How many times have people come into your shop with drawings that have obviously been produced by another company and asked you for a price?
I think this has happened to me only about a million times. Sometimes the drawings are from a design or architectural company but, more often than not, the drawings are obviously working drawings produced by another shop and are often accompanied by complete specifications and sometimes even finish and detail samples. This always makes me wonder about how much work this other shop has done, how many unpaid hours they have invested, to get the customer to the point where all of the details of the job have been worked out to the extent where the customer can now go shopping for a better price.
Most shops will do a substantial amount of work on spec with the idea that it will lead to actually getting the job. I have done this many times but I always try to keep it at a minimum, at least until the scope of the job is sufficiently defined to allow me to come up with a solid price. But there have also been many times when more details have to be worked out in order to price the job. I always figure that this preliminary design phase will be prorated into the total job cost and that I will, in one way or another, end up being paid for my work.
But if the customer then takes my drawings and specs and starts going from one shop to another, trying to find the lowest possible price, I end up, more often than not, losing not only the job but all of the time and work I have already invested.
For this reason, I have made it a policy to never give the customer these drawings and specs unless they pay for them up front. I tell them that I consider this work to be part of the job as long as I actually get the job. But if they want to walk out with my drawings, they have to pay me for the time I have spent producing them as well as specs, samples or anything else I may have done for them up to this point. They will often tell me that of course I will get the job, but they just want to look everything over for a few days. At that point, I tell them I will not let them have the drawings unless they have signed the deal. I tell them that if they actually give me the job, I will factor in what they paid me for the preliminary work.
But one way or another, they are not walking out with my drawings without putting some money on the table.