Selling a client is like discovering new territory. There’s plenty of opportunity – and lots of green – stretching to the farthest horizon. But venture in the wrong direction, and the landscape becomes tricky.

Such is the case with estimating, that first step in the client relationship. Quote too high and you may lose the sale; estimate too low, and you may lose profit. So, how do you navigate this delicate road?

“Estimating is a blend of science and art,” says Ken Hutcheson, horticulturalist/entrepreneur and president of U.S. Lawns. “You need to properly service a property, while also satisfying the needs of the client. Both have a cost. Determining that cost can help you estimate accurately. Ask yourself what you will spend to service the property. The more precisely you answer, the better your estimate will be.”

“Always be realistic when evaluating your operating costs,” adds Mike Fitzpatrick, a 35-year industry veteran who advises franchisees as vice president of U.S. Lawns. “What are your fixed overheads? Do you have any debt?” In addition, Fitzpatrick reminds business owners not to forget their own salary, a costly mistake some contractors make.

After calculating your costs and arriving at a desired margin, it’s time to consider your client’s needs. Here, communication is the key. “Spend time with the client to determine their real needs,” says Hutcheson. “Re-visit the job site after the initial meeting to collect information and have more interaction.”

Establishing a relationship with your client will give you valuable information about their needs, including budgets. It also builds trust, laying the foundation for a good working partnership.

That said, not every client is a good fit – as the numbers of a carefully crafted estimate may show. “Pursue work that fits your sweet spot,” Hutcheson advises. “If you don’t have the right employees or equipment to service a site, it’s not a profitable job.”