Whether to Release Drawings Before Having a Contract

A contractor and a customer are in a Mexican standoff over the drawings for a kitchen contract. The discussion digs deep into the balance of power in sales and marketing. July 13, 2011

A while back I had a thread explaining a difficult project and customer. The design process has been on and off. Without a lot of detail - I was given a deadline for a contract this past Tuesday. I was ready to walk from this kitchen when the wife called and asked me to get something on her husbandís desk by 5 P.M. The contractor called and asked the same. I wrote a contract and faxed it by 3 P.M. In a cover letter I state that elevations and 3D drawings were to follow (from the beginning I told the owners that I do not release drawings without a signed agreement). For the last two days his assistant has been calling with questions and finally says he will not sign the agreement without the elevations and 3D drawings. What to do? I really do not like being in this situation.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor H:
That is a tough one. I suppose you could tell them you need a check to release the drawings, say $750.00. They can then review them and sign. My guess is they just want the drawings and that is the last you will hear. Or you can tell them to meet you at your lawyers office to review the drawings and sign with a deposit. They can look but not get copies until after signing. If your lawyer handles it they are less likely to try and scam you. The assumption is you are a bloke who just fell off the turnip truck.

From contributor I:
Release the drawings for a reasonable design fee, to be applied towards the job, on the condition they use you for the project. Otherwise, they are welcome to view them, on screen, at your "design center" all they want. Explain that you have significant draw time involved, on speculation. A reasonable person should understand that. I assure you, whatever it is that they do, they don't do for free.

From contributor G:
It sounds as if you have something they want. Don't be frustrated or upset. Just name the game you want to play. The ball is in your court.

From contributor O:
Either go over there or have them come to your office and show the 3-D drawings on your computer. Spin them around show them all the views. Now they have seen them. Let them make their decision.

From contributor Z:
At this point the drawings have already been completed. Give them to the customer. They are of no value to you. The customer has told you what they need to feel comfortable in proceeding. You might get the job, you might not but you are not going to lose anything by surrendering something that has no value to you. If you become adversarial at the get go your odds of success will shrink by half at least. Step back and be a little philosophical.

From contributor S:
This is what lap tops are for. Drive over and make the sales pitch and have a contract in hand. If they don't sign and give you a deposit, close the computer and be on your way. No deal, no copies. By the way, my local HD's no longer give any printed plans out without a signed order. They used to give you a line drawing without measurements.

From contributor O:
I disagree with that Contributor Z. They may be of no use to you but they are a value to the client. And as with anything with value it should never be given away for free. You have time and resources into that drawing. If the client can't see that it has no value then this probably isn't a client that you want to do business with. Me on the other hand, it is part of my service. The 3-D renderings are part of my design program. Every time I send one out I have a disclaimer on it that if I don't get the job and you use my design there will be a fee imposed. My designs will never had dimensions on them until a deposit is made.

From contributor K:
I have takeen to including a 3-D or two with the quote. When I present I have a more detailed set of drawings. They get the detailed set when I get a retainer. I will break this rule if I feel it's warranted. That is based on who they are, which usually means by whom they're referred and their approach to me. For example, I have had at least a couple jobs this year where they've told me they haven't looked at any other cabinet maker. My probing solicits how they found out about me, etc. To put it in context, I'm in rural, smaller town mid-America where we tend to know each other or know the same people. What is your gut feeling? Whatever you do, do it with a genuine smile and professionalism.

From contributor Y:
One could counter Contributor Z's logic by comparing the drawings to a one off cabinet that has already been built and the customer refuses to pay for. It is of no value to you because it is already done, but would you just give it to him anyway? I don't charge for my drawings. I just include the cost in the job cost. This guy sounds like a tough client to deal with if he has his wife and his assistant doing his dirty work. I would either charge a tax to make it worth the headache you are about to bring upon yourself by taking this job, or walk. From what you have told us, the red flags are there.

From contributor F:
There are some good points here, though as is often the case we probably don't have a real good picture of all that's involved here. Do you need the work? This makes a big difference in how I would go about it. Your post makes it sound as if these have been difficult clients from the beginning, and now are throwing deadlines out there for no particular reason? That right off would make me question whether or not I would want to go any further with them. I doubt they'll be easier to work for once they've given you their money. You probably already have a good insight/feeling as to whether or not youíre competing against another shop? This too makes a difference in how I would go ahead.

