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Billing format

alban1an Member Posts: 9
Hey guys, in an effort to obeying the rules of The Wall by not discussing pricing, I would however, like to ask about the format for billing or invoicing. The reason I am asking this, is because I recently did some work for a client who happens to be out of the country, and

he had to get a CO to sell the house.

When I sent him the invoice, I could tell he wasn't enthusiastic at best.

I just recently started on my own (licensed for those who were wondering), so i thought I would be honest since the guy is not even here, and I did the following:

I itemized pricing for materials, labor, permit fees (and expediting fees since which normally the homeowner would get, but since he was out of the country, I had to go down to DOB 3 times) and OH&P.

Is itemizing something i should keep doing, and consider this client a tire kicker, or should I steer away from itemizing and assign a sell value to my hourly labor and material?

What is your experience? What works, what doesn't?



  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    Billing, everyone does what works for them...

    I personally have a few billing formats..

    1 is service- I charge x amount to arrive {on time, if I am not on time, you dont pay a dime}, then it is x amount per hour, and I charge for my materials {with x amount of a mark up already added in}.

    2nd is installations- this is pretty much anything that has to be scheduled, I draw a proposal have the customer sign it and give a deposit, and on the bill there is one price, and that is the total, some jobs will have permit fees but thats it...

    3rd- is scheduled service like cleanings and maintenance, this is a flat rate, if any additional parts are needed they are itemized as well as the additional labor if any {I normally wave that unless it breaks an hour}...

    Sometimes getting paid is harder than the actual work, so get your ducks in a row and have a plan, even a bad plan is better than no plan... Your local contractors dept will have lean contracts, if you are leary of a customer have them sign it, if they wont don't do the work...

    Also Always make sure that your deposit covers materials that are getting delivered, once you drop materials at the property they no longer belong to you... This will keep you from losing any more than your labor...
  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    billing format

    Thank you heatpro02920. I never thought of differentiating between service, installation & scheduled service contract. That makes a lot of sense.
  • MikeL_2
    MikeL_2 Member Posts: 422


    Don't forget to include a factor to cover your overhead when calculating the correct selling price for any work, and, there should be a line item for profit, and any applicable taxes. Overhead costs may include: continuing education & training, license fees, retirement plan, vacation pay, postage, bookkeeping, insurance ( six types for me), office supplies, fuel costs, accountant fees, tools & equipment, vehicle purchases & maintenance, professional fees, technology, answering service, phones / internet, advertising, and more.................
  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    Billing format

    Thank you MikeL. Since I am new to the paperwork aspect of the business, I wasn't aware of all hidden or soft costs. I imagine that factor is a moving target depending on annual costs and what the accountant says. but if I am starting out, and do not really know what all of these costs are going to run, what should take as a round about factor, so that at the end of the year, I don't end up losing money to pay taxes?
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    It is my experience that no matter how much or little you charge some people, they will crab about it. Even if you did it for free.

    A good friend that I started at plumbing with many, many, years ago, who went in business and then encourage me to do the same, was never one for a short word. He once said:

    If you were in the middle of a job, and you dropped dead in front of them, they would step over your body to get to the phone to find someone else to come and finish the job. Once they finally found someone, they would hang up the phone and come back and check on you.

    No truer words were ever spoken.

    You're a hero until someone else comes along with a cheaper price.

    What you saved the customer that he would have had to pay a Lawyer to do to resolve the lack of CO's, is coffee money and snacks in the lawyers office. Like it was YOUR fault the some idiot didn't get his permits signed off. Whatever you charged him, it wasn't enough. How many millions did he make on the sale? You won't even get a Christmas card.
  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    Billing format

    Thanks ice sailor. I am starting to realize that I have to change my way of thinking and my attitude towards certain customers. Again I just want to iterate that I am starting out, so I have tried to accommodate people at my expense for fear of turning them away.

    Lesson # 1 I found out is to be wary of people who say I need you to come to my house to do ....., it will take 10 mins, or .... it's a half hour job.

