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To Really Take Advantage of Design/Build Rethink What You know as Normal

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Fri, Jun 03,2016 @ 05:00 AM

Design/Build Coaching


A lot of remodelers have contacted me recently looking for help with Design/Build.  Unfortunately many think they are doing or claim to be doing Design/Build, but they are not.  I know this because I know what Design/Build is, how to market it, how to sell it and how to manage it.  I find it sad to see how many hours and dollars are lost and wasted by contractors trying to figure out how to do Design/Build.  Worse, many pretend to be Design/Builders and actually have no idea what they are missing out on through their ignorance.

I find too many contractors pretending to do Design/Build lack the skills and experience to do it right.   Unfortunately their lack of knowledge coupled with their decision and or stubbornness to figure things out on their own leads to them to repeat the same mistakes so many other remodelers made before them.

I suggest there is always more than one way to do things.  I also know that the many things you are concerned about changing were things that I found were holding back my company and our ability to attract the right clients and project types for Design/Build.  I too was hesitant and said no one would pay that much to design and estimate, and pay for it in full up-front.  I also said people would not give up bidding.   I also said they would never go for Design/Build if they could not have the plans unless they also contracted for the construction. 


I was wrong and I was really glad I found out I was wrong.

Evolving to Design/BuildYes, becoming a real Design/Builder will be an evolution of change, if you are willing and able to commit to making the changes. The changes will not be easy and will require getting out of your current comfort zone to gain new experiences and results.

In the beginning selling real Design/Build will be challenging.   If you do it right you will come to trust Design/Build and so will your clients.   Here is what one of my clients shared:

“Shawn McCadden is the best business mentor and coach I have ever met.  He has a special talent for getting right to the heart of an issue, helping you find the solution that is right for your situation and then helping you implement the solution and monitor it.  His communication skills enable him to relate to a wide variety of people in ways that make his message interesting, understandable and memorable.  I have called on Shawn many times to help me through situations and am always glad I did.”

Selling Design/BuildTrust is earned.   If you do Design/Build well with some clients they will come to trust you and will then let those they refer you to know you and your process can be trusted.

Just remember there are plenty of contractors already doing the things you are challenged to consider doing.  Once I discovered that fact I knew I could do it too.



Topics: Business Management, Design/Build Process, Building Relationships, Opinions from Design/Builders, Creating Referrals

Four Considerations for Contractors Offering Design - #4 is Most Important!

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Mar 12,2015 @ 06:00 AM

Four Considerations for Contractors Offering Design - #4 is Most Important!

How a contractor can sell designWith a well thought out strategy for offering design services contractors can differentiate their businesses and attract better quality clients and projects.  However if their offering is not well thought out contractors can lose a lot of money and waste a lot of time.   

If you want to offer design services consider these four important areas before you go for it.  If you are already offering design services, these same considerations can help you validate and or think a bit more strategically about your offering.


#1: Compensation

Nothing is free, neither is design.  Even if you offer it for free to prospects doing so still adds to your business overhead costs.  Charging each customer for their design is one option.  If you don't charge consider how many free designs you will complete to sell one job and add the anticipated costs for doing them to your overhead budget before you determine your markup.  How you choose to go forward with this consideration should be based on the targeted customer type you identify in your marketing plan.  

Offering design comes with risks. I also strongly recommend getting Design Liability Insurance and adding the cost of coverage to your pricing strategy. 


#2: Create a clearly defined process

To control costs and manage customer expectations you need to decide what level of service you will offer, and whether you will offer your design services at a fixed price or on an hourly rate.   At my business I used a fixed/defined process and price strategy limited to concept design.  This was because as a Design/Builder our goal was to quickly get to a contract for construction.  Completing the plans for permit application only happened if we built the project.   For our target customer type that process worked well and kept the upfront cost of making decisions and getting to a fixed price quote down for our clients.

The image below shows the first half of the Design/Build process I share with my clients.

