To Charge Or Not To Charge – How Adding Value To Customers Can Create Stories That Generate Word Of Mouth Sales And More Jobs

To charge, or not to charge. That is the question.

“While you are here can you please paint this new handrail?”

We’ve all heard that before. You’re on a job, numbers and budget are set. Then the client asks for a favor, or is it extra work?. What is it they are asking for? Some clients are clear in asking to add work, some throw it out there hoping for the freebie. 

So what do you do?

Here’s what happened to me and how I dealt with it. Agree or not, its up to you. 

I was hired to paint some newly installed steps. My plan, wash them (pressure treated wood), two coats on stain (super deck from Sherwin Williams) and application of non-slip compound for safety. 

I arrive for the wash and we go to the back of the house to get the stain from the basement (I’d stained the back deck 4 years prior so was able to use to same product). While we are back there the client points out a new handrail that was installed on the back steps coming off the deck. 

“While you are here can you please paint this new handrail?”

“Sure, no problem”

It will take me 1 minute to sand it, 5 minutes per coat. Easily doable. 

Now that I’m back to the front and have begun washing the steps the client appears again at the front door. 

“Do you think I need to repaint the front porch landing?” A perfect question while I’m there for the sales call but it comes up now. 

“No, there are no cracks or failing. It just looks dirty to me. While I’m here I’ll give it a wash for you.” I’ve budgeted an hour to do a 15 minute wash. This should not effect my time commitments at all so I’m happy to do it.

The client appreciates my suggestion, who wouldn’t. Then the scene starts to resemble an infomercial. ‘But wait! There’s more!’

“What do you think of my handrail?” 

She gestures to the metal railing that is attached to the stairs. It isn’t just loose, it swings back and forth as I test its stability. 

Having my wife slip on our stairs with our baby in hand one week after I’d replaced the wooden railing that had gone rotten, I knew right away how easily this issue could become a life altering problem. Wife and baby were fine because she was able to catch her weight on the new railing, it held strong. Even now months later my eyes water knowing that the old railing would have sent them both falling face first towards concrete. 

Don’t let issues become problems. 

“That needs to be fixed” I share my story with her, she’s glad it has a happy and safe ending. 

She suggests that once I’m done she will contact the carpenter that replaced the steps. Not good enough, I tell her that when I’m back to stain the steps I will fix the railing. It shouldn’t wait in my opinion. 

I come back to stain the steps, two visits over two days that should take less than an hour. I also sand and stain the back hand railing, replace the chair and planter that I moved from the front porch to wash it, then fasten the railing to the steps after a stop by the hardware store with some screws and washers. It looks silly so I come back on the weekend to touch up the screws with some black oil paint to make them less noticeable. 

Less than two hours over two days turns into close to five hours over four days.

Too much?

I’m asked to do one thing and I do four. Is it worth my time? Did the client take advantage of me? What would you have done? Why would I say yes? Why would I keep going?

I’ve been in a similar scenario and right away clarified that ‘yes I can do that and my hourly rate will be added to the invoice’. Sometimes the client is fine with that and sometimes they back out, “Oh! Never mind, I’ll do it myself.”

Sometimes a story is better than money. Sometimes issues simply can’t progress into problems. 

The steps are the fourth or fifth project I’ve done for my client. My sales call for the steps should have been 10 minutes but it became 45 minutes. We caught up about an accident she’s had since we last spoke as well as my wedding and birth of my first child which she was excited to learn about. 

I’ve heard it before, ‘I never do anything for free, I always get what I’m owed’. In my opinion if everything you do has a price then you are always competing against a cheaper price. If you can add value to the work you do you will create a story that goes above and beyond the final amount on the invoice. 

Never before have I received a referral from a client who talked about pricing. Helping people is what painting is all about. Anyone can paint, clients can do it themselves for free. So why pay you vs paying someone else vs doing it themselves. Don’t you want more painting projects coming your way in the future?

Help people, solve problems, put a smile on someone’s face. Or don’t, I’m not your boss.