    Nothing takes 10 mins or half hour , it takes me half hour to get from job to job, or department of buildings for permits.

    With that said, is it unethical (or unusual) to charge a service fee to go to customers' homes instead of wasting time on free estimates? I ask this because I come from the commercial side where you have to have deep pockets to bid on big jobs, and union wages, and now that I am on my own I have to start small with residential work. So I am not sure if residential clients are used to expecting that: a charge/service fee , and if I do the work I would waive it or build it in the price.
  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    edited March 2014
    Billing format

  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    Mike L

    You disclose your profit on the customers invoice?

    In my business that is a "no no", if you write for example



    you will cause yourself some serious grief, believe me...

    For proposed jobs I do a lump price $4200 all materials, taxes, and labor included, only addition is permit costs, since they vary... and I have a line for 2.8% if credit card is used...

    now with service, yes parts, taxes, labor, ect is all there... BUT if they say {for examples only not real prices} why did you charge me $2400 in labor and you were only here 6 hours, but you advertise $65 per hour?" they dont see all the overhead, the year of free service, the costs if something goes wrong, the cost of stock, the cost of licenses, trucks,uniforms, ect, ect, ect, ect.... They just think $65 an hour a boiler costs $1800, it takes 8 hours to install, it should be under $2500 for the job, when that is impossible to do.. Maybe someone from c-list will come down with their subaru full of tools and throw in a boiler for that but, not a professional that owns a building, 5 trucks, has comp insurance, self employment tax, health insurance, ect ect ect ect ect ect ect....

    I would not disclose profit on a proposal job...

    Sure take it all into account and definitely charge sales tax {if you are setup for that, you are much better off paying it when you buy}... How I figure out my overhead is to take the amount of materials I purchase a year, and take my total business expenses {truck payments, mortgages, licence fees, ect ect ect} then find my dollar to dollar... in other words if you buy $100,000 in materials and have $50,000 in expenses add .50 cents to every dollar spent to cover your costs... so your sales cover your expenses and you profit is your income... so for round numbers...

    you are drawing up a proposal

    you spend $5000 in materials on a job

    you start by adding your .50 on the dollar so now its $7500 then you figure your labor at $100 an hour per tech, then add 10% to the total for a company profit.. So now say it takes 12.5 hours with 2 techs, that is $2500 in labor plus your $7500 and the 10% gives you $11,000 for the job...

    Now out of that you are going to take all your expenses 11000-5000 in materials, - $1250 in paid wages - $100 in fuel will leave you $4650, now take 30% of that and put it in a savings account {$1395} for uncle sam and put the balance back in your business {$3255}, most likely you will have more than enough to take care of your taxes at the end of the year if you tuck away 30% of each jobs profit, I don't do this for the service calls and small payments, just the proposal stuff... I always have my taxes looked at in the very beginning of December so my cpa can tell me if I have to buy new pipe threader or a new truck, or maybe sell a pipe threader or a truck, lol... either way get them looked at preliminary so you know if you will be smart to spend some money...

    I see too many guys just fly by the seats of their pants and leave money behind, work smotta' not harda'.... but still work hard, welcome to being self employed, the joys of never leaving work at the office, I fall a sleep planning the rest of the weeks work in my head every night................
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Crusty Characters:

    I believe that Dan, years ago wrote a column years ago about some guy who gave Estimates. Free ones. As I remember, he advertised that the estimates were free. Most all jobs were $10,000. "Why so much?" Because it is an ESTIMATE. Now, if you want a PRICE, that takes time and it will cost you $XXX.XX. Because it takes time to do those prices. If you like the price and I get the job, It will be included in the price of the job, therefore, its a free estimate. As I also remember, it was also to stop someone from going around and price shopping by taking your price and showing competitors what you want to do the job. I knew an electrician who bragged and got a lot of jobs by saying that he would beat any price by $100.00. He did a lot of work for this slug contractor who was always "adjusting" the bill downward. There was another electrician with a big crew. H was always bidding the same jobs and the first electrician was always dropping his price to get the job. Years went by and one day at the supply house over hot dogs, beer and information, the electrician asked his competitor how he could bid all these jobs so low, He couldn't make any money and he worked alone to keep his cost down. To which the other electrician replied. I wouldn't work for that cheap a$$ SOB and I wouldn't even let him through my shop door. I've never EVER in my life given him a price to even change a light bulb and I never will. If he told you that he got any price from me, he's lying and if you dropped your price because of it, he clucked you.

