We talk a lot about the importance of communication here at BuildBook, and how crucial it is that everyone - from team members and subs to clients - are kept in the loop every step of the way during a project.
We all know what happens when something gets out of whack. Like if a client misses the deadline for a key decision on a material selection like flooring or countertops. Or worse, there’s confusion about what the client’s final decision was on a specific selection. That’s when the frustrated texts from the client start rolling in, the project is delayed, and ultimately your profit is at risk.
But by setting expectations and using the right tools, managing selections for clients can be an enjoyable part of running your projects!
When we asked different builders and remodelers how they manage the client selection process, most said that they provide their clients with allowances, then let the clients handle the majority of the item decisions on their own, informing the builder of their final decisions.
Other ways builders told us they manage selections include:
If your process is similar and you don’t have a place to keep all of the moving parts organized - between tracking item allowances, communicating with clients, and coordinating with vendors - there’s bound to be confusion.
There are thousands of tools out there to help with selections management - from pen and paper to cloud-based apps and construction management software.
Here are a few common ways that builders and remodelers manage material selections.
The Conventional Home Builder Selection Sheet
The conventional method for itemizing client choices uses a printout of a home builder selection sheet. This typically becomes a lengthy document, which results in a thick stack of paperwork that can take months for a customer to fully understand and complete.
Another drawback is that you’re also likely to be doing double-entry because all of the construction selections from the selection sheet then need to be entered into another system for ordering, tracking costs, specification detail, and status.
This process leaves more room for error during the data entry on choices, which ultimately leads to confusion by all parties involved. A project manager is looking at what was ordered, the job site team is looking at packing slips, showroom managers are looking at POS screens, and the client is left looking at a stack of paper that is somewhat useless once it’s inputted digitally. The overly-used construction selection sheet creates an obvious problem - the lack of a unified digital system that everyone has quick access to.
Cloud-native Collaboration Apps
Some of the most popular collaboration apps that most builders told us they use in some way or another include Google Suite (Sheets, Docs, Calendar) and Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, OneDrive).
You’re likely using at least one of these programs - or maybe a mix. If you are using several different apps, start by sticking with one primary product suite (ie: Google or Microsoft). If you’re managing spreadsheets in Google Sheets and sharing those with your client while also emailing them Excel spreadsheets for other parts of the project, it’s going to be hard for them to keep everything straight.
A downside to these kinds of apps is that they aren’t built for streamlined communication. You may share an item from Google Sheets via email, but you also have the client texting you and the interior designer communicating with you in a totally different email chain.
Having a bunch of different programs to help you manage the home building process can be stressful in and of itself. Especially because these apps were not created specifically for setting up and managing client selections in your overall construction process. Which leads us to selections management software.
Client Selection Management Software
This is when you may want to consider investing in the “new school” of residential construction selection sheets, aka construction management software. Specifically, one that includes client selections management.
Unlike collaboration apps and other methods to manage selections, software that is built to capture and manage every selection decision and amount keeps all communication within the app - so you’re not searching through old emails and texts to confirm what tile your client wanted in the kitchen.
You also won’t have the usual misunderstandings over amounts thanks to features that platforms like BuildBook include such as budget tracking that lets you set allowances and track the actual spend - in addition to change orders for any new items not covered by an allowance.
Don’t forget that most homeowners only go through the process of building or remodeling a home once, so they shouldn't be expected to understand the impact of delaying a selection by "only" a week or two.
There’s nothing wrong with being upfront with clients with which decisions could hold up progress - like material selections for windows, doors, floors, countertops, and tile - or, whether they want a single vs. double sink in the bathroom. They likely don’t realize that scheduling for things like fabrication and installation need to be planned out and materials need to be ordered in advance to stay on track.
Before the project begins, you should always provide your client with the key dates for when their selections need to be made. You could set these deadlines up in a shared calendar or spreadsheet - or if you are using a client selections management tool like BuildBook, you can do this directly in the platform and quickly share with the client and team members.
Once you’ve set expectations, you need to keep your clients and team accountable. Depending on how you manage selections, there are a few ways you can make the process seamless for everyone:
Provide everything in advance with as much detail as possible.
Whether you’re providing allowances or providing options for your clients to choose from - you want to get everything in place before sharing with the client.
Using your preferred method for managing your selections - spreadsheet, construction management platform, selections sheet - start by adding all of your selection categories (cabinets, flooring, lighting, paint colors, plumbing fixtures, etc.).
With as much detail as possible, add each selection item. If your team will also use this information for ordering and install, then you don’t want to skip over anything.
Consider including the following to give everyone involved in the project the full scope:
Once you have everything in place for the client and/or designer to easily understand, then you can share the project selections. Depending on what tool you’re using to manage client selections, be sure to make it easy to share with your clients.
If you’re using software, then you should be able to send an invitation to your project and get the ball rolling. When you use programs like BuildBook, you can receive notifications when your client has accepted the invitation so you know they’ve seen it. Plus, you can collaborate easily by chatting directly within the platform to stay updated and address any questions.
Another advantage to using software for managing your selections is that you already have a scheduling feature built-in with deadlines that keep clients on track. No need for a separate calendar. Everyone always knows what is coming up and can make timely decisions to prevent project delays.
Alternatively, if you work with an interior designer who coordinates the decisions with your clients, then using collaboration tools will make your life a lot easier. Get rid of all the jumbled texts and emails between you and the designer, you and the client, the client and the designer, etc, by having everything in one place.
Tools we’ve mentioned in this post like Google Drive can be good options to store and track project docs, but they’re limited when it comes to collaborating and cutting down on so much of the back and forth, especially once you’re adding more people into the mix.
Setting up the process for selections from the get-go and guiding clients through that process to help them make key decisions that are on time might sound overwhelming, but starting with the right tools will make it a breeze.
Using software to aid in material selections is extremely helpful when juggling all the moving parts of a construction project. In BuildBook, the selection management tools allow you to capture every decision and amount to keep everyone on the same page.
Most importantly, don’t forget that your clients care about the job, they just don’t always know how to help. (You may even find that some of them appreciate a little accountability.) Mix in a little empathy to the process and we’re confident you’ll soon be enjoying stress-free projects - and happier clients.