Design build process example


#3: Ownership of the plans

Consider whether you are selling design services or plans.  If you sell plans your clients may see their project as a commodity and may want to use those plans to collect bids from other contractors. Allowing that to happen also definitely increases your design liability.  My recommendation is to differentiate your business by selling personalized design services, not plans.  Then, only offer design services to prospects who intend to hire your business to complete the project.  Plans for permit can then be created and shared with them after they commit to construction.

download shawn's free sample design build retainer agreement

Marketing design services for contractors#4: Use a supporting marketing and sales strategy

After thinking through and deciding on the considerations mentioned above the business will need a way to market and sell their offering.  The right marketing should help define your offering so prospects can prequalify whether what you offer is right for them, or not.  Doing this will help attracted your targeted prospect and save salespeople a lot of time on sales calls. This is because by doing so prospects will only need to clarify and confirm your offering when they request to meet or speak with you, you will no longer need to introduce and explain your offering. 

Your web site is a great tool to use for marketing and explaining your design services. And, if the information is on your web site, you can direct prospects to it from the other marketing tactics you use, or when they first call your office to inquire about a project that requires design.

Other Design related articles you might find helpful

Managing Risks With The Right Design/Build Insurance Options

Design and Spec Considerations for Remodelers Looking to Break $1Million

All Plans and Specifications Will Be For The Exclusive Use Of …

As Designers, Are We Honest in our Business Dealings?

10 Ways Some Architects Do A Disservice To Contractors & Home Owners

Design Options for Design/Builders: Partnering for Design

Design Options for Design/Builders: In-House Design


Topics: Design/Build Process, Marketing, Prequalifying, Plans and Specifications, Working with Design Professionals, Insurance Considerations

The Advantages Of Design Build For Remodeling Clients

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Tue, Jun 24,2014 @ 06:00 AM

The Advantages Of Design/Build For Remodeling Clients

couple looking at plans wr


Selling Design/Build isn’t easy. Many consumers haven’t heard about it and most of those who have really don’t know that much about it. If you want to sell Design/Build, or for that matter sell any product or service, you must let the buyer  know what benefits it will have for him or her.

Rather than put on a dog and pony show for your clients, take time to uncover their real concerns, underlying motivations and project requirements. Then share with your clients those advantages of the Design/Build process that address what you have uncovered, provided you are confident in taking on those responsibilities. As more contractors and consumers come to understand and realize the benefits of the Design/Build process, selling and buying the concept will become easier for everyone.

To be successful with Design/Build consider the client’s advantages and the Design/Builder’s responsibilities described within this article as interdependent.


Single Source Responsibility

Perhaps the most appealing and easy to recognize advantages that Design/Build offers are the convenience and comfort of one-stop shopping. The client looks to a single entity to take full responsibility for design, construction and satisfactory completion; delivering the project on time and on budget. As a natural consequence there is less finger pointing because as ideas are generated, all team members make decisions with a cooperative approach. This means greater efficiency, cooperation instead of conflict, and a better project for the time and money invested. When this team approach works well, it fosters an enjoyable and mutually beneficial way of doing business for the client and the Design/Build team of professionals. As the design phase of the project moves forward, all parties get to know each other while working out and establishing the terms of the relationship. This establishes trust as well as a mutual respect for the realities of living through a project, long before the dust takes over, rather than trying to do so while the dust is created. These advantages are often removed or compromised if those involved, including the client, work separately of each other during the design stage.


Cost Control

Advantages of design build for consumersTrust is the key consideration here, and can become the client’s most valued benefit.  Provided that a realist budget is established and agreed upon prior to entering into a Design/Build agreement, the Design/Builder takes on the responsibility of protecting the budget as design happens. Do not sell this as an advantage unless you are confident that you and the client agree on the scope of work. Savings and or budget control are then achieved through better planning. The Owner can exercise his desired degree of control over design, with the added advantage of knowing the cost implications of each decision as it happens. In the client’s eyes, the trust will be broken if he or she sees the Design/Builder as the cause for going over budget. It’s their money, not yours. To avoid this perceived breach of trust, before you offer or entertain alternate design ideas that will increase costs, ask your client for permission to spend more than the agreed budget.