    A new business is like a road kill pizza. Fly's and crows come by to see what's there for the picking. Rats too.
  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    billing format

    Thanks to all, your experiences are a wealth of information.
  • MikeL_2
    MikeL_2 Member Posts: 422
    profit is not a dirty word.........


    I admire you for your passion; I could never explain my business model in a few paragraphs. I guess I need to continue building better communication skills, I didn't intend for Alban to include a line item marked profit on his invoices, I certainly don't do it on mine.

    I will share my method of pricing when asked by a customer, and my answer is always the same : I use a cost integrated factoring system that includes the price of labor, material, overhead, taxes, and a small profit.

    Alban is going to be fine in his venture; his first, and best business decision, is to hang around this website. I would suggest that he join his local, and state contractors association, and he should consider joining the national association that best fits his area of expertise...............
  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    Billing format

    Heatpro02920, Icesailor & MikeL, thanks again for your input. MikeL, I actually signed up with NJ League of Master Plumbers, but for now, NY is a little expensive for me. However, I do intend to join them in the future. I think that is a good step in learning, but more importantly advancing and protecting the trade.

    The electrician's story is a good lesson and reminder, and I am a firm believer that any task or work (plumbing, roofing, painting etc) has a certain value, and if the contractor goes too low, most likely he will do the following:

    he will try to cut corners, his quality of work will go down, his reputation will suffer, he will be working for a day's pay and wont be making any money, so he will not last long in the business. I don't want that to happen to me, that is why I am trying to learn as much as I can, and someday help others too.

    One of the problems i am experiencing now are the flies and crows picking at me, as Icesailor put it, and most of them are people i know, which makes it even worse. I just have to discipline myself to know when to say no thanks, and sometimes inform and educate customers as to why i cant drop my pants.

    Thanks again
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    As a homeowner...

    I would like to see an itemized bill in fair detail. Not down to the last inch of teflon tape and a bunch of nipples. I do not realistically expect a contractor to present me with what I want, and I would not even presume to ask for such a thing, considering the competitive pressures contractors are exposed to.

    But if the list included:

    Cost of major items; e.g., anything over 5% or 10% of the total job cost. It could be the contractor's cost, or the retail price of the stuff. Because some customers will look these things up on the Internet anyway and will object to being charged more for the items than the Internet price, ignoring that the contractor gets stuck with a lot of the warranty expense, and may also keep a lot of it in stock. When my PRV quits on new year's eve, I do not want to wait a few days to get a replacement on the Internet...

    Labor. I bet some customers would be astounded at what that actually costs, because they cannot imagine paying for time between shop and the home, etc. Or the time to rush off to a distributor for an unexpectedly needed part not carried on the truck (electronic control board, for example).

    Overhead including trucks, test equipment, special tools...


    Office Expense

    Warranty contingencies

    Continuing Education of owner and employees.


    Perhaps a few of these could be combined, or subdivided.

    Because I do want to see enough profit in there. If the contractor does not make enough profit, he may hang it up and not be there when I need him later. And I will need him later.

    1. So for me, profit is not a dirty word, but a sign of a well-run business. Remember, the owner could have invested that money on the stock market instead, and raked in the money without actually working. Since the owner generally has to do some of the work, he deserves a salary for the work and the profit at least as much as he would have made investing it in something other than the contracting business.
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    the beginning is tough

    you dont want to price too low and not make enough to warrant the effort it takes to make it on your own and you don't want to price it too high where you don't get the work and the phone stops ringing...

