Believe it or not, we have spent the last 12 months discussing the estimating process. If you have learned anything at all from these articles, you will know by now that estimating is much more than the take-off. This process involves an almost endless loop of deciding which projects to bid, working on relationships, completing take-offs, submitting your bid, and, most importantly, following up. Rather than recap all the nitty gritty of the last 12 months, I would like to leave you with some key points to focus on as we end this year and begin the next.
First, and most importantly, never underestimate the power of relationships. Cultivating relationships with construction professionals and local business people is so important. If you think you don’t have time, please reconsider. The more effort you put into these relationships, the more you will get out of this process. Make sure the general contractors you are submitting bids to know who you are. When all other factors are even, I truly believe the company with the relationship will win out almost every time. Although I really did not touch on this previously, keeping in touch is easier now than ever before. Social media outlets, such as Facebook and Linkedin, can help you connect with industry professionals and keep abreast of the construction industry in your area.
Second, always bid work while you are busy. If you think you don’t have time, make some. In this economy, I know a lot of you may not have a healthy backlog of work, but the only way to get a backlog is to bid, bid, bid! That is not to say that you should be indiscriminate about what you bid. Instead, you should bid enough work to keep your electricians busy and productive. Contractors tend not to make the best decisions when there is no work on the books, bidding jobs below cost just to “keep the guys busy.” This leads me to my next point.
Never bid a job below your cost — unless there is a solid strategic reason to do so. This statement assumes that you know your costs, however, so please always complete a detailed take-off. This way, you can determine all the material and labor requirements of a project. You can always check your take-off versus a tried and true square foot number, but you should never base your bid on a square foot number. Remember, every job is different, and you should always review the plans and specs to know what you’re dealing with. Don’t forget cultivating those relationships with your vendors helps ensure you have the “right” number on bid day.
Sell your company and its benefits. Do not assume every company to which you are submitting a bid knows exactly who you are and what your company is capable of. When all things are equal, the company that presents itself the best will have an edge over its competition. Package your proposal so that it stands out. For example, before bid day, send a package to the person in charge of receiving the bids. Include your scope (proposal) letter with “price to follow,” a company capabilities flyer or brochure, and your business card. Follow up on bid day with your price. That way, the company gets exposure to you twice in the same bid process. Here’s a little more food for thought: If you do not have the experience or capability within your company to develop a flyer or brochure, contact your local community college or university for assistance. There are a lot of students out there clamoring for experience who would welcome the opportunity to help your company at a fraction of the cost you would pay going to a big marketing agency.
Finally, follow up, follow up, follow up. The saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” While I am not advocating being a downright pest, you should absolutely follow up after you submit your price. Try to find out where you are in “the mix” of bids, and see what you can do to close the job. Do not chase someone else’s number unless you know you can absolutely do the job for that price — and that the number you are chasing is actually based on a quantitative take-off. Remember general contractors tend to “bend the truth a little,” so be aware you may be bidding against yourself!
Because the estimating process is a continual loop, it never really ends. However, I can tell you from experience that it does get easier over time.
Candels is president of Candels Consulting, an electrical estimating consulting firm in New York City. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.