The Reason for Braker’s Rules for Contractors

Rules #8, #9 and #10

Rule #8 – We charge to “look.”

I was talking to a person riding with me one day as I was out working, and a call came in asking me to come “look” at a unit and give them a price for repairing it so that they could take it to a loan closing at the sale of the house. I told them our charge to “look” was a set fee. That we did not “look” for free and we needed to be paid before we left.

I realized at that moment that I had a set of rules that I use to guide my business. I had just never thought of them that way. Nor had I ever numbered them.

Rules to guide you through life are not uncommon. Everyone needs a code or set of rules to live by or conduct their business with.

An example of a rule of conduct:  John Wayne in the movie, The Shootist, said, “I’ll not be laid a hand on.”

The Boy Scout oath is another example.

A very simple partial set of rules for life might include:

  1. Going to bed and rising at the same time every day
  2. Being kind to everyone I meet
  3. Working from a to-do list as much as possible
  4. Walking away from arguments whether in person or on-line as much as possible

George Washington had his Rules of Civility that he carried in his pocket as a young man, and we all know how well that turned out for him. Here are few excerpts from the book:

  • # 6.  Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you should   hold     your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
  • # 11.  Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.
  • # 19.  Let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.
  • # 51.  Wear not your cloths, foul, ripped or dusty but see they be brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any uncleanness.
  • # 56.  Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ‘is better to be alone than in bad company.
  • # 90.  Being set at meat scratch not, neither spit, cough or blow your nose except when there’s a necessity for it.

On the TV show NCIS, the main character has his own list of rules too. The ones I like the best are:

  • Never say you’re sorry.  It is a sign of weakness.
  • Never go anywhere without a knife.
  • Never, ever involve a lawyer.
  • Sometimes you’re wrong.

The more I thought about this list of rules I ran my business by, I realized I had several.  Others I talked to said they had learned the same lessons.  But there was no where I knew of where a young person could find them listed. So I began to record and number them as they came up.

Rule #9 We charge for every trip. (As much as possible)

Example:  A customer called last week.  His house had been struck by lightening and had knocked out the electronics on his unit.  He wanted me to come look at it and write up an estimate for the repairs.  I tried politely telling him we had a trip charge for that, and he would say, “Just write it up for the insurance, and we will turn it in.” I finally had to explain bluntly that he would need to pay me the day I came.  Then we could write up the rest and turn that in. He agreed. It works much better to tell people up front what you expect.

Now when the parts come, if it takes multiple trips, we expect payment before we leave each time.

The reason is that after you have “looked,” or written up an estimate or given your advice, they may later decide to throw it away and start over, fix it themselves or whatever.  Then you will have a hard time getting paid for anything at a later date.

You see many people look at contractors as low-lifes or fly by night outfits.  They think they are doing you a favor by perhaps paying you some money for their job.

I have been told when I was younger to only enter through the back door, the servant’s entrance.

I see my business as a business and run it that way.  What they think they see is a man hoping to make enough money to pay his rent and buy food for the week.  Now not everyone is like that, but a great many are.  The solution is to conduct yourself according to a set of rules (which hopefully comes off with an air of confidence, instead of an air of hoping to make some money).  Then also remember that the rules may not always apply.  But they do apply 999 times out of 1000!

Rule # 10 We never take a job “hoping” to make some money.

If it is questionable whether the work will turn out to be acceptable, we tell them up front:,”No matter which way it turns out the cost to “try” is $XXX.XX.”  We don’t “try” for free either.

They are paying for your expertise, your wisdom, your knowledge, and those things come with a price.

The problem with violating these three rules is that you come off like you’re hoping to make some money.  You should never want to give off the attitude that you are taking a job “hoping” to make some money for two reasons:

  1. Because people know, they can sense the “hoping” and will use it against you.  They will tell you when you are done “that it not quite what I hoped for” and will not want to pay.  This is why you tell them up front what the cost is for trying and then expect them to pay up when you are done no matter how it turns out.
  2. Because of what it does inside of you to have to “hope” to make some money. It is a sick feeling that you should never get used to. Stick up for yourself.  This is not arrogance, but it is fair.  It is not fair of others to use you to see if the problem can be resolved.

Proverbs 14:24 The wise accumulate wisdom; fools get stupider by the day.  (The Message)

Accumulating rules that govern life are all part of The Prosperous Life.








