When it comes to potential clients, identifying red flags early in the process can make a big difference. There is a lot of incentive from both the client and contractor to overlook obvious red flags.
Everyone wants the project to move forward. Here are some questions I ask myself to identify red flags.
1. Are they talking with a lot of contractors?
There’s nothing wrong with asking a prospect how many contractors they’re talking to. If they say two or three, that’s fine. But if they say a lot more, that communicates two things to me: First, they’re commoditizing the trades. Second, they’re not respectful of our time. They’re meeting seven contractors and expect those professionals to give the same amount of time to their project. That can mean entitlement and lack of respect.
2. How are they communicating with you?
A lot can be seen in the way a potential client communicates. Are they talking down to you? Are they reluctant to give anything away because they think you will quote them a high price if you know they have money?
3. How do they react to hard conversations at the beginning of the process?
You always want to have a hard conversation in the first meeting. That’s easy because construction is full of hard conversations, mainly about budget and schedule.
Ask: Is that your budget? And see how they respond. If people respond angrily, it’s a bad situation. It’s okay if the clients are uneducated or weren’t expecting that number, but what you’re trying to gauge is how they respond. Are they listening? Are they talking at me? Are they defensive? And if they’re a couple, how are they interacting with each other?
4. Are they reading your contract?
It doesn’t matter if the contract is two or 30 pages long—some people don’t read them at all, even when you walk through the document with them. Often, if things get difficult, these clients don’t understand the rules of play.
This is the most dangerous client because they’re often easygoing but become highly emotional with stressful events because they don’t understand. It can come up with change orders too. It’s not uncommon for clients to sign change orders and not pay attention to their budget.
And when people get confused, they get dangerous because they feel like they’re being betrayed.
5. Do they feel entitled to you?
People are spending a lot of money and sometimes can feel like they own you. We do have a contract for what we are responsible for and the scope of work. We try to be reasonable, but some clients require management beyond reason. They might be very indecisive or expect you to be at their beck and call. They text at all hours, call on weekends, and request meetings on holidays.
Looking for these red flags early, and making decisions accordingly, can save significant time and frustration for you and your team.