    I am consistently lower than the competition, when a customer says "you were $2000 less than company x" I don't look at it as losing $1500-2000, I look at it as a compliment, I am running my business in a manor that allows me to keep my prices a value and still give the impressive workmanship my customers are used to...
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    Profit is a dirty word...

    to some customers, maybe it is just where I work, lol... But I have had a few customers comment on how fast the job was done and how they looked up all the materials on the net and know what I made.... That is why I give proposals for any non hourly job, they can compare it to others, sign it and send it in or throw it away. Thats my price its competetive, I will do a nice job for you and stand behind the products I sell and the work I do...
  • jonny88
    jonny88 Member Posts: 1,139

    i am in a similar situation,thankyou kindly heatpro ,ice,etc.For my first year I was excited just being busy thinking everything would work out.Anyhow i am into my second year and slowly getting my head out of the sand.After a 4hour sit down with my accountant he pointed out all of what heatpro said.I guess when you are used to working for someone and getting an hourly wage you dont see the ins and outs of how a business runs.I still am astonished at how much it is to run a company(myself and another mechanic).Insurance,comp etc.I guess this is what the average homeowner doesnt understand when you charge X amount to install a boiler or change a toilet.Good luck and hang in there,a supportive wife is very helpful by the way.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    "Profit" and "NO" are not dirty words.

    Or as I read somewhere a while ago,

    Yesterday is a cancelled check.

    Tomorrow is a promissory note.

    Today is cash. Spend it wisely.

    Remember that guy when we were in school that was an a$$hat and no one liked him? Because he was always trying to take advantage of everyone so everyone avoided him? Why was that> You knew it instinctively. No one had to tell you.

    Many potential customers are just like him, grown up. If you recognized them as a youth, why did you lose that ability as an adult?

    If you don't like how someone looks, acts, tastes or smells, wish them health, happiness and long distance. What's in between is called EXPERIENCE. .
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,620
    The Business of Contracting

    Try Ellen Rohr's website: http://www.barebonesbiz.com/

    She's an expert on how to price and set up your business. She's a direct disciple of Frank Blau, who set up and taught how to manage your contracting business costs.

    9 out of 10 contractors don't know how to correctly determine the correct sale price of their services; 9 out of 10 don't know how to read their P&L statement. The average profit in the P&H trades is 2-3% net. Remarkably low for such a high risk business.

    Learning the business side of contracting is just as important (or maybe even more important) as knowing the skills to assemble pipe. The future success of your efforts will depend on both skills.
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    I learned the hard way

    luckily never getting my self in trouble that I couldnt dig myself out of with a hand shovel , but I left some good amounts of revenue behind...

    The biggest mistakes I made were with my rental properties, I started just buying, rehabbiing, and renting properties... WOW did I learn a lot in 10 years, I now have everything go through my real estate company, any work goes through my contracting company, all documented {much more than just keeping receipts}... I went from properties taking 30+ years to show gains, constantly costing me money, to owning the homes in under 15 years and never having to put my own money into the business... Just need to ask questions, and follow good advice...

    With the hvac business, its pretty easy, do good work, charge enough to keep yourself busy but dont work for free.... Another little tip that saves me money is. Get a 30 day account at your distributor and get a points based credit card {unlimited points is nice, I have a discover that does unlimited}, then always pay them with a credit card, I know 2% doesnt sound like a lot but when your starting out and spending $15,000 a month it adds up... {make sure you pay the card at the cycle so they dont charge you interest of course..}

    Another tip is the metal box, when I first started I had a real issue saving receipts, I would throw them in the truck and lose them, get coffee stains on them, ect... you get a metal box and keep everything in it, then empty it into a folder on your desk every night or couple nights... http://www.amazon.com/OfficemateOIC-Aluminum-Storage-Clipboard-83200/dp/B000Q62CKE well worth $30...

    Also something that has helped me through the years is install the same equipment, find something you like and trust and stick with it, sure get new lines but replace one with them for reasons you like... I install Williamson and Buderus oil boilers, triangle tube indirects, triangle tube mod cons, rinnai tanklesses, bw water tanks, Williamson, WM, Buderus gas boilers...Armstrong a/c, First co. air handlers. By sticking to certain brands and models you will 1-get familiar with them, 2 get good pricing for volume, 3 get good service from the reps, ect...

