This Is What I’m Going To Do…

Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.” ― Joss Whedon

I wanted to write a little something about preparing quotations. It’s a terrifically boring subject, and yet anybody setting out on a freelance career will have to develop a high level of quote-preparation skill. I admit it straight off, it can be really tricky. Depending on the business you’re in, quotes can be complex – content and format are always critical. A good quote defines what you’re prepared to do for a particular price, sets appropriate client expectations and gives you the boundaries of your legal contract. It’s also a very big signal that you know what you’re about – or, if you get it wrong, it’s an equally big signal that you’re possibly clueless.

Goes without saying, since I’m not a Business-Guru per se (hey, be very suspicious of anybody who claims to be – there’s so much bullshit around these days), my standpoint for offering advice is derived wholly from my own experience. The business I’m in, the Trees and Development end of Arboriculture, requires me to pay a lot of attention to the framing of quotations. A great deal can go wrong, and I‘d be lying if I said my quotation skills had always been red hot! Live (or work) and learn, that’s for sure 🙂

The Planning Process, through which all the work I do on behalf of clients has to pass, is notoriously complex, a tad unpredictable (even for the best of us) and can become very strung-out. But clients, naturally, like to be able to see solid progress. Anything else makes them very twitchy. They have to fund a plethora of up-front studies, assessments and reports, as well as first stage design work, even to get the Local Authority to look up and take notice, and that kind of spending is always going to be painful. There’s a possibility, at every turn, something will be found wanting in their plans and the feverishly sought planning approvals won’t be forthcoming. Believe me, this is a tense atmosphere in which to operate on your own. Add to it the fact that a large part of my remit involves identifying trees on site that are worth retaining and protecting, trees whose retention will inevitably reduce the site’s developable area, and you’ll probably agree with my accountant (the same one who taught me how to do so much of this myself) that it’s amazing I get remunerated reliably.

But I do, and I have done for many years. Only 1 client has actually defaulted completely and failed to pay. Naming him would be ungracious. Suffice to say, given that he asked for advice then flouted it to the extent that he was served with a STOP notice by the Local Authority, I have to assume he didn’t quite have his head on right to start with.

An important point to make in relation to this – there’s often little or no benefit chasing a toxic client for money (or anything else). Best to take the hit and move on. As you gain experience you get an antenna for toxic clients that will help you avoid working for them. Because that’s what you actually have to do. I know – sounds drastic, doesn’t it? Even if you’re sitting there wondering where your next contract is coming from, even if they’ve got themselves involved with some interesting, high-profile local project that seriously whets your appetite, if you can’t trust them, you should seriously consider saying ‘no’ to the work.

So – it’s very important to clearly identify what works you will be undertaking under the terms of the quote. Watch your terminology – when I’m quoting for a large house-building company, I anticipate they’ll understand what an Arboricultural Method Statement looks like when it’s completed properly. Smaller outfits, or individual householders may not, so I link what I’m proposing to do directly to the Planning condition within which it’s a requirement. This tells my client that he/she will be able to take my finished work and submit it with confidence to the LA.

Include an appropriate level of detail but never, ever over-promise. Try to frame your work so that there’s a clear cut-off point. This helps you and it helps the client. You’ll be issuing an invoice when the point you’ve identified is reached – make sure this won’t come as a surprise! And here’s something to think about, include an appropriate level of reference to what isn’t included in the quote. For instance, if I’m quoting for Tree Protection Planning on a development site, I may well note on my quotation that work on Replanting Proposals is not included. I do though, always remember to add that I’m happy to quote for further works separately.

Some expert guidance: remember to wrap up warm – winter’s here already…

Last but not least, always keep your tone professional-yet-approachable. As someone operating by themselves, the buck will always stop with you. You will have a direct relationship with your client involving discussion of on-going issues, problem-solving, answering queries, providing professional reassurance, offering expert guidance. Communication will bring understanding and understanding will cause harmonious mutual relationships  which can establish peace and stability.” Lobsang Tenzin

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