The Right Way to Make a Project Request

Over the years I have received some amazing project requests - and some extremely gut-wrenchingly awful ones. This may come to a surprise, but a poorly written email can actually hurt your chances of getting the job.

Yes, it’s somewhat judging a book by it’s cover but we, as entrepreneurs and business owners, have the ability to choose who we work with - even in the construction industry. And that starts with working with people who want to work with us.

Sure I may have passed on some amazing people and projects from that first email, but it’s not worth the troubles and misunderstandings down the road to find out that we weren’t a good fit to begin with.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Poor Email Etiquette

Here are some examples and compilations of emails I have received over a dozen years of being in business.


I am following up on a phone message I left. I’m looking for drawings of an existing property for a building permit. If you could get back to me on your availability by email or phone.

I’m glad they took the time to figure out my name before sending this email 🚩. It’s understandable if it’s not on my website, but I have an about page - most do. People need to care enough to find out the name of the person they’re emailing (or the company name at the very least) or the recipient won’t care enough to take on the project.

“..drawings of an existing property...” What does that even mean? Are you looking for existing plans, as-built drawings, existing and proposed drawings for a renovation, or are you starting from scratch for a new build? Keep your project description brief, but make it possible for the recipient to understand what it is you’re looking to do.

Please call or email about the possibility of a reno design in our home. Like to apply for permit asap.


We are looking to build, and are curious about your rates.  Thank you

I didn’t think you could reduce the amount said from the last email, but these ones proved me wrong. Not only are they short (I don’t even deserve a hello!?), but extremely vague. First, renovation could mean kitchen reconfiguration to a full blown tear-down-all-the-walls renovation. We need to know if we are the right person for the job and if we have time to take on the size of project.

The mention of applying for permits asap is typical - everyone wants everything yesterday. The responsibility is solely yours to find out the average timeline for both the design and build, and understand that businesses get busy - there may be an additional wait to even begin. If you’re looking for a quick turn around, purchase a stock plan.

Both emails look replicated for multiple designers meaning they didn’t care enough to look into who they’d be hiring. A - blast out the emails and see who responds - sort of thing. Again, not interested in working with those types of people.

The only question in the last email is about the rates. But since the next doozy also mentions rates, we’ll discuss it there.

Hi Potts,

We are looking for a designer to draw up some simple plans for an unfinished basement with a suite to be built after final occupancy. I was hoping you could tell me about your rates before conducting a walkthrough of our ideas, and the level of detail we would be looking for in the plans.

Sigh* That’s my last name. Not even my company name. Half point for trying.

“...draw up some simple plans...”  Perhaps you think a basement plan is ‘simple’ in comparison to a full house, but I’ve received emails for both large and small projects utilizing the word ‘simple’ to describe the plans. Instantly we know that is your way of saying “I’m prepared to not pay much...” , “It’s so easy I could do it, but...” or a worse way of saying, “cost-effective”, both from a design and build perspective, but the word simple belittles and diminishes the quality of the service. Perhaps it’s something that had been done many time and you feel it’s common, but understand the types of words you are using. If it’s so simple please, by all means, do it yourself.

“...a suite to be built after final occupancy.” is just a fancy way of saying “I’m going to do this shady thing after you’re done.” I suppose I appreciate the honesty, but your designer may not want to be a part of some cheat-the-system work. Don’t put them in that position.

Coming back to the rates, I understand that price is a large determining factor for most, but the fact that your only question in the previous email was about rates and for the last email you’re wanting the price even before doing a walk through tells me that you will only take the lowest price given, which disrespectful to the profession. Any profession really. And if you can’t afford the design, you surely can’t afford the build.

8 Tips For Your Next Project Request

Now you know what a poor email looks like, here is how you can write an email that makes the professional interested in working with you. If you’re expecting a response back, then you need to put in the effort.

Here are 8 tips to get you started:

  1. Address them by their first name or, at the very least, the company name. It’s just common courtesy to acknowledge who you’re reaching out to and it’s the easiest part of the email. Taking a look at their about page also shows us that you’ve done your research.

  2. Research whether their work fits with what you’re looking for. Both parties would hate to realize that your project is not the type of projects the professional typically does. If it doesn’t look like it fits, but you like their work, ask them if they would consider taking it on. For example, “I notice you haven’t done much modern design. Would you be interested or can you recommend someone who would be?”

  3. Mention who recommended them. Whether it’s a previous client of theirs or a professional that’s worked with them - mention it. Especially if it’s a professional that you may work with on this project. It’s good for everyone to know.

  4. Tell your whole project scope - in 2 sentences. Explain the project scope (custom new home, laneway or carriage home, renovation, etc.) and then elaborate with a brief explanation of the project. Know what you want and don’t want. Whatever you do, don’t give them a bunch of thoughts, maybe’s, or possibilities. If that’s the case and you don’t know what you want then request consulting.

  5. Do not ask the price of their services. Every project in construction is custom and with that comes a custom price. They will need to know about your project before being able to give a price. And generally that comes with after meeting you and getting more information about your project. It’s in your benefit to meet with them, so you don’t base your choice solely on price.

  6. Attach a few photos to give them an idea of what you like. Either attach photos in the email (Don’t go overboard, I said a few, that’s 3) or give them a link to a Pinterest or Houzz board for reference.

  7. Timeline. Ask for a rough idea on when the project could begin and roughly how long this size of project would take. I use the word roughly because it is all conjecture. Sometimes a timeline is set and previous projects have not been completed to make way for new ones or the homeowner doesn’t have all their paperwork ready in time to begin. This is just to give you an idea.

  8. Ask for a referral. Don’t assume that everyone is available or right for the job. Some don’t want the time crunch, the smaller jobs, or even the huge jobs. And that’s alright. You’re trying to find someone who is right for you. Perhaps they don’t feel like you would benefit from working with them, but they know someone else that would. Ask. They know their competition better than anyone.

A design + build of any size is a collaboration of sorts; you are looking to build a team that you can trust with a large investment of time and money. So, just as you would hire staff, both parties need to do it with respect, an understanding of their services/project, and a whole lot of questions. And that starts with your very first connection.

It doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming, but make an impression. Make them want to work with you because you’re you and not because you have a ‘simple’ basement renovation for example. Give them enough information to understand the project and get the ball rolling. And most importantly, give respect to get respect. If you follow those 8 steps, you’ll get more responses to take on your projects than passes.

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