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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pictures worth thousands of words

This image is lifted from the Parlee Builders website -- one of the better ones I've seen, both for simplicity and communication. Mark Parlee says: "My son designed that website when he was 16 yrs old He went on to Iowa State and graduated with two degrees, one in computer science and one in computer engineering, he did this in 3-1/2 years while working and getting married his last year of college. If you remember the "I love you" virus that went around a few years ago, He had the first repair for it to my knowledge in the country, 6 hours after infection 3 days before Nortons. His company"

Mark Parlee of Parlee Builders in Urbandale, Iowa, takes the initial client presentation for new home building and renovoations/restorations an extra step -- in fact, several extra steps, with increibly documented photo essays showing the problems he has uncovered -- and advancing the solutions he recommends.

This is something you have to see for yourself, so when Sonny Lykos sent me samples of Parlee's presentations, I requested, and received, permission from Mark to post and redistribute them. Here is one file for you to look at -- I have another couple available to send you if you email me at

Why this approach? Parlee explained the reasoning in this email to me:
My company is in the business of exterior renovation, remodeling, and home building.

These reports have to do with the exterior renovation part of my business. The whole process starts with my initial contact with the homeowner and is typically by phone the first couple of times to set up a time for me to go to the home and look it over in detail. In this visit I measure out the homes exterior and take a lot of varying angles of pictures. This allows me to study in detail what I have seen and makes my memories of the visit and what I saw more accurate. From there I go to my laptop and download all the pictures in a file with the clients name for easy future reference.

I have a spreadsheet with all sorts of things I might encounter on a particular job, if an item in there is not relevant to this particular job I simply edit it out or if there is something that I haven't addressed before I add it. As you can imagine for the first couple of years this document was changing and being added to on every job due to experience that I was gaining but it has not changed much recently, I may think of a different way to word something but that is about the extent of the changes as the experience level increases.

I own a very nice digital SLR with a couple of decent lenses, one zoom and a wide angle. This has been a very good addition to my tool kit and really made me see the old adage of "a picture is worth a thousand words" is true on all accounts.

As time goes buy the amount of info I take with me to a presentation has increased from three to four pages to at least 30; this gives the potential client a lot to think about and helps frame up the complexity of the job. I take with me my proposal, 10 pages of product info showing the materials I use and specify, and the pictures of the home showing the damages; I also include pictures of finished details on past jobs to show how we address specific problem areas.

Recently, in the last six months, I started putting my pictures in a PDF with a caption below each one giving some description as to what is wrong or how I will handle the repair. This has put me out in front of the competition as they usually bring just a contract to the meeting and the only goal of that meeting is to get a signed contract not to educate the consumer and develop a relationship. I tend to over explain things but that is how I am and have come to accept that, so have my clients.

When I make the presentation I like to have both the owners there and I will sit down with them and read every line in my proposal. This allows me to give explanation of every step of the job including the fact that I will have a port-a-potty on site, I even state that they may use it if they choose, this is usually good for a few laughs, If that doesn't do it, it may be a sign of weird things to come, I have found that most of my clients will tell you at the end of the job "it was just as Mark said it would be" (as) we do dominate their area for 15 to 20 working days and that can be a big thing to deal with if you are not prepared, Most of the time by the end of the job we are like family; relationship is the key.
Indeed, these are observations that show how successful construction businesss differentiate themselves from the 'mass' of 'low bid (hopefully) wins the job' contractors, struggling from day to day, and burned out when the economy turns south. Notably Parlee's approach, while requiring somewhat more up-front work than a conventional canned presentation, actually doesn't take that much real extra effort, and reduces stress and confusion down the road. And even if more work is required, if the effect is to increase the percentage of positive commitments for his services -- and the average price of these commitments -- is it not worth considering doing something similar yourself?


Daniel Smith said...

Hi Mark - Thanks for sharing. When I had my painting company, I used to use a "Client Manual", which was a simple leather binder filled with before and after photos and value-add information that reinforced what I was going to say in my presentation. I would encourage the client to flip through it while I made my calculations and when it came time for me to present the estimate, they were half-sold already!
Having said that, my manual had nothing on this guy's tomes!

Oh, and the link to the web designer site is broken (it links to or something weird, instead of just to


Construction Marketing Ideas said...

Daniel, I checked thelink to "" and it seems to work now.
I like the idea of havingthe manual to read while you are making calculations for estimates; giving your prospective clients some 'control time' where there is no overt selling seems like a good idea to me -- especially since they are using that time to review your marketing stuff. Of course if that time relates to their own home, if you are a residential contractor, you'll be make a truly strong impression.

Mark Parlee said...

My son Just toook a look at this blog and reminded me it was three years thru college not three and one half