    Another helpful tip is buy your fittings in bulk online.. I know its good to support the local guy, and I do, but for the stuff I know I use a ton of I buy them at pexsupply.com, you get free shipping over 300$ $25 off $400 orders, and no tax, not to mention fittings are around 1/2 of what the local guys get.... I do it for the popular stuff like, 1/2, 3/4, 1", and 1 1/4" fittings, ball valves, and small parts... I saved ovr $10k doing that last year, plus what ever I saved not going to supply houses to get the stuff...

    I hope this stuff helps you out, good luck..
  • MikeL_2
    MikeL_2 Member Posts: 422
    Frank Blau

    I was very fortunate to meet Frank, and attend his business training classes. With his guidance I broke some bad habits, and, most importantly, I learned how to be able to spend valuable time with my family.

    I live comfortably, put my daughters ( 3 ) through college & grad school, and, I sleep well every night................
    RDSTEAM Member Posts: 134
    No tax?

    You do realize that you're supposed to pay use tax on out of state purchases right? So if you spend $1,000 a month at PEX supply, for me that would be $70/month in sales tax or $840/ year. You think Uncle Sam wants every penny? He sure does....
  • Tinman
    Tinman Member Posts: 2,804

    I would love to see a Business Section of The Wall. Most of us here absolutely love this heating business were in. We love the "heating" part of it. I think most of us could improve on the "business" part of it. I've learned a lot from reading books from Ellen and Ron Smith and others and do my very best to apply what I learn but I'd love to hear more from the guys in the trenches, like myself.
    Steve Minnich
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    I pay tax at

    the supply houses, and with the internet items I pay tax collected, my accountant does it all obviously. He has me keep my local purchases and out of state purchases separate... So yes I am sure you still have to pay tax but for the little guy that gets $500 a year and doesn't claim it as an expense I am sure it is different..

    I don't know much about the tax side because like the law and insurance side of my business its on of the things I leave to the trusted pros I hire... I will change the oil in my service trucks,, fix a fender here and there, install a garage door opener at the shop, try and put office furniture together, but some stuff needs to be left to the pros...
  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    Billing format

    Guys thank you for all your help, I sent the homeowner an invoice from quick books showing only the following line items (with built in factor):

    materials, equipment, labor, and permit/expediting fees.

    This amount matches my original invoice with every item broken down including labor hours, tax, overhead and profit, but I didn't send him that breakdown. This is the response I got from him, so I was curious if you guys think I should send him the original breakdown, or am I opening myself up for more thIngs he can complain at?

    Remember this is for the hot water heater for the homeowner who had originally installed it by some guy with a toolbox and a rear view mirror warranty, and he had to get the CO to close on the house he was selling, while he is out of the country (someplace really warm, can't say where), and I went down 3 times to DOB to file the permit application, get the approved permit and go down to talk to them to push the inspection closer so he could close. This is his response:

    Wow I had no idea getting permits was this expensive. Can you give me a more detailed breakdown of everything. What materials did you purchase? What equipment and tools did you need to purchase? How many hours labor was needed and at what rate? Please breakdown the permits and prices you had to pull as well. Please send me copies of all the receipts. Also, shouldn't the sales tax only be on labor since everything else was already purchased and sales tax paid on it already?

    P.S. I had his best friend sign my work ticket for the time I spent there, and the permit and time to go there was more than half the invoice (something normally covered by the homeowner, here I am taking time away to go do his running around).

    What do you think?
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    what type of work was this?

    Hourly service or did you give him a proposal and or set a price before hand?

    Here is another thing I learned over the years, some people hate to pay and no matter what your price is will never be happy...

    Give him the breakdown if it is the difference between getting paid and not....

    You need an agreement on cost before any billing can be done, this is why I like work orders and proposals... Did he agree on your hourly rate? When someone is out of the country its tough to communicate with things like billing... But it seems very easy for them to get you to do the work..
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    a real winner

    It is none of his business what your profit/markup/overhead is. He was sold a water heater installation for x amount and that is it. He agreed to pay for that service.

