A frequent question I am asked is how I manage to convert such a high ratio of enquiries into contracts. I am essentially a landscaper with an ever increasing portfolio of consultancy work, which is a sign of growing older, yet after nearly 50 years in the trade I still feel at least 30 years younger than I am.
I do not believe I am any better than many quality landscape contractors in my area but I have maintained my successful operating status by appearing more efficient than some of my competitors. I still maintain an enquiry into contract ratio of 87 per cent — nine out of ten, as I prefer to call it — because of my approach to preparing and submitting quotations in a manner that can be clearly understood and appreciated by my potential clients.
I have a very strong personal ethic in my dealings with my "public", including a wide range
of personal and interpersonal skills, from telephone etiquette right through every stage of the process of securing work.
Given that each stage is interconnected and would take many articles to describe in this series, I firmly believe that the final part of the presentation of the quotation documentation is how
the quote is worded.
I call this element "the method statement" — essentially a storyboard clearly setting out the way I intend to approach their job, including a step-by-step series of what are effectively my terms and conditions. Also included in the words are full specification, measurements, dimensions, materials, delivery information, location and other site details such as access to water and electricity (plus toilet facilities as required) at no cost to myself as well as access to site for deliveries, skip lorries, etc.
Sidestep potential pitfalls
Although I only undertake private commissions, I have based my working documentation on commercial contracts, thereby ensuring that I have covered every aspect and detail to provide myself with as much protection from misunderstanding as possible, and the client with a contract document that they can be comfortable with, avoiding any chance of problems.
The secret is knowing how to provide all this information in such a way that appears to be a friendly "walk and talk" through the various stages of the project, many of which the customer has never given the slightest thought to, couched in such a way that every detail is included — type, colour and catalogue reference number of, say, paving slabs and walling bricks. Cement type, manufacturer and mix ratios are also discussed.
One recent quotation
Take as an example one of my recent quotations for rebuilding a collapsed stone/flint wall: "The concrete block wall to be set 150mm back from the boundary line, to allow a 150mm face of flints and natural sand stone to be clad to the blockwork. The new facing work to match the existing as far as possible, with new imported flint and stone to be selected to match. Samples of imported materials to be agreed prior to ordering. Pointing mix one part Rock Common sand, one part 3.5 lime and one part OP cement.
"Pointing style to be agreed, to match the existing as near as possible [there is more than one style in the remaining wall sections]. The new retaining wall to be 900cm high including 120mm brick coping salvaged from the rubble, with no guarantee that there will be sufficient bricks to complete the job."
The quotation goes on for several pages, all laid out in a way that is informative without being too formal. An alternative would be to simply provide a price together with a column of rates, materials and dimensions, set out as a quantity survey, with no attempt to engage the client into becoming an informed part of the "team".
Positive reaction from clients
The reaction from my clients has always been very positive. They feel comfortable with how the work will proceed, looking forward to seeing the next phase, watching the materials arrive on time and in the correct order — I even nominate the builders’ merchant and all other trades expected to attend site.
The whole process becomes automatically efficient. Everyone involved is included in the method statement — client, staff, suppliers and neighbours. It all appears to being running like clockwork, yet all you have done is thought through each part of the project and laid out your thoughts on paper.
This approach also tends to show up those elements that you may have overlooked. Any breach or missing link will be more easily spotted. Who, what, where, when and how are the key watchwords. If you can put information next to those headings, you will have the basic layout of the method statement. The only missing word is "why".
If what you are intending to do as part of the storyboard becomes an issue — for example: "Why are you using skips and not a grab lorry to speed the job and save money?" — the answer should be included in the quote. Perhaps because of access difficulties or your wish, in the example provided, to sort through the debris and reclaim as much stone, flint and brick as possible.
If you have explained your reasoning, there should be no negative queries, only praise for providing the client with a fully thought out and fully costed quotation. Such trust may be instilled at a very early period in the contract works, and a relaxed client is a happy one.
Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant at the School of Garden Management#
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