How to Win a Bid on a Job

During January when most of the jobs at the company I work for dry up, I had to go out and scrounge around finding side jobs (like at the Sunglass Hut, snowplow proofing a mailbox, or even just reselling stuff I find at Goodwill).

Here’s the deal though with working alone and hunting for side work – you have to make job bids yourself. When you work for a construction or renovation company, the bosses officially make bids and deal with the clients. When you fly solo, it all falls to you.

Tile Job BidThere was a tile job that this dude wanted done on his floor. The tile had been laid back in the 1970s and was in bad shape. He wanted the interface between the carpeting and tile to be spiffed up (and not have half missing tiles – see the photo).

So I tell the guy what I’ll do and he likes it. I give him a cost estimate and then wait to hear from him. The thing about me is, I may scrounge for side jobs and resell things from Goodwill (which some people think is uncool) and try to get little jobs from any angle I can… but I’m not dishonest. I need work, I need to feed my family, but I won’t screw someone else over to do it. When I make a bid, it’s an honest bid that fairly covers the cost of supplies and my time, nothing more and nothing less.

But I never heard back from the guy. Someone else gave a lower bid and he must’ve gone with it.

How do you win a bid on a job?

Bid the lowest amount you possibly can. And then cut corners to cover the costs.

Don’t be a douche and do that though.

What do I suggest?

Be honest. Don’t underbid yourself and then force yourself into cutting corners. Someone is paying for you to fix their home, the place they live in – don’t screw someone over on the very roof that’s over their head. You’ll lose bids doing it this way sometimes, but at least you can live honestly and sleep well at night.


How to Win a Bid on a Job — 17 Comments

  1. Good article…maybe call the guy back just to touch base. Be straight and tell him you’re trying to line up your schedule and don’t want to over commit…which you don’t. Just a word …do a good job. Funny story…gal down the street from one of my rentals…a thrifty gal…no cheap…Anyway she says she has this great handy guy who does everything etc and works …CHEAP. I decline. So the guy does a couple of things and then offers to paint the outside of the house…for cheap. Long story short the guy spray paints the house doesn’t prep it right or mask the windows right and there is overspray all over the windows not to mention their cars. So the house now looks “bumpy” and she can’t get the paint off the glass and brushed aluminum storms.Ya get what ya pay for!

    • That SUCKS! But you said it exactly right, you get what you pay for. People should get a few bids, never pick the highest because they’re ripping you off, or the lowest because they’ll cut corners or do a bad job (like that chick’s house!), and go with a middle-of-the-road bid.

  2. I have never gone with the lowest bid. Maybe I should have in some cases but my father always told me if there was a big difference then the person was going to cut corners or do a shoddy job.

    Plus he said you should always pay someone a honest wage so while I don’t usually go with the highest bid, though I did on my roof because he was honest, took pictures before and after, showed us everything that was wrong, had many references and even sealed our skylight for us. I was more than happy that time.

    If you go for the cheapest bid you get the cheapest quality as far as I am concerned. I wish you were closer to philly I need to have my house pointed

    • Your dad sounds like one smart dude. Everything you said is spot on! And like you said, workers do need to earn an honest wage, and if you pay someone an honest wage, they should do a good, honest job!

  3. Plus TB, doing a good job at a fair price = referrals. Doing a crummy job = zip, zero, nada, nothing. You are right, in the end being fair and honest reaps the most rewards…financially and ethically.

  4. I’ve actually had the opposite problem. When I was very pregnant and hubby had a sore back we looked at contractors to paint a room for us. Had a few guys come in, we really liked one guy, his prices and timeline was good. Called him five times to tell him we’d like to work with him and never heard from him…he dropped off the face of the earth. Guess he didn’t want to do it but at least let us know!
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  5. Unfortunately small jobs like that do end up being won by people who underbid and (usually) don’t know what they’re doing or just don’t have as good of craftsmanship. Construction industry is picking up though, we’re seeing less crazy-underpriced bids than we were in 2011 or even 2012. I think for small work you just have to go out and bid a lot of jobs and hope that enough homeowners start to see the value for good work. Plus take pictures and keep a portfolio! You’re in an industry where looking just a little sleek and put together puts you ahead of most of the pack!
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  7. My fiance is a landscaper and he runs into this problem sometimes. There is a company in town who’s focus is to underbid projects. It works in their favor about half the time, because they have definitely gained a less than stellar reputation for shoddy work in order to make the low bid. The other half of the time, my fiance gets the job because he refuses to cut corners and do bad work.
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  8. okay, hang onto your hat…here’s something really strange that I learned over the past year or so:

    People are more likely to hire you if you jack up your rates. Why? Because they think they’re going to get what they pay for!

    Weirdly, we get more work and better work by asking what I thought was an outrageous hourly fee. Sometimes I’ll come down, especially if the client is a nonprofit or an individual (as opposed to a business).

    I think the message is: don’t underbid yourself. Figure out what you need to net and then from that figure what you need to gross. The gross figure plus the Murphy’s Law surcharge (I figure about 50% more) is what you should charge.

    Use referrals and make a portfolio. Post the portfolio on a website — it doesn’t cost that much to mount a second site on the server you’re already using for your blog.
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  9. My dad’s done a fair amount of side jobs in his day, and he’s also been outbid on many times. But he won’t do anything that would compromise the client. When you live in a small town you just can’t screw people over and expect to get more gigs. Even in big cities, with all of the review sites like yelp, word travels fast when people get ripped off and reputations can be ruined quickly.
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