Giving advice and help to friends? What is your experience?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by Mad Plumber, Jan 29, 2010.

  1. Mad Plumber

    Mad Plumber Mad Skills

    Sound familiar, this was a question to "Ask Amy"

    See her response here

    What do you think of the question, and the response that Amy gave?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 29, 2010
  2. asktom

    asktom Member

    Victor, MT
    I am in sales, so my situation is a bit different, but I did repair plumbing for a long time and have the tools, so I get called on by friends from time to time for help or advice. For anything beyond the simplest advice my standing rule is they have to feed me a homemade meal (no take-out allowed), and keep the food coming if it is a complicated project. So far it has always cut out the people trying to take advantage of me and I have usually end up having a good time with good food. If you are giving an estimate, that is business and should be handled that way.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona
    I do not make it a practice to work for "friends". They can assume a lot of things should be done which were not in the original quotation, or feel that as friends they have some latitude. If I am giving a quote, I KNOW how I am going to do it, but do NOT tell the customer. That way he cannot decide to do it himself, or tell his handyman, "This is the way the plumber was going to do it. How much will you charge?"
  4. When you answer their questions, do it in poetic form and rhyme all the way, then start singing loudly to a beatles song from the 70's. I promise they'll stop asking questions.

  5. Horrible advice right there.
  6. Bird Doo Head

    Bird Doo Head New Member

    I'm new here, so I don't know if I've earned the right to express my opinion- but..
    I'm a master electrician, but also ran the skilled trades department for a company managing NASCAR and NFL venues, so I know just enough to have people ask me how to do stuff. I've rebuilt a few homes, worked as a kid for a tile setter, all kinds of cross trade action. Electrical = A-OK. Other Stuff- Not so confident. So, sometimes when friends ask for favors, and I don't know for certain what to tell them, I get looks like I'm trying to wiggle out of the job.

    For electrical stuff, I am generally glad to jump in and help. They pay for parts, unless I have them laying around (usually not, I primarily work sports & entertainment- sometimes still do industrial- No residential) I figure that I'm blessed enough to know things that can help someone else. I also get to teach them new stuff. I love to teach. And, the big bonus for helping with electrical, it keeps them from reaching into their load centers and getting hurt.

    Helping also voids the often improper advice they get from the "helpful" folks in various home centers. (It is amazing what I've overheard them tell customers, including me when they see my materials from the shelves. Fortunately, in my area- store help is usually hiding somewhere.)

    On the selfish side, I sometimes learn from the people I'm helping. I've got 5 brothers who are all white collar professional people- not tradesmen. Two of them I often help are amazingly talented in carpentry and cabinet work, something I can't do well at all. So I watch, ask and learn. The one brother is crazy good at pipe fitting. Once a lawyer friend asked for help with his hydronic heating. (I'm very well trained in hydronics- 30 years ago. Try to keep current.) I did the job for him without charge (a friend). Lo and behold, next time I needed some legal work- a year later- he refused to bill me. When I had the management job, all of us tradespeople would help each other and learn the other's trade. That's how I learned to TIG weld aluminum and install Formica.

    But the help-a-friend does get stretched sometimes to people who I barely know- or a Friend-Of-A-Friend. Small stuff, emergencies- Sure I'll help. Big projects, sometimes I do draw the line if it is the friend-of-a-friend thing. If I'm slow, I'll go in really cheap.

    I have a neighbor who changed the transmission on a landscaper nephew's car free. The landscaper offered to cut his lawn free for 2 years. He has no lawn. It's all sculptures and plants- awesome stuff. That neighbor has the kid cut mine. Guess who is getting free electrical work for life? (and I shovel his snow) Everything in life goes in a big, cool circle. Even if I get taken advantage of, I still wake up breathing. It's all good.

    Regarding what Asktom said about the meal- Great Idea! Wish I'd thought of that years ago! I have one brother who is remodeling his big old Detroit mansion home. I help when I'm slow at work (Uhm..Most of the time this winter). In his case, however, the Home Cooked meal is substituted with a Big-Ol Bucket of Popeye's Double Newspaper Chicken- Extra Hot Sauce, Please!