Promising your clients cost control must be backed up with design and construction expertise, as well as the company systems required, to know what should (or will not) be included and how much it will cost. By having this ability, professional fees such as engineering or surveying are kept to a minimum as they can be determined before beginning design of the project. The client benefits by having a guaranteed maximum price that is set as soon as the scope of the project is determined.

download shawn's free sample design build retainer agreement

Quality Control

Quality of the design and construction of the project can happen by default if the Design/Builder’s team is working “together” to meet the client's performance requirements. The architect, engineer, and contractor are able to focus on the project, with an emphasis on quality, rather than protecting their own individual interests. The lines of communication are simplified and the chances for misunderstandings are reduced. The construction expertise of the contractor and the design expertise of the design professional are melded together to produce a greater value for the owner than that which might be realized if both were working independently, perhaps in a vacuum. Additionally, quality is maintained by the discovery of most problems before starting and the implementation of real solutions.


Quicker Delivery Time

Design Build speeds up construction


The client saves time and trouble by dealing with a single source for all matters rather than separately with a contractor, an architect, an engineer, and subcontractors. Bidding periods and redesign time are eliminated. Overall time to design and build the project is substantially reduced because design and construction activities overlap. The contractor can proceed with early procurement of critical materials and scheduling of labor and subcontractors for greater effectiveness. This means the project can be on the contractor’s production schedule sooner.

If it is necessary to meet client’s deadlines, Design/Build lends itself readily to "Fast Tracking", where construction begins while detail drawings are still in process. The project can be completed in less time because work can begin before all the elements of the design are complete. For example the foundation can be completed to beat the frost, while the selection of windows and doors and how they will be detailed have yet to be completed. This fast tracking can reduce the owner’s interim financing costs and will permit the owner to occupy the project at an earlier date.


Topics: Advantages of Design/Build, Defining Design/Build, Sales Considerations, Design/Build Process, Differentiating your Business

What Separates Successful Design/Builders From Other Remodelers

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Sun, May 20,2012 @ 05:00 AM

Characteristics That Separate Successful Design/Builders From Other Business Models Include:

  • Business plan for remodelers and Design BuildersAn experienced Management Team that has created and follows a strategic and sustainable business plan, implements industry best practices and continuously identifies and mentors strong leadership within the team in each department.
  • A strong Financial System that that predicts, tracks and analyzes the cost of doing business and producing projects, and includes an estimating system that facilitates timely and accurate "What-if" project pricing abilities during the entire design process.
  • Sales system for Design Builders and sales training for remodelersA Marketing System and Strategy that identifies and attracts targeted prospects qualified to do business with the Design/Builder and helps them discover the unique values and advantages of the Design/Build project delivery method.
  • An established and tested Sales System used and or supported by all employees which prequalifies that a prospect's purpose, budget and decision making process is a match with the Design/Builder's Business model and provides a consistent approach and results for those prospects who become clients.

download shawn's free sample design build retainer agreement

  • Technology for Remodelers and Design BuildersA Design System that properly identifies and documents the information needed by the client as well as the Design/Builder's project team and serves as a communication tool to make sure the design and final project serve the client's purposes within the agreed budget and timeline
  • A Communication System and Process that uses technology to create, capture, manage, and distribute timely and accurate business and project information between team members, trade partners, design professionals and the client in a way that manages and meets established expectations.
  • Design Build Training for Design Build SystemsA Production System that produces a quality project and experience for all of the parties involved within the established budget and puts management of the project at the jobsite and in the hands of a qualified Lead Carpenter and or Project Manager.
  • A Personnel System that identifies, attracts, advances, recognizes and rewards those employees who best support a true Design/Build Business model and project delivery system.


