By Renée Biery

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Add-on’s, renovations, and new construction homes can seem intimidating to take on. How do you even get started? How do you find and manage contractors? What surprises should you anticipate coming up? How long do these things take?

In this podcast, you will learn all that and so much more!

How To Stop Losing Money On Construction Projects







I talk with many designers, and I hear it all:

“I thought I had my numbers dialed in, but then the client added on work, to the point where I am over on my time and frustrated and resentful.” Or, “I thought I had my numbers right, I had no idea how much detail would be involved, and I don’t feel I have enough hours in and don’t feel I can go back to the client to ask for more.” Or, another from my most recent Ep179, where the project basically blew up and went from being one project to the completely polar opposite. 

These are all common issues, and if you’re finding yourself in these same situations or cringing, wondering if I’m talking directly to you, then today is the perfect day to start fresh because I’m going to tell you there is a way to price your services to cover your ass. And once you understand where you’re going wrong, you won’t go wrong again.  

And you might be skeptical right now, but I’m telling you this will work each and every time. 

What we’re going to talk about today doesn’t have anything to do with pricing. 

The step that every designer, myself included in the past, is building out a scope of work.

You may be skeptical, and I get that, but I think by the end of this episode, you’ll understand how important it is to fully define the scope of work. 

What is the scope of work?

The scope of work is exactly what the client is hiring you to produce. When I ask designers what the scope of work is, they’ll tell me along the lines of “Gutting a kitchen.” Or “Adding a family room.” Or “Converting a bedroom into a closet and bathroom.” Great, those are scopes of work. I agree. But you have no ability to start building your hours, estimating your time by something as vague and broad as those three ‘scopes of work.’ 

Truthfully, that’s what the homeowner should be telling their friends. You, on the other hand, need to know exactly what that means. And I mean, way down into the weeds. Your scope of work is not fully defined until you go all the way to the end. I mean cabinet hardware and pullout shelves for the cabinet inside. What kind of countertop are you using? That does make a difference. If you’re going to use butcher block on the island versus natural stone. What’s the difference? Well, butcher block, you’re going to have one vendor. They may have 2, 3, or 4 different species. You may be doing it natural, unfinished, with a stain, so there are some components to it. You have to write all that down. That takes time. Is your client involved in any of that? Chances are they are going to have to approve something. That makes a difference in your time. 

Or you go the natural stone route. I always do a pre-selection visit. I meet with my guy; I don’t need the client there; I want to pre-select what I want to show them. Then I need a client appointment. Chances are we may or may not be able to see the exact slabs because we’re looking six months in advance. Those slabs we’re looking at in January won’t be available in June. So we go back out, tag them, and actually select those slabs. It’s a lot more work, hence a lot more time than doing butcher block.

The same is true for a quartz product. Quartz doesn’t have the variations that natural stone does, so again, I might not need a pre-selection. You see, there are so many variations, and that is ONE piece of the kitchen.

And this is where I see designers go wrong. 

They get the big broad umbrella. Gut the kitchen. They often have level 2 worked out on a spreadsheet. Cabinetry. Countertops. Backsplash. Lighting. Plumbing. Those are good. And that is your natural next step. 

But you’ve got to take it all the way to the end of what you are actually going to be doing. 

That includes the walls. Floors. Hardware. And everything in between. And unless you go to those extremes and, of course, add your ‘oh shit’ moments, you will never get your numbers right. You will underestimate every single time. 

That goes back to making this a hobby and not a profession. You will probably continue to lose enough money that you will leave the industry. I don’t want to see any designers leave this industry over something I know can be improved upon—pricing your services by starting and truly leaning into a scope of work.

I understand this can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re new. I’m hoping that you’re seeing that the scope of work truly is the foundation of any project—not just with pricing but with management and with building your team. Who do you need? Building your vendor list, who’s going to be involved? Where are my holes? I take on projects where I might want to do something specific, and I go, crap I don’t have a vendor for that. Guess what? I need to add that to my time. 

It is easy to slip up when you’re pricing. I want to tell you this so that you stop beating yourself up because it is challenging. That is why I have this podcast, to try and educate you, and why I’ve built my course to educate you even further. 

Not only do you need to be well compensated for your efforts, but you also need to avoid disputes with your client. This can jeopardize a referral partner once the job is done. 

Having a clear scope of work and knowing what steps it will take to deliver, say, a fully renovated kitchen will show your expertise. You need to explain to your client that this is the foundation for them as well. They need to know what they’re paying for, and they also need to know what they’re not paying for. 

A lot of these designers who have reached out to me are also caught up because they have allowed scope creep without reassessing their fees. 

Scope creep is nothing to fear—it’s actually amazing when your project’s scope creeps. What that means is that not only do they trust you and want to do more work with you, but you have an opportunity to work with a known client and add another fee, work with a client who you presumably enjoy working with, which is a win, but you also now have more work, which means more work to do on a new scope of work. This is where designers go wrong….

Assuming you now have this badass insanely detailed scope of work and the client wanted to gut the kitchen, you’ve got it all nailed down to the tiniest of details on this project. And the client says, “While we’re here, my kitchen dining room table and the family room furniture are looking tired. Can we add that in?” 

I find that the designers I speak with don’t bill enough. They feel like they’re being paid a lot already for the kitchen, so, “I’ll send a little bit of time, but I’m making enough.” So you’re gifting your time to your client. 

Please do not do that. 

If that same scenario happened to me, I would tell my client, “That is fantastic news. I would be happy to help you with that. Let’s sit down and have another meeting to define the scope of work.” I can guarantee you it’s not just a new table and ‘some new furniture.’ It never is. 

The minute you start glossing over your time, the client will not see any problem in adding more and more and more, and then six, seven months in you’re still on this project because they just keep adding to the list. 

I am a firm believer in time and procurement markups. It really is the only way that you’re going to stop chasing time and truly start making the profits that you and your expertise deserve. You need to protect your interest, and as always, and what may seem obvious, you need to ensure you are being compensated fairly. 

This is where your contracts come in handy.

It does the talking for you. It lays out exactly how it will all go down, and it protects you when situations like scope creep arise.

You cannot start estimating your hours until you know what you’re estimating. The only way to know what you’re estimating is to dial down that scope of work to the point where it’s almost comical. 

I hope you learn today that it’s not about estimating your hours; where you’re going wrong is building out your scope of work. Not only is it the foundation for estimating your hours, but it is also your road map and the client’s road map.

As always, I’d love to hear from you with any questions or any experiences you’d like to share! Email me at or send me a DM on social media.

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