Sometimes You Get What You Pay For

Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Some years back I worked as a project manager for a general contractor. We handled both residential and commercial work, but I spent most of my time on the residential side of the fence.

Construction is a “funny” sort of business in more ways than one. When you hire a contractor you are inviting someone into your personal life in ways you might not realize.

I have more than a few stories I could share with you about the interesting things I saw and experiences I had.

For example I could tell you about the time I was checking out a prospective client’s roof and my ladder broke. That was fun. I am on the roof looking down at a the remains of a broken ladder.

Or I could tell you about the man who let his dog defecate in the house. I told him what was going on, but he said not to worry about it.

Would You Work For Free?

None of those tales talk about the people who would walk me into the bathroom to show me a leaky faucet that they hoped I would fix right there on the spot…for free. I’ll skip over the tales of people who told me that if I needed to use the bathroom there was a gas station two blocks away and jump right into the topic of getting what you pay for.

This week I fielded multiple requests for writing and or marketing jobs from people asked me to work for free. Ok, that is an exaggeration, no one asked me to work for free but the rates they offered light years away from my normal rate.

I responded to one of the requests by suggesting that if they wanted to hire me we would need to adjust the scope of the job. It was a professional and polite response to their inquiry.

They responded by telling me that my rate is outrageous and that they can outsource the work to someone outside of the U.S. and that they will gladly work for the rate they want to pay.

I thanked them for the opportunity and explained that I didn’t think things would work out for us.

Boundaries Are Important

I haven’t any doubt they can find people to do the work they want for less but sometimes you get what you pay for. What is good isn’t cheap and what is cheap isn’t good.

You aren’t obligated to hire me and I am not obligated to become and indentured servant. My rates are competitive and reasonable. The measure of that is simple: people hire me.

Boundaries in business are important. When you take on clients both sides need to understand what responsibilities are to be assumed by each party. If this isn’t laid out in advance you are asking for trouble.

I remember a job where the customer asked if the electrician could swap out a light fixture in the dining room. At first glance it sounded like an easy thing to do, the existing fixture had to be taken down so the room could be painted.

The rub here was the customer wanted us to pick up the new fixture from a distribution center 65 miles away from the job. Not only that, but they didn’t want to pay for time, labor or gas.

I don’t fault them for asking, but I didn’t have any problem letting them know we would have to adjust the terms of the contract to do that.

She thought it was outrageous for me to say anything, but she hadn’t considered what she was asking for or maybe she didn’t care.

Do It Yourself

The DIY crowd was good for business too. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a house where the owner discovered that laying tile and hanging drywall isn’t always as easy as it looks on television.

Some of the people doing it were pretty good, but they were slow. They hadn’t done it a million times and didn’t know all of the tricks for making it easier and faster.

And some of the people were really bad. They could have starred in comedies where the humor came from watching some guy fall off of a ladder.

Did I mention that the best project managers/contractors are good marriage counselors too?

It wasn’t unusual for me to see partners disagree and some of those were quite heated. The DIY crowd was especially good for that.

Pay for A Professional

When you pay a professional to do a job you’re buying quality of work and peace of mind. Are you paying more for their services?


But there is something to be said for knowing that the work/service you receive is done in a timely fashion and is of a certain level of quality.

Not long ago I was hired to clean up the work of someone who spoke English as a second language.  The text they put together was clean. It didn’t contain any spelling or grammatical errors, but it was lifeless and boring.

Ultimately the client ended up having to pay twice to get it done right. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

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  1. Jayme Soulati November 12, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Oh, this is an age-old nightmare, isn’t it? The era of couponing has created monsters, and we in our field are suffering from a rash of low hourly rates for those who are usually unskilled and spoiling it for the rest of us.

    Stick to your guns; those companies that think they can hire cheap will indeed get what they pay for.

    • Josh November 13, 2012 at 12:26 am

      Hi Jayme,

      Yeah, Groupon and company have made people think you can and should get a break on everything. I appreciate why people want it.I look for good deals too, but I don’t always want to visit the doctor who does the work for half of what the other guys charge.

      Sometimes the reason the costs are lower is because they aren’t as experienced and they need patients so they can gain that experience. I don’t necessarily want to be the person they learn on.

  2. Vanita November 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    A blogger once told me that my pricing for moving a blog to a different domain was way out of her budget and she’s have her “IT friend who works for Apple” move it for her. Three weeks later she hired me to fix his screw up. 700 posts missing, the pictures were no where to be found, etc etc. I charged her the same price I originally quoted. She said “but you’re not moving the whole site, you just have to fix it.” (like she had not already learned her lesson.) So I turned down the project. Truth of the matter is, the move was so screwed, it was less expensive for her if i wiped out the new install and do the move again, the RIGHT WAY, and charge her for that rather than charge her my fee of $30/hour to fix these kinds of messes which I was estimating at about 8 to 10 hours. Even when you try to help people out Josh…
    Sometimes it’s better to just turn down the gig, especially if the client is giving you a hard time before the gig is even paid for.

  3. Ralph November 11, 2012 at 4:23 am

    Josh, this story speaks to me on several levels.

    First off, I deal with GC’s all the time. Funny business is the half of it but getting a good contractor is very tough when you are dealing in the mid-range commercial market. Second, I am a consultant. I can’t tell you how many times we get asked for favours. I work in a 500+ person firm and I have clients whose expectations exceed their vision often. You need to be a good councillor among other things to manage those relationships accordingly.

    You get what you pay for. Pay nothing. Expect nothing. Why is that so hard to understand?

    Cheap is not always better but you know, sometimes you get lucky. Very rarely. I admire a guy who sticks to his principles and stands his ground.