If you are looking for help or training to create or switch over to a Design/Build Business Model contact Shawn today.  Will you be ready when the economy improves and there is money to be made?


"The topics you touched on yesterday really hit home and the light bulb has gone off!
We will take this information and start to apply to our business immediately."

David Haney, Dave Haney - Custom Woodworking


Topics: Starting a Business, Success Strategies, Advantages of Design/Build, Defining Design/Build, Design/Build Process, Marketing Considerations, Business Planning, Business Considerations

Design Options for Design/Builders: Partnering for Design

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Apr 05,2012 @ 05:00 AM

Design Options for Design/Builders: Partnering for Design

Finding an architect for design buildDesign/Build has caused a major role reversal.  In most Design/Build situations, the contractor is now choosing the designer, after the project or design retainer has been sold!   Finding a design professional who will work in this new role can be a challenge, but if the relationship is built for mutual benefit, all parties win, including the homeowner.

Typically, the hardest part about subbing is finding a good sub worth partnering with. High quality standards being a given, a good sub also complements your team and meets all the legal and insurance coverage requirements. The same will be true if you subcontract the design work for Design/Build projects. There are plenty of design professionals out there, but how many are working as subs, better yet work as project partners with general contractors?  

Agree to Agree

If you truly want to partner with a design professional on a subcontracted basis, start with the guidelines of the relationship. Contractors and design professionals can both have strong personalities and have been observed on occasion to let ego compromise the project or relationship. Working out what each expects of the other and how the relationship will work before partnering on a project will help avoid some of the disappointments typical to a blind date.

Topics to consider might include the ability to design within a budget, incorporating construction methods already familiar to the contractor’s team, who will pay to fix the plans if mistakes are discovered, and who will cover the errors and omissions insurance coverage in case of design failure.


Take Time to Establish and Evolve Your Design/Build Partnership

Design build lunch



Consider a lunch meeting together with your designer to discuss expectations and workout any kinks before meeting with any clients. Blind dates may be fine if you have no expectations for a long lasting relationship, but don’t lose a client by double dating with a stranger.

Fortunately, in a true Design/Build setting, the contractor and designer are together at every meeting with the client. This provides a great way for both to observe and monitor the dynamics of the meeting and the contractor/designer relationship. Be sure to include time (maybe another lunch meeting) for a debriefing discussion right after leaving the design meeting to work out any issues and or confirm what worked well.  Doing so can help both of you advance and improve your process and your working relationship.

Successful Design/Build doesn’t happen by accident!


Read this previous blog post about doing design in-house

download shawn's free sample design build retainer agreement

Be sure your business is ready when the market improves!  If you are looking for better results from your Design/Build business contact Shawn today.  



Topics: Design/Build Process, Plans and Specifications, Design Options, Working with Design Professionals

Design Options for Design/Builders: In-House Design

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Tue, Apr 03,2012 @ 05:00 AM

Design Options for Design/Builders: In-House Design

Design options for design build



Design/Build contractors have come to realize the need for and importance of design as it relates to getting and producing the construction of a project. Typically, there are two options for getting the design done; In-house or out-sourced.  This article will discuss in-house design.  In my next blog I will discuss partnering with others to get the design work done.


The Designer Must be Qualified To Do The Job

Choosing the right designer for design buildNot all contractors or homeowners have creative design skills, but most can tell a good design from a bad one.  A drive through your local area may provide a few good examples of projects where the contractor completed the design, but perhaps should have stuck just to the build part.  The project could have met the client’s needs for space or function, but the end result may have been a T-1-11 box added onto a Victorian gem.

The first consideration before offering in-house design services should be an assessment of the designer’s skills and qualifications.  Depending on the type of projects you do or the design expectations of your clients, do you have the experience and skills on staff to complete the required designs and drawings?  Also, consider the legal requirements for the design or designer in the market area you work to be sure your designer and or your business can even offer such services.


