When we are asked to maintain a garden, we arrive on site and assess the amount of work involved, the number of hours per visit, the regularity of the visits, equipment to be used, how to handle the rubbish and lawn mowings – a host of different factors come into play, which are then processed and formulated into a written contract.
One matter that concerns every maintenance contract is the perception of the client. It is taken for granted by both parties that the garden will be cleaned up and brought up to an acceptable standard which thereafter will need to be maintained. As contractors, we accept this situation. But what happens if the client cancels the maintenance contract after a few weeks, when the once scruffy site is now clean and tidy? You have spent a lot of time bringing the garden into a manageable condition, both to please the client and to make your life easier. This is surely the logical way to approach ‘maintenance’? Or is this a recipe for potentially losing money?
At what stage does the ‘maintenance’ start? Are you maintaining the garden as it was when you first visited? Or when you have achieved the tidy standard you feel comfortable with?
Obviously, every garden will vary, but in general terms, there is an initial betterment factor. How many contractors quote separately for the initial blitz, charging an amount – hourly or lump sum – to bring the garden up to a clean condition before commencing works laid out in the maintenance contract? From a contractors viewpoint, surely the professional route is to split the project into two; Initial Site Clearance & Standard Setting as a stand alone contract (which guarantees proper payment for the works involved) and the Follow-on General Maintenance Contract (which should have a sunset clause i.e. valid for a set period only (usually annual, sometimes seasonal) when it is subject to renewal and any cost adjustments are made and a new contract agreed for the next period of time.
Whilst most customers are reasonable, sensible people, there is a percentage of what I call ‘Professional Non-Payers’ – those who have no intention of paying the full amount for works they have commissioned. Unfortunately, they tend to choose smaller contractors, in the full knowledge or belief that they may be exploited without fear of meaningful legal reprisals.
I suggest that you redefine the word ‘maintenance’ to mean ‘regular works after site tidy’, and not ‘site tidy as part of ongoing maintenance’.
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