    Why is it any different for buying anything else? A car? Etc.

    "I am sorry Mr. ....but my invoice amount is for my services rendered and material needed to complete the job. I do not seperate line items. There is no benefit. Thank you."
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    a real winner

    It is none of his business what your profit/markup/overhead is. He was sold a water heater installation for x amount and that is it. He agreed to pay for that service.

    Why is it any different for buying anything else? A car? Etc.

    "I am sorry Mr. ....but my invoice amount is for my services rendered and material needed to complete the job. I do not seperate line items. There is no benefit. Thank you."
  • Weezbo
    Weezbo Member Posts: 6,232
    edited March 2014
    "Say , I just contacted every contractor in town ...

    and i cant get anyone to help me ."

    i work for XXX company outta Nebraska , we need someone to go over to ( some place) and change out ( expensive parts and pieces) due to some (reason they think you will help) minor problems we were having.

    ok . say , " thank you i do not work for out of state companies."

    ...."this is the saddest story i ever heard , i will be right over .." well wait to you try to get paid ... lol..

    "My buddy needs some help because the rentor left the garage door open in 40 below..... , "

    " well

    who should i make the bill out to?"

    " er.. the owners out of state right , nauhOw..

    nuff said

    sorry please continue looking for a P & H contractor as i am unable to do the work at this time .

    "would you come over an look at this project ,? i will buy the (specified boiler) and my buddy will do the install in the mech room .. "

    these are not things to jump right up and fly out the door doing .

    with them weeded out immediately you will likely save considerable dollars and wasted hours of your life .

    when you are working for years with the same people and they


    want to change the game . fire them as a customer then and there before you begin the next day of your life.

    i once read a book written in Spanish , one of the morals of one of the stories was

    "Better Alone , than in bad company ."

    i hope that helps.

  • alban1an
    alban1an Member Posts: 9
    billing format

    weezbo, normally i would not have taken the work, but this was a high school friend of my wife, who got divorced left everything and went down to the Caribbean. Now a couple of years later he is selling the house, goes on Facebook asking friends about a plumber he can trust, and that's why I agreed to help. And he kept saying thank you, whatever it is let me know. What was I supposed to say, I will send you a quote to sign before I go do the work? Plus his best friend and sister and few friends were in the house moving furniture out to storage when I did the work, and his best friend signed the ticket. I worked basically for time and materials.

    I just sent him a break down of my T&M with OH&P.

    I am waiting to see what he says. My wife feels bad she got me into this, but it's not her fault. No good deed goes unpunished. If he still will have a problem I am considering filing a lien against the property.
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    A lot gets lost through

    emails, text messages, and second hand information...

    I prefer face to face or worse case an over the phone, real conversation... Emails are going to make it too easy for someone to dance around...

    Call him, and tell him, "look, this is the price, I am not in the business of playing games", tell him you want an answer if he will or will not pay.. if he will not {or says he will but the payment doesnt show in the allotted time, then make one last call, and tell him "if I don't get payment in 5 days, I am going to place a lien on the property and let a 3rd party figure out what is owed to me" he will then know that the house can not be sold with a lien and most likely he will have to be in person to deal with it...

    Sucks that this is the game people play, but I have to agree with others and say to pick your work better, I personally would have called him and asked for a payment for materials before you let them through his door way, once they are on his property they are his...
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,620
    The Rules

    If you've been on this site long enough, you're familiar with Dan's Golden Rules. One of them is "never do work for friends, family, church or synagogue.These jobs will never work" .

    If you do work for someone (and I don't care how they are related) without a reasonable deposit to protect you, you're asking for trouble and you will find it.

    It's extremely poor business practice to do otherwise. It's so easy to take a credit card over the phone.

    My dad's credit manager had a very wise piece of advise that I never forgot: "It's not a job until you get paid".
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    "It's not a job until you get paid".

    I like that, I am going to use that...