What It Takes

What It Takes

Contracts and the Art of Driveway Grading

By Callie Oettinger | Published: July 17, 2015

I’m married to a numbers guy who taught me the art involved with math and business. Before him, I ran from numbers.

This afternoon, I spoke with a guy who said there’s an art to grading a driveway. Thinking back to what my husband taught me about numbers, I don’t doubt the art of the driveway grading, but I doubt art as an excuse.

The driveway guy is trying to sell me a new driveway. I live at the bottom of a hill and need a driveway that includes a dip leading up to my garage, so the garage is higher and water isn’t shooting right into it from the driveway. Instead of saying yes to my request for specific grading language in our contract, he said “we only use general words in our contract” and “grading . . . it’s an art” as if the latter made the former better.

Signing a contract with this guy would be the same pitfall I’ve seen so many artists fall into within their careers.

When someone tells you they’re going to do something for you, ask “How?”

When they say they’ll make everything work out, that you’ll be happy, don’t believe them.

Ask questions.

Ask how they’ll do the work.

Ask when they’ll do the work.

Ask the style in which they’ll do the work.

Ask the medium they’ll use to do the work.

Ask how the work will address your needs.

Ask what will happen if the work doesn’t address your needs.

Ask who will be responsible if there’s a problem.

For every decision of your career, think about the decisions you make that relate to your home or your car or your life. Would you go to any doctor just because she promised to make you feel better? Would you leave your car with a mechanic just because he said he could fix it?

Ask the questions. Put the answers in the contract. If you can’t get the answers and/or can’t get the answers added to a contract, don’t sign the contract. If you do, you’re asking for a driveway at the bottom of a hill, with water shooting straight into your garage — or a mismanaged career. You pick. Above all: Run from anyone who says “art” is the reason he can’t be more specific. The art of B.S. is the only time that one flies.

Posted in What It Takes

10 Responses to “Contracts and the Art of Driveway Grading”

  1. Mary Doyle
    July 17, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Sound advice Callie! It reminds me of a financial guy on the radio who tells his listeners to seek out a financial advisor “who has the heart of a teacher.” If you don’t understand what he/she is advising, get up and walk away. We’re all responsible for what we sign up for – as always, thanks!

  2. July 17, 2015 at 7:36 am

    A true pro will have the language, the numbers and a transparent explanation for every facet of the process. They will know these things from doing them over and over again. We should try to be that way as artists.

  3. July 17, 2015 at 9:33 am

    When I read this, I was thinking what a rude person and or an incompetent person to ask these questions. Are there photographs of the beautiful driveways he has poured to show that he is in fact an artist and unable to quantify his work? What happens when what we do is art/craft and not a quantifiable science? Or if we do have a process that yields a sustainable repeatable result but this process took years of practice, trial and error and is essentially a trade secret that will not be shared in answers to your probing questions. When you want the result you just have to trust in the expertise of the artist/craftsmen and pay them the value for the result you seek. Don’t expect some to share their secrets so the buyer may take the proposal/process/blueprint then hire someone cheaper or try to do it themselves.

    • July 25, 2015 at 3:57 am

      That is what contracts are for: to cover the rights of the persons involved. And a lawsuit can be filled if the details of the contract are not followed through and through.

      Please do further general research on the topic at hand before commenting on any blog.

  4. July 17, 2015 at 10:06 am

    This is such an empowering piece! Thank you, Callie.

    It highlights how “common sense” is anything but common when we put hope and trust and “don’t make me sweat the small stuff” before self interest and that little inner voice that says “get more details”

  5. July 17, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Its amazing how quickly questions make scams or shotty work disappear. If you can’t answer something with certainty you don’t know it.

    Great Post

  6. Sonja
    July 17, 2015 at 11:16 am

    I agree with the others! He should be able to answer all your questions! Good for you for listening to your instincts!

  7. Marvin Waschke
    July 17, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I was in the construction trades when I was young. Calling driveway grading an art would get you a double paycheck before lunch.

    In construction in the 70s, a double paycheck was a normal check for the previous week and one for the time you worked the present week. The contractor had to pay for part days, so getting your checks before lunch meant you were paid for half a day you didn’t work. In other words, you’re fired and don’t come back.

  8. Dick Yaeger
    July 17, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    I’m a sucker for craftsmen who drive really cool trucks. They just have to know what they’re doing.

  9. July 22, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Great advice for beginners and the experienced alike.