In-House Design Considerations

If you are currently doing your design work in-house, or plan to, consider the following before it’s too late:

  • Do you have the time in your schedule to add or keep up with the demand for design, particularly if your business or volume grows?
  • If you bring a designer on staff, will you have enough work to keep him/her busy and productive?  If not, what other skills do they have or what other skills does your business need that this person could bring with them?
  • Are you limiting your client’s projects and design desires to your in-house capabilities and experience?  Will that be a problem?
  • What will happen if you or your only designer is injured or otherwise unavailable to do the design work?
  • If you do not have a professional designation, what will you do if your prospect or client wants the prestige of a professional architect, or the project requires structural engineering? 
  • Even if you plan to do the design work in house, should you find an additional resource or two as back-up to get the design work you need done when you needed it?

If any of the above could affect you or your business in a negative way, partnering with others may be the answer.  Watch for my next blog for some insight on partnering with others to get the design done.

download shawn's free sample design build retainer agreement


Topics: Design/Build Process, Plans and Specifications, Design Options, Working with Design Professionals

Thoughts On Design/Build From a Remodel Coach for Homeowners

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Fri, Mar 16,2012 @ 05:00 AM

Thoughts On Design/Build From a Remodel Coach for Homeowners

Reva Kussmaul, remodel coach

 Guest Blogger: Reva Kussmaul, owner of Remodel411.  Reva began her practice as a remodeling coach in 1998.  Reva believes that remodeling should be a 50/50 relationship and if it wasn’t cultivated as such - nightmares can occur.  According to Reva, those nightmares are typically caused by a gap in communication and it could come from either side.  For Reva it became quite obvious that someone who knew about and cared about both sides was a missing piece to the puzzle of remodeling nightmares.   So, she decided that both homeowners and contractors could use a coach when it came to their relationship - the remodeling relationship that is.  Check out her book: Remodel 411: Secrets to a Successful Remodeling Relationship


Thoughts On Design/Build From a Remodel Coach for Homeowners

Design build team


 As a remodel coach, I recommend homeowners work with a design/build firm when they’re undertaking larger projects because I find it to be quite beneficial and all-inclusive in that you have a designer who knows how to build and create plans from that knowing and you’re working with a contractor who has their hands on the design process and is in communication around that process at all times.

The beauty of a design/build firm is - it’s beneficial to all parties. It’s much easier for the contractor to be involved with a team so they’re not shouldering all of the work themselves, thereby opening up time for discussions with the client about possible challenges or changes.  It’s beneficial for the client because I’ve found they feel like the contractor has more time to actually listen to their needs.  That’s the purpose of a great team - creating win/win scenarios.

Success with Design/BuildI find it is quite challenging when working with a designer/architect who isn’t part of the contractor’s team and, really, isn’t necessarily on the homeowner’s team either. It’s not that they’re against either of those entities but if they’re working individually they’re about creating a plan for a job and they are simply not always up on the cost impact of possible changes/designs they’re suggesting. OR, they give a very low-ball cost and then the homeowner is blown away when the contractor costs it out accordingly.  I suggest homeowners work with a firm that is going to have all of their team members on the same page, at the same time, in the same place.  

The other suggestion is there be a separate dedicated project manager on a large project as well.  This works well because when someone’s job is project managing that is what he or she is doing all day.  It makes such a difference to have that liaison between the contractor, designer and homeowner.

Advantages of Design/BuildI’ve worked with designers who charge $3,000 for a bathroom design including tile lay-out and then want me to make the decisions about the actual lay-out, correct measurements, etc.  They were charging money for something they really weren’t that knowledgeable about and didn’t feel confident in.  When it’s a design/build firm that’s all inclusive, when one member of the team completes the initial design, the person actually drawing plans steps in and it progresses from there in an orderly fashion.

I don’t feel it’s as necessary to work with a design/build firm when doing smaller projects, however, if a home owner has used a larger firm for a long-term project, had an amazing experience and already trusts them with their home, I always recommend loyalty.

Topics: Advantages of Design/Build, Design/Build Process, Guest Blogs