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Mastering the Art of the Quote

10+ min read • May 03, 2021 • Grant Olsen

Here’s an obvious statement that will play a key role in the success of your small business: people can’t pay you unless they know how much to pay you. In the case of a retail shop, you’d likely place a price tag on or near your products so customers can quickly ascertain their cost. At the very least, you’d be able to scan the product at your register and communicate the price to anyone who’s interested.

But what about situations where your product or service is more sophisticated than a basic item on a shelf? Knowing the cost will be crucial for customers to feel confident with moving forward with a purchase. And once the cost has been agreed upon, you’ll be 1 step closer to getting paid.

Sending a quote to a client kickstarts this whole process. Your quote can take many forms, depending on the specifics of the product or service, as well as the expectations of the client. For example, let’s say you sell birdhouses and a client inquires about purchasing 200 of them. Your quote would likely be specific, detailing the cost per unit and how much the entire order would cost for the client.

On the other hand, if you owned a fencing company, you’d first share a ballpark figure with potential customers. For example, if a person called and said they had a 2-acre lot and wanted to put a 6-foot vinyl fence around the entire perimeter, you could tell them the cost per foot and then calculate an estimate for the job. Of course, the exact cost wouldn’t be determined until you had the chance to visit the property, take your measurements, and identify any special considerations. At that point, you’d be able to give them a precise quote. Because quotes can be legally binding, you never want to offer one unless you have all the necessary information.

Carefully Considering Your Quote

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There’s always a balancing act when giving out quotes. First, you want to make the client “an offer they can’t refuse.” No, that doesn’t mean you should put a horse head in their bed—but you must provide enough value in the quote that they feel compelled to move forward with the purchase. You must also ensure, however, that you’ll make enough money to support the growth of your business.

“The quickest way to experience burnout as a small business owner or freelancer is to not prepare quotes that sufficiently compensate you for your work,” explains The Balance Small Business. “Whether you’re in a creative industry, beauty, healthcare, landscaping, or lawn care, it is important to prepare a quote by considering all relevant factors. A little planning and research will go a long way in making sure you are amply rewarded for your work when your customer pays you. Set prices based on your research and cost predictions, and decide on a markup amount. Charging a markup, a percent or dollar amount above your labor and material costs, helps cover the business costs that are indirectly related to your client or customer service. These costs include administrative tasks, accounting, your self-employment or small business taxes, employee salary, health insurance costs, business liability insurance fees and the money you spend marketing to attract new clients.”

By making your quote a win-win, you’ll find more victories follow for your business. Be competitive in your pricing while also ensuring a profit. When in doubt, put yourself in the client’s shoes—which is hard to do, given your close connection to your business. If you were the client and received the quote you’re planning to send, would you consider it a fair price? If so, go ahead and fire it off. If not, you may want to run the numbers again and see if there’s a way to provide more value for the client.

Avoid the temptation of offering too much. If you overextend yourself, you’ll just end up disappointing the client. Your reputation and profit will both take a hit.

The Anatomy of a Quote

As highlighted in the business examples shared earlier, creating an accurate quote requires accurate details. For a business that makes birdhouses, it’s crucial to know how much each birdhouse costs, what the shipping price will be, and any other costs directly related to the transaction. You will also need to add a markup that covers ancillary costs such as taxes, insurance, marketing, and salaries.

For the scenario with a fencing company, there would obviously be even more discovery required. An onsite inspection would reveal the exact costs associated with the job, allowing the estimate to evolve into a quote.

The details and cost breakdowns aren’t just there for your own benefit. You’ll need to include them in the quote so the client knows exactly what to expect. Your goal should be to communicate so clearly that there’s no chance of confusion or debate on the back end.

In addition to outlining the details of the transaction and the related costs and taxes, you should also include the terms and conditions. Work with an attorney to put together the right terms and conditions for your business. Here are some common factors you might want to include:

  • Scope
  • Definitions
  • Orders
  • Rescheduling
  • Cancellations
  • Delivery
  • Taxes and duties
  • Credit and payment
  • Indemnification
  • Warranty
  • Limitation of liability
  • Confidentiality
  • General provisions

Finally, you should carve out enough time to craft your quote carefully. This document is your chance to showcase how organized and professional you are—the more polished, the better, as typos or calculation errors will lead to loss of trust.

Preparing for the Quote

Bar owner looking off in the distance

When you receive a request for a quote, the first objective is to qualify the inquiry. Is the request relevant to your business? Will you be able to fulfill it? Do you want to fulfill it? Are you able to make it into an opportunity for profit?

Don’t neglect this important first step. It’s a massive waste of time when small business owners put together quotes for transactions that will never occur. While it’s inevitable for some clients to refrain from a purchase after receiving a quote, you can significantly improve your success rate by only sending quotes when they’re likely to get a positive response.

Potential clients certainly appreciate this type of due diligence. For example, let’s say you received a request for a product or service you weren’t sure you could fulfill. If you took an optimistic approach and decided to send a quote anyway, you’d run the risk of burning your customer’s trust if you’re unable to deliver. You will have wasted their time and demonstrated an inability to meet their needs.

When an onsite visit is required to deliver an accurate quote, focus on customer service. Find a convenient time that works for them. Once you’ve locked down this time, do your best to follow through on your promise. Send a text or email reminder the day before your visit, then make sure you arrive at the agreed-upon time. If this won’t be possible, communicate with the client and let them know why you’re unable to make it.

Arriving late to an onsite visit can be perceived as disrespectful and unprofessional—your chances for getting the sale are likely to decrease. Failing to show up at all is the ultimate waste of time and will burn bridges.

