Going the Extra Mile Does Not Get You More 1

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
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Contractors often “go the extra mile” in the expectation that the client will recognise their effort, but too often their extra work goes unrewarded.

They tell me how they ‘bent over backwards’ to get the work done for the client. They talk about how they worked weekends and nights to make sure that shop opened on time, or went like the clappers to make sure the client was in by Christmas, and so on.

One of my articles was published in a book in America and in it was a similar story. It was about a restoration contractor who came into an upscale jewellery store after it had been damaged by fire. The owner wanted to be able to open the following Monday morning and he arrived Thursday. He worked almost non-stop until 4 a.m. Monday and sure enough, the store opened for trading that day with all signs of fire damage gone.

Then the owner told him he would not be paid, and she promptly left for a holiday.

What does this tell us? Well, it shows that contractors often assume two things:

  1. That this kind of effort will create such a sense of appreciation in the client that payment will follow without a hitch.
  2. That the value of work is realised once the work is complete.

Both these are wrong. They are wrong because the perceived value of construction work arises before it is carried out. For example, consider the store owner above. When was the contractors’ effort worth the most to her; before he did the work or after? The answer is before. She was in dire trouble then. Once the work was done and the store could open, the value of the work in the client’s mind was far less, so low that she simply went on holidays. That is an extreme example, but it does illustrate the point.

If you are prepared to accept this reality then I suggest that contractors should not ‘work around the clock’ and ignore their own personal lives and needs just to ‘get the job done,’ at least, not without a price. If the client wants that kind of commitment, then they can pay for it. I know a law firm that charges a fee loading if you want work done fast. I don’t see why contractors cannot do the same. If a client wants you to work through the night then that requires a higher price, and if value is realised before the work is done, then it is before you start that this arrangement needs to be set in writing. Further, payment is to be made on completion and the various certificates and [if possible] the keys don’t get handed over until then.

I realise some of you may think this unrealistic or harsh, but I invite you to try it. So long as this is presented as ‘the conditions under which you will work’ then the client will either accept it upfront or not. If it is accepted, then you get paid. If not then you can either risk it, or walk away. At least you get an option, which beats the current predicament of making a huge effort at huge personal cost without really knowing if they will pay you at the end of it.

Your client is not your friend. They will not really appreciate the extra mile you are going to get their work completed. They only want the work done. They don’t care too much about what you had to do to get it done, so stop thinking that this kind of sentiment will play a role in the payment process.

Most of the time it won’t.

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  1. Andy

    In the media industry, one freelance copywriter with whom I am familiar adopts a two out of three rule: there is cheap, good and fast, and her clients can have two of the three. Basically, if clients want her to bend over backward to turn something around fast yet still produce really good work, that's fine but they have to value the work and pay for it appropriately.

    I don't see why it should be any different in construction. If a particular client wants their job done in a way that necessitates overtime work, they should be made to pay to have this as the case.

    As for the non-payment issue, whilst the contractor in the example above should have at least not handed over the keys prior to payment, the attitude of the owner was appalling. The builder has just saved her business from catastrophe. One would think paying someone who had just saved you from financial ruin would be a slightly higher priority than going on holidays.

    If that is her attitude, I hope she one day does reap the business failure she so rightly deserves.