Braker’s Rules For Contractors

#5 Ask For The Right Words

Many years ago, I had been doing warranty work for a manufacturer on some units for a builder.   I repaired many of them, but I still did not do their construction repairs.  Finally, I got up courage to go talk to the owner of this large company.  When I entered the room, he shook my hand, asked me to have a seat and said, “I wondered how long it was going to be before you came in.  Of course, you can have all our work.”   I was amazed at how easy that was.  He was waiting for me.

Many times in running a business or contracting, you run into situations with people that are just uncomfortable or that can cause fear or great apprehension in you.

I have learned over the years how to deal with some of these situations.  I took much of the learning from the Bible and used it in my work.

  1. Ask God to “give you mercy before the man.”  This comes from a record in Genesis where Joseph’s brothers (loving brothers that they were) sold him off to some traveling merchants which took Joseph down into Egypt and sold him.  Eventually, Joseph attained the position of second in command just under Pharaoh.  It was in a great period of drought that under Joseph’s direction, Egypt had plenty to eat and some to sell.  Joseph’s father, Jacob, already thinking that his one son was dead to him sent all but one of his sons into Egypt to buy food for their family. They did not recognize Joseph, but Joseph did recognize his brothers.  So Joseph gave them the food and sent them on their way, but he kept one of the brothers as a hostage until they would bring back his younger brother.  Some time later, Jacob now missing two sons (he did not know that Joseph was “the man” in Egypt), needed more food and sent his sons back again to Egypt and said the following to them as they departed.

Genesis 43:13-14  Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man: And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.

I believe that this was Jacob’s prayer to God.  He asked God to show them mercy before the man.  You could ask for this mercy from God in many situations.  Here are a few:

  1. Getting a call from an irate customer
  2. Going in for an interview
  3. Getting stopped by the police

I saw a video the other day talking about how the police treat people.  If the policeman is having a good day and everything is lovely in his life, you may just get a warning.  But if his wife has just called and told him she is getting a divorce, you may get taken to the station for the same offense.  This is where asking God for mercy in front of the man is so important.  People are just people.  Their moods can differ from day to day.  But God should know when you are going be in the situation.  So ask God to give you the right person for the interview or have the only person available to be the one that will give you what you need — jobs/contracts/referrals etc., so you can slip right in.  Ask God to show you mercy before the man.

  1. Expect that God will bring you into favor with the people that can say “yes” to your business.  This idea comes from the record in Daniel.  Some of the children of Israel had been carried off as captives to the land of Babylon (present day Iraq).  Some were to be educated in the ways of the Chaldeans so they could stand before the king as advisors.   The prince of the eunuchs was put in charge of these men.  (A eunuch is a man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court.) The eunuch really liked Daniel and the three other men as recorded here in Daniel.

Daniel 1:9  Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.

Many times you will find that the people that you contract with or work for really like you.  How God does this I don’t know but just be thankful.  And realize that you can ask God to find favor in the minds of the people you work with.  Or you could ask God to send clients that will be great to work with.

  1. Expect God to give you the “Right words (wisdom) at the right time to resolve the situation.”

This Idea comes from:

James 1:5-6  If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

When I first started out hanging wallpaper as a young man, I would get calls at times after I was done and was paid for a job that the customer was unhappy about something they saw in my work.  Then I would have to go back to the job and deal with it.

So I would take a “B” Vitamin (supposed to help the brain function better) and ask God to give me the “Right words at the right time to resolve the situation.”  Out of all the call backs I had in 25 years, I only had to redo a couple of screw ups.  Many times it was the fault of the paper or the wall or it could have been a multitude of different circumstances.  But they were unhappy, and we needed to resolve the situation.

I never asked God for me to come out on top, just for the situation to be resolved.  I was not trying to stick anyone with a bad job by praying.

I remember one night I got a call from an irate husband after he saw the job his wife had paid for already.  I prayed but was really nervous about going to talk to him.  When I walked in the door, he started in on me and was railing for about five minutes.  Finally, he began to calm down.  Up to that point, I never said a word.  Finally, he said, “I realize you probably could have done nothing about this; I just needed to get it off my chest.  Thanks for listening.” Then I left.  God put in me, “Just be quiet!”

