Great! Your marketing efforts are paying off and you get your first customers – all seems to be going well until you come across a customer who despite your best efforts, just isn't happy. Let's assume that there is no problem with the work – as far as you as the electrician is concerned, you have carried out the job as requested but the customer is still refusing to pay up. How to protect yourself from this scenario This situation has occurred through mis-understanding. Your client is not happy as you have not met their expectations. Unfortunately, misunderstandings can quickly lower your clients perception of you. They thought you were a good electrician, now they're not so sure. Try as you might, you cannot please everyone. One of first things you must do at the quoting stage of a job is to establish what the client actually needs. It is vital that your clients knows what to expect from you and also what is expected of them. It is important to get this balance right in order for a successful customer relationship to form. Don't make this simple error Many electricians are so keen to hear the word 'yes' that they overlook the finer details. It is an easy mistake to make. In the early days, getting the job seems to be the priority, over checking what the customer actually wants. Draw up a customer contract Having a customer contract is a vital form of communication. A customer contract needs to be given to every client before the job begins It tells the customer about the works that have been agreed, what to expect, what you will supply, what your customer needs to do, how to contact you, how long the job will take and payment terms The contract is an essential component that tells the customer exactly what is going to happen and what is expected of them. A copy should be given to the customer to sign before the job begins. A customer contract will iron out any misunderstandings that could occur further down the line, particularly when it comes to paying the bill! A customer contract needs to contain anything you deem to be important about the job. Mainly what you'll be doing and how you'll be paid for it. As a minimum I would suggest including the following information in your customer contract.
- Works that have been agreed
- Materials being supplied
- What to expect
- How long the job will take
- What your customer needs to do before/during the job
- How to contact you
- Payment terms
Money I have spoke to countless electricians over the years who have not been paid what they expect for whatever reason. However, when I've asked them if they discussed the money before the job began, they nearly always say no. Never feel uncomfortable about bringing up the subject of payment, genuine customers do not mind. Simply pricing your quote is not enough. Ensuring your customer is clear on payment is of paramount importance before the job begins.
- Be sure to tell your customer how you charge and invoice – for example, payment at the end of the job on receipt of invoice.
- Make it clear what payment types you accept. You cannot moan about being given a cheque if you didn’t make it clear what payment types you accept on your contract.
- Always keep accurate records of invoices – Ideally an invoice number, this way should a customer have a query, then you can find their record easily. It is also easier to apply payments to a proper invoice system, so you'll be aware of invoices still outstanding. You'll also need accurate records to do your tax return properly every year.
- Include contact details of the person who your client can contact in regard to billing enquiries.
- Confirm with the customer who you should be billing. Countless payment disputes occur because the wrong person has been billed. It delays payment and causes needless frustration.
Conclusion Taking steps to prevent client misunderstanding will mean your business will have fewer disputes – it will help you to build a good reputation and mean you have fewer payment problems – it's a win-win situation all round. Your clients will be far more comfortable dealing with an electrician who is in control of what they are doing than someone who plays a game of guesswork.