Canadian Contractor


It’s all a money grab! … Is that really the story you want to tell?

By Steve Ryan

We all have our list of regulatory obstacles and fees for which we see little or no corresponding benefit. This won’t be an essay to try to convince you otherwise. We will, however, argue against being too assertive in sharing your views with clients or prospective customers.

You do want your customers to understand the burdens you must overcome on their behalf, but how constructive will it be if they become resentful or angry about it all. If, for example, your project is delayed over building permits, you need the client to recognize where the delay is coming from. You certainly need them to recognize the cost. You also need them to see value in your efforts to move things along. But how will it help you if your conversation takes the tone that this is extortion by people in authority? Sure, you may sidestep the blame for time and expense but don’t expect that to forge a tighter bond between you. If a customer feels victimized it will more likely spill over into all aspects of their project.

Think about how these obstacles appear to your customer. It’s natural enough for them to feel frustration with a process that seems more cumbersome and expensive than it should be. We can share the pain, even as we work to overcome the hurdles. From that perspective you have an opportunity to impress with how deftly you manage the process. But nobody, including you, will look good if the whole thing is presented as pointless or incompetent. To a client who resents what’s happening you might seem more like a “bag-man” than a steady hand at the tiller.

I suspect that one reason cash deals are so pervasive in the home improvement field is that even contractors who strive to operate legitimately don’t convince the client of why that benefits them. If you project the notion that doing things legally is feeding a government cash grab, you might also project a moral argument for bypassing that process and opting for a cash deal.

We’re not suggesting that you can make customers happy about the time and expense imposed by regulatory demands. You will do yourself and them a favour though if you can explain why these things matter. Not every fee is a cynical attempt to pick your pocket and not every license or regulatory requirement is an arbitrary attempt to block your path. Most were put in place to protect either workers or consumers so make the effort to understand their intentions. Whether or not they are administered properly is a separate issue and you have to set that aside.

The client needs to hear of the challenges you face to operate legitimately. It’s more critical though for them to hear why it matters to them that their project is executed legitimately.

There are enough rogue operators spreading the message that regulations are unreasonable and can be safely ignored. Don’t make their job easier by echoing that opinion. Whatever your feelings about red tape and bureaucracy, the risk of ignoring it will lie with the homeowner. Learn how to explain those risks to your client. After all, what is a better message to give your client.: (a) That you grudgingly pass along costs the regulators have dumped on you; or (b) That you are determined to comply with regulations because it protects your clients from risk.

Your actions can be identical in either case. The only difference between them is the attitude you project.

MMI Professional Services is committed to the success of contractors by helping them develop the business and management skills they need. For information on ways to run a better building business contact the writer at


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1 Comment » for It’s all a money grab! … Is that really the story you want to tell?
  1. don hrehirchek says:

    I myself have morals. A contractor will be spotted if they do not! Let the word spread around about who you will. Of course there is the law which basically says that you cannot say anything any more lest you offend. Too bad! Let your story be a good one and let the chips fall where they may. From my experience the good will proceed. I am not perfect so I will take criticism and learn. Keep government out of business. Period! All government has to do is make sure I do rip anybody off and nobody rips me off.



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