If you do want/need the work then you have to decide what you feel comfortable with. We all have different opinions about how we deal with our own businesses. If youíre not comfortable now, then what would make you comfortable enough to go ahead - maybe a compromise of delivering the 3-D drawings without elevations? I usually don't give out any drawings with measurements without a deposit. If someone else is going to steal my design, they're going to have to work at it and figure out the dimensions for themselves! But a 3-D drawing may be good middle ground.

Whichever way you proceed I would think the best bet would be dealing with the client personally. Explain to them what you need to proceed and see where you may be able to compromise in order to go forward. Going back and forth through an assistant will probably only muddy the waters so to speak.

From contributor D:
Put yourself in the clientís position , would you buy something without seeing it? At least take the dimensions off the drawings and give them a copy with final copies to be given at signing/deposit. You already went this far. If you need the job hang in there unless there are other reasons to avoid them. Maybe an approval on color, door, and species as well as layout with these folks would be wise. Usually we go over the final plans and design to explain and make sure all is correct with the husband and wife at the same time. If all is well they give you a check and you give them a copy of the plans.

From contributor R:
Our jobs go one of two ways. Most of the time I give the client birds eye renderings based on our initial discussion and measurements. This is generally expected by the client as they need to see something. You canít just tell them "trust me it looks great!". After that if they want any further significant discussion or a redesign they have to pay a 10% or $500 deposit, whichever is more.

They can keep the first drawings, I really donít care. I generally do not spend more than two or three hours total on the first drawing, including making coffee and printing the reports. But I will not work on the project after that unless they pay the deposit. It is a refundable deposit, minus my design and professional fees which are stated in the contract as $100 an hour. Basically they will never get that money back.

The other scenario is when a client approaches me and asks for me to design something truly different. Inevitably they have seen one of our unique designs elsewhere and want something that is catchy like that. These designs take me a lot of time. Often I will spend days or weeks tweaking the design and layout. On these jobs we establish a budget up front, and I take a payment to cover the design fees. This payment is not a percentage of the total estimate. It is a separate service that they have to pay me for. After I am done I will give them all the drawings they want. Generally speaking I know they canít find anyone else to make my designs anyway. It usually plays out the same way with commercial jobs where there was not an architect to do the design already.

I donít know how much time you have invested so far, but it sounds like too much. At this point you have nothing to lose. The point of the deposit is to get the money before you invest the time. If you have already given them a lot of time and the design phase is basically done, you might as well give them the drawings they want. You are the only one who will lose if you donít. If they take the drawings and do not use you then I seriously doubt they were going to use you anyway. Good luck, I know itís not fun to lose a good job, but it is worse to win a bad one.

From contributor P:
If I recall, you've been back and forth with these folks for some time, right? Take the drawings to the client (on the laptop and have manual drawings printed out) and go over it right there and then, and then wrap up the meeting with a signed contract. While there, pepper the conversation with "...and once we write this up, I can leave the actual drawings with you for you to pop on your fridge in anticipation of the real thing (big smile)." Or, "...and once we write this up, I will take what you see on the screen (after you've shown them all the types of drawings you provide) and forward you your copy now that we have a final design."

It's time to write it or move on. What possible reason could they have at this point? It doesn't sound like you told them that they were going to get charged for the drawings, so that may be the assumption they are operating under. If they are and they point that out, simply remind them of all the time and effort you put into it, and that you provide free drawings with a contract, otherwise, there is a fee involved. If they want to know what the fee is, you know what you are dealing with. I would simply look at them at that point and say - "it doesn't matter what they cost because in your case, they are free since we are working together to bring you guys some beautiful cabinetry, and once we have the final design on our agreement, we will then provide you a complete set of drawings.Ē Sounds fair, right? The main reason we design on the computer is to make all the changes first so we don't waste resources and then once it is confirmed that the final design is what you want in our agreement and we receive a deposit, we are sure to provide you with the drawings. Keeps everything nice and simple, wouldn't you agree?

From contributor V:
I agree with those that said to show up in person for a meeting with these people with design in hand. They give you money as a deposit for the job or as a design fee and you leave them the drawings. If they are unwilling to give you any money, they just want your design for free to take to someone else. This of course assumes that they answer the door for you. I also agree with those that said that these people will most likely continue to be a pain down the road should you end up working for them.

From contributor T:
They want to sign the contract but it's incomplete without drawings. This seems a no brainer. Fax them or email them or bring them in person, but if you want the job with a contract, those drawings are part of that contract and they need them.