    • Josh November 13, 2012 at 12:23 am

      Hi Ralph,

      Some of my favorite people were the architects and designers I got to work with. The really good ones were fun to work with and made life much easier for us. I can write a decent description of what something was supposed to look like, but it is not the same as a picture.

      When we worked well together it made such a distinct difference.

      I suspect one of the challenges was that some people really didn’t understand the scope of the work and how hard it could be. They had seen experts perform these tasks and not recognized that when you do something 10,000 times you make it look easy.

      You are right about getting lucky. Expensive doesn’t always mean better. Sometimes inexpensive is just fine.

  4. Brian Meeks November 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    I’ve always believed that quality is worth the extra money. I’ve found it to be true in tools for woodworking, where I tend to do without the tool I want, until I can afford the top of the line. It is the same with sports equipment (Yes, the $150.00 table tennis paddle is worth every penny, the same with the $125 Badminton racket). I believe it is also true when hiring an editor. There are plenty of people out there who will “edit” a novel for $20.00, but they have no idea that two independent clauses separated by a conjunction requires a comma. They’ve never heard of the oxford comma. They just can’t do the job.

    I’ve begun to think that people are also judging a book by its price and the sheer volume of really bad 99 cent novels, has turned people off the bargain books, so I’ll price my next Henry Wood, at what its worth, $9.99.

    Some people will never see value in quality and they will constantly be disappointed in their purchases and never know why.

    • Josh November 10, 2012 at 12:00 am

      Hi Brian,

      There is a psychology that goes along with pricing that I find fascinating. I never took any courses on it or any formal study so all I know is from life and business.

      But one of the things I find interesting is how sometimes marking something up increases perceived value.

      If you took two shirts of equal quality and sold one for $5 and the other for $15 you would find that most people automatically assumed the one that cost 3X as much was of better quality.

      I have more than a few stories about the crazy things I have seen people do to save a buck. Definitely not smart to substitute quality for value either.

  5. Adrienne November 9, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Oh Josh, I have a story about this very topic back when I was in the corporate world. I won’t bore you with the long drawn out history of it but let’s just say I interviewed for the job, was told I would get it if I’d passed their test (which I knew I had) yet I didn’t get the job. They hired someone for less money and three months later they called me wanting to hire me. Oh, they got what they paid for alright and I let them know in no uncertain terms that my rate was now more. You definitely get what you paid for. I stayed there for seven years until my boss retired.

    I had the hardest time asking for money when I started online. It’s taken me all this time to understand how valuable I am along with my time. It’s been a learning process but one I guess I had to go through. This is a first for me but I’m enjoying the heck out of it.


    • Josh November 10, 2012 at 1:07 am

      Hi Adrienne,

      There seem to be a bunch of those stories out there. People/companies try to cut corners and find that sometimes it bites them in the butt. Certainly can’t blame them for trying, but I am not surprised to hear about things going south on them either.

      I am glad to hear you are enjoying it. As I have said before, that has always been my impression of you. You are very positive and have great energy.

  6. Kaarina Dillabough November 9, 2012 at 7:01 am

    I like this line: “What is good isn’t cheap and what is cheap isn’t good.” I’m constantly counselling clients (how’s that for alliteration) on how to price their goods and services. The world is full of dollar-store pricing and opportunity, but wise people know: you pay for value, and charge what you’re worth. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Josh November 10, 2012 at 12:50 am

      I like the way that reads (counselling clients carefully considered) and think about this often.

      Pricing and perception is just consistently interesting to me because I listen to the “logic” some people share about what they think is fair and smile. Some times it is based upon market values and they come up with ideas based upon having done some research, but not always.

      I remember preparing a bid for a job where the owner told me that anyone who couldn’t do the work in two hours wasn’t qualified to do it. When I asked him how he knew it he said he could just see it but he also conceded he had never done it before.

      Part of me wanted to hand him the tools and so that I could watch him find out that demolition is more than just swinging a hammer.

  7. Barbara November 9, 2012 at 1:51 am

    There is no free ride! Love your contractual stories and the clear messages they carry. I am on the other side of the fence taking care of an apartment house for my family and supervising all renovations myself.

    When I need something done I hire a professional, DIY does not work for me, I once tried to paint a door NO GOOD and my favourite painter had a good laugh and more money to make (he is very nice: he even supplied the paint and the brushes).

    • Josh November 10, 2012 at 12:25 am

      Hi Barbara,

      I am relatively handy and know how to do a lot of things. What I don’t know I can usually figure out but there are some things I rarely take on because even though I can do them it is not the same as hiring a professional.

      The pros do a better and faster job, not to mention if they screw up there is some recourse. When we screw up painting (I might have done that once or twice) we end up doing it again or paying someone to do it.

      So I am selective about what jobs I will take on and which I’ll pay to be done.

  8. Barbara Charles November 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Josh. This is such a great article. You are so right. I learned along time ago, you get what you pay for. I always do ‘shop’ for the right person, but credentials count a lot for me and experience and I know I’m going to pay for it to be done right and done well. People really need to learn that if they decide to do it themselves, they are probably going to have to pay for someone to fix it too! 🙂 Some people got to learn the hard way! Anyway, all you can do is educate them professionally as you have done. Great article. Stuff that people definitely need to know. Regards,

    • Josh November 10, 2012 at 12:22 am

      Hi Barbara,

      It is a hard lesson to learn sometimes, especially if you have to be budget conscious. But experience usually demonstrates that it is worth paying a professional “more” so that the job is done right the first time.

      Hope to see you here again.

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