Doper opinions sought re: Pay to Play

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a contractor. Most of my work is generated by Realtors, absentee landlords, and property managers. There are some standing commercial and residential accounts, but most of them come from word of mouth referrals.

The first Realtor with whom I built a business relationship was a real mensh. He regularly thanked me for getting his clients out of sticky spots, rescuing last minute closing issues, and the like. Yet it was tough to give him a freebie as a thank you. He’d send me to his MIL for some problem that turned out to be a 15 minute visit, so I’d let it go without billing anyone, in deference to the amount of revenue he was generating for me directly and via referrals. He’d conveniently ‘overpay’ my next invoice for a different job.

The flip side is the Realtor who gives me a few referrals and then asks for a “quote” on some work at their or a relative’s residence or property. After the proposal is delivered, they suddenly don’t want to pursue the project and never call again, giving me the distinct impression that they expected a freebie and were offended that I wasn’t willing to do a thousand dollars worth of work pro bono.

What do you folks think?

This is the way business ought to be done. A solid friendly relationship, where each party feels obliged to treat the other as a valued associate, and everybody feels that the other party’s “just a little nothing” is important. Your intent is to give him good work at a fair price; his is to give you a fair price for good work.

The opposite – punishing you for not giving them special treatment – is unethical. I wouldn’t work for people who expected freebies, because their intent is to get work at an unfair price, which can only hurt both of you.

Does sound kind of sleazy. As a compromise, would you be willing to write up a bid at the full market rate, then write add an adjustment marked “one time professional courtesy discount” or the like? But then they might still expect it all the time.

Yeah, I agree, it’s definitely sleazy.

Of course, you have a sliding scale anyway, right? My BIL is a carpenter, and he has at least three rates: regular rate, the lower friends-and-family rate, and the sky-high “oh dear lord I so totally don’t want this job” rate. Quote the rate you’d be comfortable charging, and they can either go for it or not. You will either continue to do business with this person or not. If – er, “since” :wink: – you’re a competent guy, you’ll always have work coming up, via word of mouth, whether it’s through this particular individual or not.

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, buddy. Far from it. God knows my vendors have made me some sweet gifts over the years (sports tix are popular).

But the unspoken part of that should be that the recipient doesn’t ask or expect it. Those sorts of ‘favors’ should be designed to strengthen a relationship…not a required of a relationship.

There’s also a difference between sports tix (which aren’t part of the usual currency of your relationship with the person in question, I’m guessing), and expecting someone to do for free what he or she would ordinarily earn a living by doing.

For instance, with my BIL, who I’ve known for about 40 years at this point – I hired him to do several jobs in my house when I bought it 15 years ago (paying the “friends-and-family” rate, but definitely paying), and haven’t asked him to do anything since. He did volunteer to cut new shelves for a corner cupboard in my kitchen, since the originals weren’t done properly and one of them had split under the weight of the stuff in there – but this was a job he did at his own convenience, using scrap plywood – plus, of course, he and my sister came over for dinner when installation time came around.

(I realize this is a family thing, not a client thing, so it’s obviously not an identical situation – but I think the underlying principle is the same.)

Thanks for the input, all-particularly those folks whom I know. The scenario which prompted the OP is that when I did my last cold-calling push through a new region, one contact turned up who wasn’t happy with the service he’d been getting, hence his invitation for an interview. He showed me a half dozen properties that first day and I ran numbers-he quickly was directing a good amount of work my way and passing on my name to his realty clients who needed work done.

Yesterday he called while I was working on a campus housing job (he manages a pile of apartments which rent primarily to students from Gettysburg College, and we know that kids aren’t kind to rental units, meaning mucho repeat work) and he mentioned that he’d like me to install a new storm door and shutters on his home sometime soon.

He’s struck me as a really straight up guy-in some ways similar to the fellow I mentioned in the OP, but with a less than 1 year business relationship and having been burned, the scenario pricked up my ears. Hopefully I’m being overly cautious, yet at the same time my ability to truly read people seems faulty at times.

Could you cut him a discount rate for ‘friends’? You shouldn’t have to take a bath on supplies for it.

I plan to price this conservatively, but having said that, I haven’t seen the opening into which the screen door is being fitted and have no idea if it’s square or plumb. Some screen doors go in almost by themselves in an hour, and others take a half pound of shims and lots of tweaking to avoid looking like a blind man installed it with an axe. :wink:

Play the “let me take a look at it and see if I can do it” card. If it’s an easy job, you can price conservatively. If the job looks tough, tell him there are a lot of door and window types who can make it look good faster and easier than you. Then give him some names of people who actually can make it look good, and back out gracefully.

Think about your response. Do I want to tell the fellow who is feeding me work on the basis that I’m a “can do” guy that I can’t handle a screen door install? :dubious: Do I want to give him names of my competition? :smack: Or do I undertake a potentially difficult install, make it look nice and thereby underscore my capability, while wrestling with price issues?

With profit margins of small businesses shrinking every day, I don’t think that any reputable business person would expect to get a freebie. A discount, yes, but not work for free.

I agree with the previous posters that you should take the job and quote or bill it at a discounted (professional courtesy) rate.