From contributor Z:
Customers want people to be excited about their work. They're scared and anxious. They want somebody to hold their hand, give them a big hug and let them know they are in good hands and everything is going to work out great. There is no better way to do this than to make suggestions. Send these in the format of a postcard. Maybe just a jpeg of an idea you thought might interest them. Maybe a drawing of a breakfast nook you did for somebody else. Show some enthusiasm. Put yourself in their shoes. If you are talking to two or three shops and most of them are suspicious and stingy and adversarial but one of them seems to always have good ideas - who are you going to pick? Today's customer is not a tire kicker. They're not stupid with their money anymore but they will buy as much value as you will show them and there is no better way to do that than making suggestions.

It is true that every now and then you will do a drawing for somebody that doesn't end up hiring you but you will have a close rate that exceeds anything you have ever had in the past. You also have some momentum already built up for the jobs you do build. You know where the snakes are. You have started to build a relationship with your customer and they are starting to trust you. You can now start to steer the job the direction you would like to see happen. Stop being stingy and solve the problem at the source. If drawing is difficult, figure out how to make it easier. You will get more referrals from every job if the customer recognizes a good shopping experience.

From contributor A:
I'm one man trying to do it all. I get a call, draw up a quick 3-D, (no measurements) and email it to them with a price. It takes me ten minutes to draw up a kitchen with CV. I win some, and I lose some, but it beats driving to their house, showing the drawing I did, and then having them still turn me down. Its my no pressure sales approach, and it seems to work.

From contributor M:
I no longer do kitchens, mostly because there are too many others doing them. When I did do them , I would go to a clients house to do a quote and nine times out of ten they would want to show me the drawings supplied by another company. This one company had blue glossy folders they supplied drawings and quotes in and every house you go to would have this folder. I don't like to copy designs forwarded by competitors. You are damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you give up your drawings, chances are if they like them they will show them around. If you don't give them drawings how do they make an educated decision. There are some customers you meet and there is no way you would give them drawings because you just don't like them.

From the original questioner:
I really appreciate all of the opinions on this thread. I agree with some and disagree with others. As stated with the owners from the beginning - I do not release drawings without a signed agreement. I called the owner and restated that I would type a proposal at a given price and upon signing I would send him the drawings he has already seen. I am waiting for his response. The amount of changes and time is no longer free. The quick drawer of the original idea and first quote was free. We'll see what he says. I am plenty busy right now and even if I weren't I would still hold to a statement that was said from the beginning - no drawings without an agreement.

From contributor Y:
We do not charge for drawings and use CV. A large part of my job is to bring in work residential and commercial. Commercial is cut and dry read the specs do a take off and submit the price Ė weíre lucky to get 10% of what we bid generally it is given away. Residential takes me longer to get the job with meetings a site measure and produce a set of plans, basic at first. I do however close around 80-90% of these jobs.

My point is that it takes time to get work. Your time should be part of the overhead for your business. If you do not provide drawings then what have you done for the customer to sell your product? Unlike the commercial side where price is king, I have found that trust, service and peace of mind for the customer go a long way in selling a job. I give all potential customers a shop tour. Our guys are super friendly and they can see how things are made and are welcome back at any point to see their project. Give them the drawings you will sell more jobs and your lost time will be paid for.

From contributor R:
We are not artists and people do not buy drawings from us. They come to us for cabinets. That is our product. The drawing is just part of the deal. We definitely need to charge for our time drawing. But to expect to be paid before the client ever see a drawing is silly. I draw the line after the first drawing/meeting. If they have further interest in my product we start talking about money and a contract is signed. I do not strictly adhere to this rule, if I like the client or if I feel like I missed the boat on the first drawing (did not follow the design they were looking for) I will give another. But if they like the proposal and want to refine it they have to secure my services with a check.

I do not actually charge for the drawings, meaning there is not line item for design in the invoice. I just roll it into the overhead. I do have three different labor rates (these rates include overhead) that account for easy, average or difficult jobs. Technically I call it catalog sales, professional sales, and full retail.

From contributor F:
I don't charge for my design drawings but I do account for them. I track and record the time I spend in the design/bidding process and that becomes part of my overhead calculations each year so it is not a total loss.

From contributor E:
This is a great thread with very good cases made for both sides of the argument. I think we all could agree that nobody works for free and stays in business. The consumer pays all bills one way or another. If you give out free drawings with each quote and bid ten jobs but only land five the five you land pay for the drawings for the five you didn't get! I have to agree with the charge up front for the design and drawings side but if you sell in a market where all of your competition is giving free design service it can be a tough sell. It is the way it should be done though because the person who gets the service pays for the service. In a soft market there is a tendency to act like we are giving away something we are not charging for but the truth is you can't stay in business very long if you don't get paid for your time.