There are many variations on the theme, all of which lend themselves to the belief that it doesn’t matter how you go about it, as long as the result is a skinned cat.

No doubt, cat lovers will be aghast by now. But don’t worry, my information is that the “cat” is actually a catfish! Apparently the original author just got a bit lazy and shortened the name.

I was reminded the other day of a builder that my wife wanted to engage to do some work around the house. She had been thinking about the project for many weeks (months really) and as is her want, her planning was, and is always meticulous. Jane likes to get it done properly the first time.

The builder, let’s call him Dud (he’s Bob’s brother), duly arrived late for his appointment to hear about the job. There was no mention of him being asked to quote the job upfront, as Jane likes to pay an hourly rate to trusted contractors. She is convinced we get a better deal that way. Equally, Jane won’t offer work to the lowest priced tradesman because she knows that firstly they have to eat, and secondly, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. And a rubbish job she didn’t want.

Dud didn’t know what to make of this.

You see, Dud was accustomed to potential customers asking him, among a host of others, to spend his valuable time to assess the job and to provide a quote. He knew that the only way to get most jobs was to “quote and hope”. You understand the deal. Quote a low price that couldn’t possibly be sustained and hope there are no unexpected problems he couldn’t charge for. If he did crack the job, he would have to hope that the customer wouldn’t notice any substandard work until after the bill had been paid and he could make his escape. He didn’t expect there would be return work, but hey, there are plenty of other potential customers out there.

The alternative would be to quote a much higher price to make sure that all possibilities were covered. And probably miss the job.

So there is the dilemma. Dud is faced with two choices, both of which might get the job, but with one alternative being at a much higher risk of missing out. What are his choices? How will he choose to skin this cat? And what are the consequences?

Dud has been down this track many times before and the result has always been unsatisfactory. For him and the customer. But it pays the bills so he doesn’t really care.

He understood that there wasn’t really anyone else in the running but he wasn’t sure. He decided to offer a low hourly rate which seemed reasonable to Jane. His thinking was that he could fudge his hours when Jane wasn’t around and that he could add extra costs to equipment hire and the like. He could also buy cheaper grade materials and charge for higher grade. Jane’s thinking was that if he proved to be reliable and did a good job, she would sling him a bit extra. And use him again.

What Dud didn’t know was that despite being the trusting soul, Jane really knew her stuff. First time Dud tried it on, Jane was on to him. He was off the job. And not only was he off this small job, he missed out on the two much bigger jobs that were coming up.

How would he have better managed this opportunity?

Perhaps he could have taken the time to engage Jane in a serious discussion instead of blithely dismissing her as “just a mug”. If he had taken five minutes to start a conversation he may have discovered that there was an opportunity on offer. More than was obvious from the outset. He may also have discovered that he was dealing with someone who knew a bit about what was going on and had a few clues about how to pay a fair price for a good job.

Regardless of which approach Dud took, there were no guarantees when he arrived that he would be offered the work. He had done the hard work to be offered the opportunity to present his skills. Would it have been any more difficult to ask the right questions to lead into a conversation? Or would it just be the right thing to simply walk in and offer to do the work for next to nothing, even though the result couldn’t ever be satisfactory all round?

Which way would you choose to skin this cat?

And who cares if the skin can’t be used to make a hat later?

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Kieran May – Does Stuff & Skins Cats

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