How should I pitch this potential project?
June 22, 2016 7:15 AM   Subscribe

How do people who design and build things bid or pitch a potential project?

I'm a remodeling contractor and custom woodworker. Most of my custom business comes in one of a few ways: a client has a clear idea or picture of what they want, and I can quote that; or a client already knows me and says they have $X for me to build something cool, and then I work on the design.

Recently a potential client approached me about building a few custom cabinets and tables. They don't have clear design ideas, and I don't think I necessarily have the job.

Do I spend a bunch of time designing these things, then pitch it, and hope I get the job? If so, I've invested quite a bit of time in a job I may or may not get.

Do I suggest a budget for "cool things" and then work on the design if I get the job based on the budget? I worry that the client might be reluctant to hire me based on a vague notion of what they're getting.

Do I suggest a price for my design time and then a second cost to build once we've agreed on the design. The problem here is that I'm not so confident in my creative skills to charge explicitly for my design time. I would call myself a craftsman rather than an artist or designer.

How do other people, especially in artistic or creative fields, handle similar situations?
posted by lost_cause to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I do this. Working on some designs today, in fact.

Project 1: I am sure I will get this job, since the customer is happy with a previous job. All I have to do is finish my full-scale drawing. I will have about 4-5 hours of design time. Upon approval, the customer will give me deposit money.

Project 2: I am unsure about getting this job. I have done a partial full-scale drawing (of a section of the project), and a few smaller scale drawings. I will be meeting with the customer today to go over what I've come up with so far, and figure out where to go from here. Today, I will be asking for money if we do go further. Total project will be around $3500, and I will want $1000 today. At this point, I won't put in any more effort without compensation.

I used to work for someone else, and he did all the design work, and I was the craftsman. I'm getting more comfortable with design.

Do I spend a bunch of time designing these things, then pitch it, and hope I get the job? If so, I've invested quite a bit of time in a job I may or may not get.

To some extent, the preliminary design is a marketing strategy, and not all will become actual jobs. You have to put in enough time to make a good presentation, but won't always get the work.

Even if you don't get the job, the design and presentation process is still useful. You learn from doing each one. And you can always show potential clients your design portfolio, so they will have a better idea of how you go about things.

Do I suggest a price for my design time and then a second cost to build once we've agreed on the design. The problem here is that I'm not so confident in my creative skills to charge explicitly for my design time. I would call myself a craftsman rather than an artist or designer.

I did this once for a long-term project. I told the client that I needed $500 for development and design. They went with it.
posted by yesster at 7:43 AM on June 22, 2016


Let me explain further about the "design portfolio." (I apologize, I struggle with finding words for my thoughts).

Everybody can do this differently, but you need to do it. You have to be able to show your clients "here's the design, here's the finished product." This way they can see what your designs actually become.

The designs could be drawings and sketches, or 3-d mock-ups, or whatever.

Your design portfolio helps establish a perceived value to the designs themselves.

But also, doing the designs will make you better . . . at doing designs. It is an essential part of your business, long term. So consider your time spent on designing jobs that don't come through as a necessary educational/training cost.
posted by yesster at 9:00 AM on June 22, 2016


There is no one right answer. As an architect, I've never worked in an environment where we didn't sometimes spend significant amounts of time and energy pursuing projects. As you grow this seems to be more of an expectation. The key is to make sure your rates cover the overhead of spent time on projects you don't land. Consider the design effort part of your marketing/business development budget.

Some strategies to consider:
* Prepare a presentation of photos with examples of past work and budgets - have a meeting with the potential client to see if they can use the visuals to narrow down their goals and range.
* Similar to the above, but also use images from other trade sources/things you have seen that you believe may resonate with the client.
* Do some preliminary design of a single key piece of the project and pitch it, along with the idea that the rest will follow this motif.
* Don't do any design but instead emphasize your experience, craftsmanship and references. Ask for a small but reasonable sum for design contingent that you keep ownership and do the work if the designs are accepted.
* Find a designer ally and let them pitch their work instead - let them do the time consuming exploration design process for a separate fee with the client and then bid the outcome.

I'm sure there are other approaches, but hopefully one of these inspires you as being the right level of risk/reward and investment in potential work. A key skill is making the Go/No Go decision in pursuing potential projects. If a client isn't quite ready for you it is okay to walk away from the "opportunity".
posted by meinvt at 9:05 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow. Thanks for taking the time to write such thoughtful answers. Your insights really helped me figure this gig out. I was putting it off because I couldn't decide how to approach it.

I'm a small shop with pretty low overhead, working solely on word of mouth. I'm also super busy right now, so I'm not ready to devote a lot of time to a speculative design process, though I do appreciate what y'all are saying about the value of that time in a portfolio or marketing sense. Definitely something to consider in the future.

For now, what I decided to do is emphasize the quality of my work, giving the client several examples of other projects and a long list of references. On top of that, I'll throw in some stock images of pieces that I think would work in his place, and rough budgets to build something similar. If he wants to move on from there, then I'm on the clock.

Thanks again, I owe y'all beers.
posted by lost_cause at 9:19 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


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