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Setting an Accurate Budget

What To Ask Your Client To Help Establish Your Project’s Price Ask your client to relive any past home theater experiences and imagine new ones. It’s amazing what a little dreaming can do to a budget

What To Ask Your Client To Help Establish Your Project’s Price

Ask your client to relive any past home theater experiences and imagine new ones. It’s amazing what a little dreaming can do to a budget.

“Tight budget”, “no budget”, “big budget”… what does it all mean? Often the first question we hear is, “How much is it going to cost?” And just as often we rush to respond, often to our detriment.

What happens when a client asks for a price, and we provide one immediately? Unless we have clearly understood what the client is looking for and have accurately engineered the solution to deliver on that expectation, we have missed the mark. Not only that, we have failed to develop an opportunity to deliver excellence and establish our value.

The first step to finding how much “it” is going to cost, is to find out what “it” is. I once answered flippantly when asked how much a home theater would cost, saying that it would be between $2,000 and $2 million dollars. That is, however, about as close as we can get to a number without first establishing some parameters, such as our client’s needs and desires.

It is natural to be on guard when the subject of price is discussed. Everyone has experienced the uncomfortable feeling when a pushy salesperson asks, “Well, how much do you want to spend?” This is where the first half of my flip response above is useful. When a client asks how much, we can offer a safe, qualified response that will open the door to further conversation. For example, you might offer that you have done home theater systems for casual family room settings for as low as $2,000. However, you find most of your clientele want a better experience than that. “What type of experience do you want to enjoy?” This type of response enables you to get away from the price discussion and start talking about what we can do for them.

What if the answer is “I don’t know? This is where we as professionals can shed light on the possibilities.

In my company’s business model we have developed a discovery and budgetary analysis process. This enables us to guide the client to a clear understanding of what they want and why it is important to them.

We start by finding out what they know. Because we, as designers and ESCs, have sophisticated knowledge of home theater, we often inadvertently end up telling our client what they want instead of helping them discover it for themselves. Instead, ask the client to relive any past home theater experiences and imagine new ones. It’s amazing what a little dreaming can do to a budget.

Sam Cavitt ([email protected] tv) is president of Paradise Theater, a division of Media Environment Design Inc., located in Kihei, Hawaii, and Carlsbad, California.

We need to understand what they want to do. The automatic answer is, “Watch movies,” but today’s home theater can be so much more.

We also want our clients to “discover” the importance of performance. Find out what your client will be listening to, then use that information to paint a picture. For instance if they envision watching movies with friends, talk about the experience of a suspense scene when everyone in the room is holding their breath in anticipation. That’s only possible in a well-engineered, quiet room. Establish the value. This type of “imagine selling” can be applied to many aspects of what we do.

A theater budget in a remodel project will be very different from a new construction project, and a new construction project brought to you in the planning stages will differ from one already in production. Steel construction with poured concrete floors will require a different material list and labor estimate than a wood-frame structure on grade.

The potential for variables is quite large. And don’t forget electrical, mechanical, and other infrastructural modifications. Imagine the despair when you have given your client a price to deliver a private theater only to find out that no one has included the cost of preparing the space for it.

Know what you do and what you do not want to do. Our company specializes in our core competency of theater design, engineering, and project management support. We leave the provision, installation, and programming of equipment as well as the construction on site to our project team members. In the end, the client and all other parties on the project win.

Once you have collected the information and helped guide your client to discover their dream theater, you are prepared to research and deliver a budget number to them. This is not a trivial task and, along with the process of conducting the discovery, is a valuable service. Establish a service fee and scope for delivering that information. Do not be afraid to ask for compensation.

Remember, establishing an accurate budget for the real goals of our clients is important. Winning projects by underestimating the scope and making it up in change orders is a dangerous and deceitful scheme. Be confident and educate your client on how they can enjoy the theater experience that you are uniquely qualified to deliver.