Just like most responsible parents, my mom and dad tried to teach me early on the value of giving, but it took me a little longer than most other kids to grasp the concept. My competitive, winner-take-all nature clouded my judgment from time to time.

Competition can bring out the best and worst in any of us, on a personal and professional level. This is especially true in the business world when markets tighten and projects get scarce. In fact, competing for work in a challenged market has forced more than a couple business owners to resort to unethical acts, such as overcharging their customer for services rendered.

So why not try doing something altogether different on your next project? Instead of showing up at your customer’s door looking for that last payment, turn things upside down and hand them a check. No, I’m not recommending you give your services away for free. I’m encouraging you to get out there and find your customer a rebate of some sort. You won’t believe how good it will make you feel when you hand your customer a check for thousands of dollars.

By definition, a rebate is an amount of money that’s deducted or returned to you from a payment or bill. Most everyone is familiar with the rebates that electronics manufacturers offer for computers and stereos. But how many of you are actually aware of the rebate programs initiated by a large number of electric utilities and government agencies in this country? If you’re one of those business owners that isn’t taking advantage of these generous programs, you’re shortchanging your customer thousands of dollars and missing out on an opportunity to add value to your services.

Rebates on the purchase and installation of energy-efficient electrical products are popular again as electric utilities look to defer their investment in new power plants to meet increasing loads on their systems. They know that for every kilowatt of load that’s shaved off with the help of energy efficient products, results in the deferment of new capacity they must invest in to serve their growing system loads.

Because lighting makes up such a large percentage of the commercial energy demand, many of today’s programs offer rebates in the area of lighting components and systems. But no two rebate programs are exactly alike, so the trick is to know where to find them and how to efficiently apply for them. For more on this topic, turn to page 26 and read this month’s cover story written by Managing Editor Matthew Halverson.

I can’t think of a better way to impress a client than by presenting them with a big fat rebate check at the end of a project to offset the sting of the final bill. So put on your research cap and start sifting through those utility rebate files. The sooner you do, the quicker you’ll once again be reminded that it’s always better to give than to receive.