On another job, the builder called and said that the lady was in tears because she could see the seams in the wallpaper.  I told him he needed to get a manufacturer’s representative to look at the job because there was nothing wrong with it.  He said he knew it was a good job but the woman was crying anyway.  So I took a can of colored pencils and caulk I had and went to see her.  Now this was a cream colored paper with some trees on it that crossed at the seams.  But mostly the seams were just cream colored with no pattern.  I had no idea what to do.  So I reached into the can of pencils and pulled out a charcoal pencil.  I thought, “Well, that won’t work on this background.” But then I thought, “Well, it is the first thing you pulled out. Just try it.” So I did, and as I ran the edge of the charcoal pencil up the cream colored seam, the seam just disappeared.  To this day, I don’t know why that worked, but I do know that prayer is very helpful in resolving situations when you expect God to be involved.

So remember that our pursuit of The Prosperous Life, Braker’s rule #5 is to pray.

Never Back Up On A Bid!

When a young person first starts into business for themselves, their tendency is to underbid the jobs.  This may be because of several reasons:

  • They may feel somewhat inadequate, insecure.
  • They may be afraid they will not get the job if they bid/price it higher.
  • They may feel inferior to others that have been in that market for years.

Most people that continue this line of thinking, either go out of business or go to work for someone that knows how to bid.

The problem with pricing below the market to secure some work is that the customers you will get are the ones that are concerned only with price.  Later on when you want to raise your prices, you will lose these customers to some other low bidder and have to replace them.

A friend of mine and I did some landscaping on our days off many years ago.  One thing he shared that his grandfather taught him was to price out the entire job at the market price then add 10%.  So if the job was $3,000, it came out to $3,300.  I have practiced this with great success for many years since then, and it also has the benefit of helping to keep your prices up and pushing higher. This also helps to keep you from under bidding a job.

Many times you will have unexpected expenses or time in a job, and now you have already priced that in.  Without the extra 10%, you will feel gypped when the unexpected arises.  This technique just helps cover your a**.  You walk away after completion feeling satisfied.

Pity the man that, when confronted by the buyer about the price,  backed up on the bid to $2500.00 or lower to get the job and then complications arise.  Been there, done that, and we don’t do that anymore.  You walk away feeling slightly sick and disgruntled. Learn to walk away if they want a lower price.  Many times they will call you back later.  They were just testing your commitment to the price.

The only time I remember coming down on a bid was when the bid was $750.00.  The client said that was too much and asked if I would do it for $650.00?   God must have showed me it was OK because I never did this again.  But this time I told him I could do $725.00, but that was it.  He, his wife and I stood there for a second, then his wife burst into laughter! She said “You finally found someone that likes to haggle as much as you do!”  He paused for a second and then laughed and said, “OK!”  It was a great job.

All other times though I never back up on a bid.  People may try to shame you, intimidate you, or get angry with you to get you to lower the price.  But resist.  If you give in, especially out of fear of losing the job, and do the job for a lower price, they will be on your case most times all the way through the job. This is not just my experience. I have talked to others that have experienced the exact same thing. Why?  Because they see that you have no respect for yourself and then they don’t respect you either.  But they will take the lower price.

I bid a job once, and the man said, “When contractors see a Nichols Hills address, they get dollars signs in their eyes.  The last guy did it for half this much.”  I said, “Get him to do it.” In the end I got the job after I told him to call the store and get some more bids.  Our bid was right in line.  His wife later told me that they did not like the quality of the previous workman.  So they were trying to get a better contractor for the same price as the one that did the shoddy work.  They will lie and be deceitful as well to get you to lower your price.  I got the job at the original bid price and had no trouble with the job.  Stick up for yourself.  People can smell confidence, and it sells.

People can also smell insecurity or fear of loss like a dog smells fear.  They don’t consciously think about it, but they know and they act on your lack of confidence and belief in yourself.

Backing up on a bid does several things:

  1. First, it damages your self-image, your self-confidence, and your sense of worthiness.

You have to protect your sense of self-worth, or you will allow people to walk on you all your life.  You have to protect your self-image and your self-confidence.  This is very important.  Remember, there is a great difference between arrogance and confidence.  We are quietly confident but not arrogant.