  7. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; Once he provides an estimate, he can let people know that if they receive a lower estimate, he might be able to cut his price.

    That does two things. First it tells the customer that you are probably overcharging them, but if you "get caught" by them, you will give them the real price. And second, there is absolutely NO WAY, they will not get a cheaper price, even if they have to pay for it. Once I give a price, it sticks, or it goes up, but never down unless they modify the specifications. I do not even like to "barter" because it is almost impossible to evaluate the two, or more, trades to see who is getting the better deal.
  8. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Bothell, Washington
    Limit your exposure

    Amy's advice to me more professional is good, if only she had stopped there with her advice.

    Yes, that would mean, business hours only
    A written and signed contract listing possible options or add-ons, and method of payment.

    Most of the time when I do work for relatives and friends, it's in gift form.
    But there are times when I "Limit Exposure"

    That's my term.
    I learned that one in church.

    In life, you learn to limit your exposure.

    Just because you are amazing, doesn't mean you have to give up your day job, or your time off with your family.

    If a contractor chooses to give up the day job or family time to work on a "project" it should be his choice, and not the neighbor or friend.

    And like hj, I don't like bartering.
    It may work for others, but in my experience, it has rarely worked.
    I have some "friends" that are always looking for a deal, and it's not really a deal if they have to drive to my house and do some siding or electrical work.
    I have a whole list for one of my Boeing friends, Bruce Martin, if he decides that the $10,000 in trade he got is worth a trip for some of that. Right now, he's liking the $10,000 bonus he got, and his sense of "I got a screaming deal" would be tarnished if he even installed a washlet outlet for me.
    He went to one of Jamie's shows in Lake Stevens, and complained at the door that there was no way he would pay a $3 dollar cover to hear his band. Heck, I've never even heard of a $3 dollar cover, it's normally $10 - $20 for cover. $3 doesn't even buy a beer.
    See, I couldn't even get $3 back from this engineer.
    And he's helping to design planes that we fly in. I hope they don't bean count them too cheaply there at Boeing.
    I hope that's a singular experience with aircraft engineers.
    Please, someone down there at Boeing tell me that the next plane is going to kick some ass!

    With my contracts, I try to list everything the first time out.
    I don't like change orders.
    Some contractors live on change orders.
    I've had plenty of times when my contract included everything that could happen for a bath remodel.
    Didn't get the job, because someone beat me by a smidge.
    And then I hear back from the friend, that they wound up paying more with all the change orders.

    Saying that someone should match a bid that is going to later grow with change orders is insane.
    Amy, that is bad advice, and should not be followed.
    The friendly contractor already gave his best price to the friend and neighbor.
    And he was knowledgeable to include "everything" on the bid.
    It was a "peace of mind" bid; all inclusive, forget about it, it's handled bid.

    What is more normal in my professional life, is for my workers to get tips after the job is done.
    I didn't see that possibility mentioned.
    I'm not saying that it's expected, buy many customers are tipping for good work.

    So my advice to other contractors, is to limit your exposure when it comes to dicey interactions. Are you going to lose a friend over this?

    I lost my hiking buddy after plumbing his house, he doesn't want to be reminded that the "screaming deal" could someday become a straight barter. Like he originally explained it.


    Would you pay $3 to see this band?
    Bruce Martin wouldn't.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2010
  9. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona
    An out of state contractor built a bank building in Phoenix years ago. They bid "dirt cheap" knowing that they would make out like bandits on change orders. The bank did not give a single change order and the contractor lost his shirt on the job. But, once the job starts, if the customer changes his mind, he WILL pay for the change, or get a part of the credit if he deletes something. Sort of like one big house we worked on years ago. The contractor was a friend of the owner. During the construction he finished the basement with a bowling alley and other amenities. When it came time to settle up the basement was an addition. The customer asked, "Where are the credits?" When the contractor asked, "What credits?" He said, "What about the swimming pool we did not have installed because we are in the middle of Winter?" The contractor said, "We do not give credits. If you still want the swimming pool, we will install it next summer."
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