Don't hold me to this number

Don't hold me to this numberYou ever been around someone–you, me, anyone–trying to come up with a “rough estimate,” off the cuff?

As opposed to a smooth estimate? A solid estimate? An exact guess? Whatever. Oxymorons aside. Bear with me. I have a point. No really. For once.
Anyone trying to create a rough estimate out of thin air tends to go through a few physical permutations.

There’s a lot of hemming and hawing. Maybe some temple scratching. Maybe a few ceiling stares. Possibly even a few deep sighs.

But no matter what the lead up, here’s where the answer always begins:

“Now, don’t hold me to this number, but…”

We all do it. All of the time.

And you know what “don’t hold me to this number” means? It means, “I’ll probably wind up going over this number but I don’t want to scare you with the real estimate.”

I have never once in my life said, “Now, don’t hold me to this number,” and then come in way under that number. Never.

But that’s something I’m going to work on changing. And I think you should, too.

Underpromise (or overscare) and overdeliver.

Why not?

If I tell you something is going to cost $10,000 and then come back later and charge you $6,000 for it, are you going to be mad? I don’t think so. I mean, you might think I’m bad at estimating. Or you might think that you got a deal.

Either way, we both win.

And it makes the whole off-the-cuff estimating process–a process that is not going to go away–a whole heck of a lot stressful for those of us tossing out a number. Trying to give a ballpark.

But what if they say no to the ballpark estimate?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. They were going to say no, anyway.

If someone throws up on your ballpark estimate, even when you think it’s close, they weren’t going to go with you anyway.

Because when that happens, here’s the only thing the nay-sayer really wanted to hear you say in response to his query: “Oh, I could do that for you for free.”

Anything above the “free” price point was the wrong answer already.

So, unless you’re interested in doing the work for free, walk away.

And one of two things will happen:

  1. That person will finally find someone to low-ball the bid, and then, after change orders and tweaking, they’ll wind up paying three times what they would have paid you. Then, they’ll come back to you with the overpriced and inevitably subpar work and ask you to fix it.
  2. That person will never get off the dime.

Trust me. If you’re as good as you say you are–and I like to believe that you are–this is how it will likely go. Around, um, I don’t know, like 99.9% of the time.

But, don’t hold me to that number.

About Rick Turoczy

More than mildly obsessed with the Portland startup community. Founder and editor at Silicon Florist. Cofounder and general manager at PIE. Follow me on Twitter: @turoczy
This entry was posted in Tips, Value. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Don't hold me to this number

  1. streever says:

    great post rick… I’m going to work on this too!

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