Etiquette for Scheduling Pending Work

Thoughts on communicating with customers about their place in line. March 11, 2009

The short version: I submitted a bid recently to new Client A, who explains he is anxious to get started on a relatively small countertop job. He's in an affluent area, and is a pleasant person who seems easy to work with. If the job materializes, it would probably carry the potential for some high-end referral work. No reply as yet. Yesterday, a larger job develops, through a decorator who has been a good source of steady work. Her Client B wants to start right away, of course.

My dilemma: I'm a one-man shop and can't take on both jobs at once. So, do I owe Client A a follow-up call to try to nurture the relationship and explain gently that he is about to lose his place in line, or do I just assume at this point that he's not interested? No response for a week is inconsistent with his eagerness of just 10 days ago.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor K:
Personally, I like the approach that shows both customers you are interested in their work. I see no problem with calling customer A or B and just inquiring as to the status of their work. The one thing you don't want to do is appear you are giving either of them an ultimatum so don't say anything about having another job waiting. They already expect you have something else to do. Bottom line is, "first come first served". Politely ask the status of their decision and work from there.

When my shop was in Illinois, I regularly had 12-18 months of backlog. If the customer wants you, they will wait for you. I am also a one man shop and it simply takes time to get it out the door. Forget the idea that you can't do both jobs at once. No one should expect you to. Try hard to sign both jobs and get them done as soon as you can. At the time of signing the contracts, don't say anything about time schedule until you have the deposit or are asked. Remember, "first come first served".

From contributor A:
So often the customer gets anxious about having some aspect of a project done "now" that it clouds their judgment. Basically their emotions make them lose sight of the factor that determines the success of the multi variable equation of construction. My current customer is a poster child for "fire alarm" syndrome. He's a good friend so I know he's got ADD. I try to accommodate his insanity. More often than not the customer makes a big deal about one aspect, while totally forgetting or not knowing about another aspect which leads to delays. A good GC knows these things and can head off delays. Talk to each of them. Figure out exactly why and what they are trying to accomplish. Find out if it is realistic. Try your very best to stick closely to time frames.

From contributor H:

Call him back and tell him you can start his job now if he wants it. Then tell the designer they will have to wait a few weeks. They will wait. I look at it this way and tell my clients the same. If someone says they can do your job at once why don't they have any other work? If your good in general your busy and have a backlog. Mine has always been between 2-4 months. You can do both.

From contributor K:
What are you stressing for? A small countertop job (you didn't specify which materials), shouldn't take very long, and could most likely be done while you are in the design/material order phase for the designer (a week?). Give customer A a call and let him know that you have a large project getting ready to be signed, and would he prefer to have his project done before or after (give him an estimated time-frame) the large project. Tell him you called him first as you work on a first-come, first-served basis, and he was there first, so you wanted to give him first choice of schedule. Give the designer a heads-up you have a countertop to complete during the design/material order phase of customer B's large project, and that their place is also secure. You will come across as the professional you should be.

From contributor D:
You said: "Client A, who explains he is anxious to get started on a relatively small countertop job." I am with contributor K on this one. I never stress project that contains "relatively small" in the description. Unless your perception of "relatively small" is way different than ours, how long could this job possibly take? Take both jobs as they materialize. What is the worst case scenario? You may have to work late a couple of days or even a Saturday. "Relatively small" by my standards is maybe 24 feet of tops and one sink hole, which even on a bad day with the most complex materials is only a 3-4 day gig with installation.

From contributor L:
I am with the "Do the Job" posters. You cannot afford to not take jobs on. It is your shop and it is your schedule. You will apparently have a few days in-between the two as others have posted, just materials showing up. If you are stressed then find a part timer and watch the jobs get cut and parts materialize as you go out and get more work and order materials. You are paying for space for those machines - so work them. We take on all work - no matter what their schedule is, we work them into ours. We work the floor and machines and as more jobs hit the schedule, others are being cut, others are being assembled and others are being delivered. So get your momentum going and watch the cash move.

From contributor T:
I would suggest that an order isn't an order until you get the down payment check. Why worry when you don't have an order? I would welcome all orders. You can always change the schedule or hire more people. Finally, always follow up and ask for the order!