  1. Second, the customer/client realizes that you are not confident in yourself, your business, or your ability.
  2. They may feel that you were willing to accept a lower price because you needed the work. If you need the work, then how good are you really? The client/customer will think to themselves, “I better keep an eye on this one if they do the job because they are probably not very good if they need the work that bad.”
  3. Once you accept the idea of backing up on a bid/price, you will do it again and again. Then you will begin to bid your jobs or products lower still. This is where the practice of upping the bid by 10% is a good habit.
  4. They may constantly push you to do more than what was contracted for.  When they pushed on the price, you caved, so they are hoping you will cave more.

Even if you are new in your field, you need to price yourself right at the market price; no exceptions.

Even if people have not heard of you before in your field, they will instantly recognize that you must be good, and that you have some confidence in your ability and in your products.  That is the reputation that you want to instill from the very outset. 

Now if the service or products normally sell for $20.00, you cannot price it at $50.00 or you will go broke.  But pricing it at $10.00 is a great mistake.

Usually prices are set by the free market because that is the price where the vendor can sell his service or product and make a reasonable profit.  And everyone knows what that price point is.  So you stick out like a sore thumb when you come in low.

If you do not know what to price the job/product at, start with a reasonable price.  If you get every job, you are priced too low. The way I see it is that if you lose 20% of the bids you make, you are probably right in line with what the market is willing to pay.  If the calls are cold, in other words from the yellow pages or a website, I would expect to get only about 20% of those jobs anyway.  Most of those people are just shopping prices, and there is always a low baller out there.  You are not in competition with the low ballers.

I bid a job over the phone one night, and the lady said that another service said they would do the job for $150.00.  That was $200.00 lower than my price.  I told her I understood, but that the people that give bids like that are generally involved with apartments, do no prep work to make sure it is a good job, and that if the job fails, they charge another $150.00 to do it over.  I told her we do not compete in that market.  She said, “That is what I kind of thought. Come do my job.”  Confidence sells.

If you will go with the market price from the beginning, you will be accepted as a viable source from the outset if you or product performs the way it should.

Finally, if you back up on a bid or bid the job less than the market, you will get a reputation that “If you push him, he will come down.” What does that say about you, your ability, your business, your workmanship, your confidence and your self image? Is that the reputation/self-image that you want?  NO!  Be confident.  It will pay off well.

If you back up on a bid or bid the job less that the market, that is not fair to you. The laborer is worthy of his hire, and it is not fair to your family.  You and your family deserve to be paid well for your work. You deserve to be paid just as well as the other guy. And you will find at times that some older businesses have not kept their pricing up to date. Do not let that discourage you from keeping your prices up.

One of the hard things to see and remember is that your price is not just for the labor.  How much did it cost you to set your business up?  How much time did you invest in yourself to learn to do what you do?  Remember, that you are a business not just a day laborer.  The plumbing company charges $125.00 per hour to cover their costs and to pay the plumber.  They pay the plumber, the laborer, about $15.00 per hour.  You are a business not a laborer.  They are paying for your knowledge and your ability to solve problems.

I have had people ask, “How long will that take you, and what are your costs?” They want to know the price per hour they are paying, or to see if they can do the easy part and get you to lower your price on the harder stuff.  No! You just respond with the quoted price. We do not break down the costs for anyone.  We may take into account what we need to make per hour and our costs per job, but the quote is a flat price.  Be firm but not mean.  Remember, it is a business and with the right attitude about your business and yourself, it will build respect with your clients.

There are always exceptions to rule but very rarely.  Maybe once in five years!

Sometimes you can set the market price yourself. One area I was involved in a few years ago, the job was currently priced at $350.00.  I was told a couple of years later by someone who knew that the price had dropped to about $150.00.  It was true as I asked people what the other bids were when there were some other bids.  I decided to set the standard for the pricing and kept our price at $350.00. Within a couple of years, the price was back up and then went even higher. Have some respect for yourself and your ability.

I have at times given a cheaper price to an elderly person. Not often, but once in a while when “the spirit moves me.”

I remember a story told to me by a banker in a small town years ago that I was working for.  She said that when the town finally put in a city sewer line all the residents were required to pay their share.  But there was one elderly lady that lived in a tumble down house on the edge of town that sold vegetables from her garden on the street in the summer time. The town council voted to put her sewer in at no charge. The banker said that she could not tell them but that lady had several million dollars in the bank in CD’s.  Things are not always as they seem!

Remember, price yourself at the market from the beginning.  It may be a little scary, but you will see the benefits if you will do it.  Then once you have given a price, stick with it.  Never back up on a bid.  This is all part of living The Prosperous Life.