Sargent's solutions - the art of negotiating quotations with your clients

Pay attention to the wording and timing in your quotations to protect against cost escalations, Alan Sargent advises.

I have had a couple of instances where the client has accepted a quote but not until several months after I submitted it. I now feel unhappy with my original figures but do not want to withdraw because I would like the work - but how do I go about submitting a new quote?

This is another example of learning how to turn a problem into an asset. When you visit a site and go through the whole interview process - which is an accurate description of the intercourse between a contractor and potential customer - each side interviews the other and comes to the conclusion that you could work together, provided that the quotation figures are acceptable.

There should be several parts to a final quotation, including the specification, working method statement, (possibly) breakdown of the figures - certainly a total or menu of figures for acceptance by the client. Other documents that may be tabled and included are insurance policy details, BACS and other financial information as well as a record of any plans and drawings, including reference numbers and dates.

Anticipate future problems

These will be familiar to those readers who undertake landscape or garden build projects, but such documentation is equally important to general maintenance contractors. While the facts and information will be somewhat different to, say, a new-build garden, with lots of products and processes set out in detail, those who undertake maintenance or clearance works, including mowing and hedge cutting, also need to protect themselves against future problems and disputes as part of the tender process.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the document process is not all one-way. The client should table and supply any information germane to the project. These may include planning permissions and any titles, deeds or permits to enter neighbouring land, or restrictions on working hours/noise abatement clauses. They should also include any plans of the site, showing drainage runs, electricity and oil delivery pipes or other underground services. These documents should be tabled and shown in the quotation package.

Time limitation clause

A form of words must be included in your quotation, and highlighted as an important element of the offer, drawing attention to a time limitation clause. In the case of construction projects, these may be as simple as: "Prices are based on rates current at the time of quotation and may be subject to review. This quotation is open for acceptance for three months from (date) and prices will be held for that period."

In other words, a fixed-price quotation. It is easily understood by both parties and the inclusion of a time-limited clause will concentrate the client's mind in accepting the quote.

However, this formula is not so straightforward when you are a maintenance contractor. Information gathered at the interview may be limited to some simple facts. The job requires the cutting of a 50ft-long by 8ft-high by 8ft-wide hedge, plus cutting the grass in a meadow and, say, cleaning out an overgrown ditch. Jobs that only need a simple description, with perhaps a price against each one and a global figure for all three projects if carried out at the same time. The prices shown will be those as assessed on the day of the visit. Taking into consideration that you are unable to carry out the works for a month, you will have costed the works bearing that fact in mind.

Unless you are very specific in your wording, stating that your quotation is open for acceptance within one month from the date of issue and that you require four weeks' notice before you can carry out the work, the salient works may have grown significantly more than you imagined, making the job much larger than you anticipated and it will cost more than your quote.

Impact of late acceptance

In your specific case the projects were indeed a hedge, meadow and ditch as described, but the client waited four months before accepting the quote. The hedge had grown to twice the height and thickness - three sides equals three times the volume of waste anticipated - the meadow required three cuts to bring it under control and the ditch was weed-infested and full of water. In simple terms, three times the amount of work quoted for plus the additional difficulty of working in a water-filled site.

Yet, as far as the customer is concerned, you gave a quote, you know that grass and hedges grow and that ditches hold water - why are you now complaining about underestimating the work? They may agree to pay a bit more money because they were a little late in replying, finding all sorts of reasons for the delay, and would never have accepted your quote had they known it would be that expensive. Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar and this project is a typical example of our industry.

I appreciate that potential clients may be reluctant to read too much paperwork and if you over specify and seemingly complicate a simple, straightforward job they will think you are being too pedantic. But a form of words clearly stating that your quotation is based on a certain amount of work, carried out in a specific manner - eg all rubbish to be left/removed on/off site - and within a certain time frame simply due to the fact that the site will materially alter as the weeks go by will be accepted and understood by any reasonable person.

Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant at the School of Garden Management

- See


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