“Give clients and customers face time when you’re talking to them,” says The Balance Small Business. “Put your phone away and look them in the eye. Customers and clients want to feel that you’re giving them your whole attention, and you don’t want to lose customers by making them feel unimportant. Listen to your clients and customers actively. Use behaviors such as mirroring and rephrasing to let them know that you hear them. Practice active listening.”

Assemble all the questions needed to finalize the quote before your visit, as these details will display professionalism and reduce the need for follow-up visits or calls. Each fact you confirm during your visit makes it less likely you’ll face disagreements once work begins.

You should also consider your appearance. When you walk through the door, your clothing and demeanor speak volumes about you—and first impressions are hard to revise. You might even want to think about adding some branded clothes to your wardrobe.

“Here’s one for businesses that engage in face-to-face transactions: get a uniform,” recommends business insider John Hebron. “No, I don’t mean you have to sell out and squeeze into a corporate suit every day, but having a nice logoed shirt will add immediate credibility and professionalism to your interaction. A tasteful printed tee or an embroidered polo shirt will look put together while reinforcing your brand. Several online services help you create custom attire, but you can also look for someone local so you can pick out what you want in person.”

As you speak with the client face to face, the 2 biggest priorities will be to make sure you understand all their requests and they understand why yours is the best business for the job. You can accomplish the former by asking questions freely, then clearly listing out the details you gather in the quote.

Make sure the latter occurs by sharing your elevator pitch. Effectively setting your business apart from the competition is most memorably done by practicing an elevator pitch so you’re able to share the benefits of choosing your business seamlessly.

“Get your lead talking first so you can learn something about them and their pain points so you can tailor your pitch to fit their needs,” suggests business expert Alyssa Gregory. “For example, if Sally Smith learned that a small business owner was buried under papers, she could say, ‘Hi, I’m Sally Smith, a virtual assistant who helps small business owners get their ducks in a row. My clients scan their paper items and I organize and file them for them, saving them time, money, and clutter.’ Like all other forms of marketing, the more you can speak to your lead’s needs, the greater the chance you’ll entice them to want to learn more about your business.”

By preparing for each onsite visit, you’ll be able to make a splash with the client. Even when you don’t get the job, your professionalism will leave a lasting impression—and there’s no telling when that will come to fruition.

Presenting a Quote

Your quote could take multiple forms, depending on your line of business and the details of the job—but the clarity and quality should always shine through. A quote should always be written in a document, not just pasted into an email. And that document must be organized and professional so it boosts confidence in the client.

Of course, the quote needs more information than just the details of the job. Your business name and logo should be visible prominently at the top. Most businesses use their company letterhead, as it’s already formatted for such uses. You’ll also want to include your email, phone number, and website. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt to add in any relevant license numbers and other qualifications.

When you send the quote to your client, it’s nice to include some of the same selling points you shared in your earlier elevator pitch. Reinforce to them why yours is the best business for the job. Highlighting your strengths can mitigate the chance of sticker shock—though your prior conversations will hopefully have prepared the client for what cost to expect generally.

Are you the negotiating type? If so, set the cost a bit higher than necessary. This provides breathing room when clients seek a lower price. And if a client obtains a more favorable quote from a competitor, let them know you’d be happy to review it and consider matching it.

Once you’ve finished putting the quote together, take a quick breather before sending the email. Maybe you could work on another project for 30 minutes or, if time permits, go for a quick walk to clear your head. The point is to separate yourself from the message so you’ll have fresh eyes when you return.

“A lot can go wrong when drafting an email, but all these mistakes can be easily avoided,” explain the communication experts from Constant Contact. “Take the extra time to give your emails a once-over. When you eliminate these common errors, you’ll see your results start to improve.”

What errors should you be looking for in your emails? Start with incorrect names. It’s mind-boggling how often this error occurs. When my brother was applying to law schools, he received 2 different acceptance emails that addressed him as “Dear >Applicant Name<.” And 1 of those emails was from the Duke University School of Law, which should definitely know better.

Once you’ve confirmed the names, dates, and business info are all correct, you can dig deeper. Look for typos and grammatical mistakes. It’s a breeze to use AI-powered tools such as Grammarly to comb through your message and ensure it’s as polished as possible.

Next, confirm you’ve provided all the proper details. For example, have you finalized when the job will begin and clarified its expected duration? Have you outlined the payment terms? Did you explain when the quote expires—particularly important in industries where prices for materials can rise in a hurry?

When you’ve given the quote your gold seal of approval, it’s time to click “submit.” You may not get the job, but you can rest assured you did everything in your power to make it happen.

Following Up on the Quote

Shot of a young man using a laptop and writing in a notepad

It’s never a good idea just to send important communications out into the ether and then hope for the best. Have a plan in place to follow up with the client if you haven’t heard back by a certain date. It’s common for clients to seek multiple quotes before making a decision so that often explains any delay in response—but you should certainly reach out before the expiration date for the quote if a conversation hasn’t already occurred.

Whether you reach out in 5 days or a couple of weeks is entirely up to you, but just know that these additional touchpoints can reinforce your professionalism and show how committed you are to working with the client.

Let’s assume the client happily accepts your quote—your business is totally amazing after all, so why wouldn’t they? You’ll then want to obtain a confirmation from the client in writing prior to beginning any part of the job. At that point, you’re the proud owner of a legally binding document. You’ll be all set to begin work on the job, and the client will have committed to paying you according to the schedule you agreed upon. And what could be better than that?

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Grant Olsen

Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.