Preparing your proposal letter
For months now, we have been discussing the estimating process. As you recall, a lot of this process involves completing the take-off, checking it for accuracy, making labor adjustments, applying your overhead and direct job expenses, and deciding how much, if any, profit you want to put on the job to come up with your sell, or bid, price. Now that you have that completed, there is an important step you must take before you send your price to the general contractor or construction manager — and that’s called a proposal, or scope, letter. In effect, this document becomes the first legal correspondence of what your price includes and doesn’t include. You can always rely on this letter to qualify your bid as long as you prepare it properly.
Most companies have a standard format for completing this document. As a first step, you should always state the project name, address, and job number, if available. Next, you should list the drawings and their respective dates on which your proposal is based. This is critical, because you want to make sure that — if by some chance you received the wrong set of drawings — at least you have documented the set you were working with. Accordingly, if you received any addenda or bid clarifications, be sure to list what you received with the date, again to cover yourself in case you did not receive a particular document.
First, I like to list all the items that are included in the proposal. Although there is a fine line between not listing enough and listing too much, I always like to include standard and “big ticket” items. Standard items would encompass lighting, lighting controls, branch devices — state what you carried and what the wiring methods are for these items. For example, “lighting with branch run in MC cable with EMT homeruns as specified.” You can also do the same for mechanical equipment connections (don’t forget to state whether you carried the disconnects), fire alarm, tel/data, and other low-voltage systems. For feeders, state what you carried for the primary conduits, secondary conduits, and all the way to the last point of distribution. There is typically a lot of money involved in the distribution system, so be specific about what you carried.
If the specs call for Schedule 80 versus Schedule 40 for the primary, make sure you spell that out in your proposal instead of generically stating “incoming service primary run in PVC.” If there are any special or unusual items contained in the take-off, mention them in your scope letter. These could include items such as conduits to the roof for a satellite dish, spare conduits for future equipment, or special systems. Finally, if your job includes fees, permits, sales tax, utility, or company charges, make sure you state that in your proposal.
Next, detail items that are excluded from your proposal. Items that are often excluded are cutting-patching-painting of walls, concrete housekeeping pads, transformer or generator pads, site pole bases, and concrete encasement of duct banks. If any items are existing, exclude them and make a note of that. If any work is to be performed by the general contractor or other trade, exclude these as well, and mark them “by others.” This acknowledges the item rather than ignoring it in hopes that the general contractor will intuitively know what you are talking about.
At the end of your proposal, state any “terms and conditions” on which your proposal is based. Some examples are the length of time your proposal is good for as well as what your typical working hours are (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., excluding major holidays). This may sound like overkill, but you never want to get stuck paying your crew overtime because you did not exclude overtime work from your proposal.
Finally, make sure you clearly state what your proposal price is. I know some contractors who not only list it numerically, but also actually write out the dollar amount. For example, “proposal price is $850,000 (eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars).” Be sure to list any alternate pricing as well, as either an “add alternate” or a “deduct alternate” price.
You have completed your bid, written your proposal letter, and now it is time to submit your price. Next month, we’ll discuss packaging and submitting your bid, as well as follow-up tips and estimating techniques.
Candels is president of Candels Consulting, an electrical estimating consulting firm in New York. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.