to-date skills. In short, he is a good example of expertise in multiple ways.
Not all experts develop a niche that is as broad as “upscale custom homes,” however. Often, a contractor can boost their renown by becoming super-specialized. Consider Caasi Construction (another contractor you’ll want to be familiar with), who have made a name for themselves as a one-stop shop for mid-sized commercial clients in the Midwest.
Either approach is valid, but it’s a question of how you want to spend your time and energy. Figure out what you’re best positioned to present yourself as. Once you know which approach will suit you best, you can start tailoring your bids, advertisements, and networking to reflect the image you’d like to have – and bring in the clients you’d most like to work with.
Provide a Higher Quality Service/Product
Obviously, not everyone can be an expert in everything, and building that reputation can take years. In the meantime, upgrading your offerings is another way to become known and to put you in touch with new colleagues who can recommend you for jobs.
Offering a wide range of (better) materials or other upgraded products is as simple as doing a little research to find out what is out there, it can makethe difference between winning or losing a bid. Stay current by subscribing to industry publications like Wall & Ceilings or join trade associations like the Association AWCI. Go to trade shows like the International Builders or INTEX. You might even try calling your suppliers and ask to speak to a representative about new products coming to the market. Many clients are interested in investing in the best available products for their home or office, but don’t know about (or understand) all the possibilities. Because lots of people freeze when presented with too much information or too many possibilities, come prepared with just a few premium options (three is often a good number). This not only makes them feel that you are helpful and knowledgeable, but makes it easier to say yes to the upgrade because they have a manageable number of choices. It also helps you make a tight presentation – no one likes hearing a list of every possible variation. Picking the three best options for your client to choose from helps you come across as engaging and competent.
Higher-quality products and services my offer advantages in any number of ways. They mayoffer cost-saving,like using vinyl beads rather than metal beads to finish edges, they might be more durable and longer-lasting, or they might offer an aesthetic improvement like perfectly smooth walls and ceilings. Some contractors, like Baker Triangle, even opt to use these material upgrades exclusively, because of the time and money they save in the long run by minimizing waste,both in labor and of product).