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Marketing Mojo: How to get paid for work clients expect for free

September 19, 2022 -  By
(Photo: rocketegg/E+/Getty Images)

(Photo: rocketegg/E+/Getty Images)

It’s natural that customers want to make changes during landscape construction projects. They see their vision coming together and get excited about taking it up a notch. Imagine their surprise when their design/build contractor doesn’t share their enthusiasm.

Change orders can be profitable upsells, so you’d think design/build contractors would want more of them. I’m sure they do if they don’t have a packed schedule and other customers anxiously awaiting their turn, but that’s probably not true nowadays.

Like so many other things in business, the change order dilemma is a communication problem. How and when they are handled, including the additional cost, is on the contractor. Customers may know you are busy, but it’s doubtful they fully recognize things like mobilization costs, cash flow and promises made to team members that need time off.

It’s up to you to educate them during the design process — and most likely to gently reeducate them during the construction phase. Since change orders are profitable work, the goal should be capturing them for when the timing is right, such as when you need to fill out a crew’s schedule when they are in the area.

Not changes but opportunities

Here’s a practice that worked well at my company to better manage project change requests, thereby transforming them into opportunities to strengthen customer relationships. When clients request changes to a current project, calmly discuss the challenges for your company while also reminding the customer that you discussed them earlier in the pre-construction phase.

Then make an exception. Write up a change order for reasonable changes you can handle and their costs. Then zero out the total with a “one-time customer courtesy discount.” Explain to the client that they are a valued customer and that your team worked out a solution. Then have them sign the change order.

A few may question signing the document because there’s no charge, but it actively engages them as a marketing partner. Just explain that the office needs the paperwork to push it through the system. They are acknowledging that you not only made the change for free, or maybe for the cost of the materials, but that you broke your schedule for them.

This process accomplishes several things. It allows you to retain the goodwill you’ve earned with this client. There is a potential marketing payback in referrals and favorable online testimonials. And it also pushes other changes they may consider into the future when they are needed to fill your schedule.

It’s all how you see it

My feeling is many contractors realize they can’t win when it comes to change orders, so they begrudgingly do the extra work, maybe even showing they are not at all happy to do it. With my business, the work order quantifies the value of the changes, and the signature makes the client remember that amount.

As you know, those future change orders often become significant projects. Work that may start with wrapping up unfinished business can easily expand into significant upgrades that justify giving the project greater priority.

There will always be challenges when working with customers, so it’s important to focus on what you can control. When you try to see the opportunities hidden within these obstacles, there’s a good chance you will find ways to keep your business growing.

This article is tagged with , , and posted in 0922, From the Magazine
Jeff Korhan

About the Author:

Jeff Korhan is the author of Built-In Social, founder of Landscape Digital Institute, and a Duct Tape Marketing Certified consultant. Jeff works with service companies that want to drive growth and enhance their brand experience with digital platforms. Learn more at

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