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Small to mid-size HVAC contractors often feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done. This is especially true when it comes to preparing estimates, but without doing this disruptive task a contractor won’t be busy enough in the future.

You know the feeling. You’ve got a “bird in the hand” contract to fulfill, but are interrupted to go after the “two in the bush” by drawing up estimates for possible future contracts. Yes, estimating is tedious and time consuming and doesn’t guarantee future work. But it has to be done.

Big companies solve this dilemma by hiring full-time estimators. These professionals prepare estimates so the ongoing jobs can continue uninterrupted.

If you don’t have that luxury, you need to find a way to streamline the estimating process so it causes less disruption to the day-to-day workflow of your company. Learn about the 9 tips here:

  1. Take the time. Don’t be tempted to give fast quotes over the phone just to get back to work faster. Politely tell the potential customer when someone is available to discuss his or her project in order to prepare a thorough estimate.
  2. Set aside specific times to work on estimates. Depending on how big your company is and how many jobs you’re preparing estimates on, this can vary. But for sake of argument let’s say you set aside Wednesday afternoons for meeting with potential customers and the early Thursday morning hours for compiling estimates. If someone calls you on Monday morning, schedule an appointment to meet with them on Wednesday afternoon. Then, knowing how long it usually takes to prepare a thorough estimate, you’ll be able to tell them with accuracy when their estimates will be ready.
  3. Hit the road with a plan. If you’ve got several jobs to bid on, try to save on travel time by scheduling on-site inspection and evaluations of the projects so you can go from one to another on a logical route in an efficient timeframe.
  4. Keep everyone in the loop. Don’t get stuck waiting around for input from others. If preparing an estimate involves input from several people, get them involved in the process early and let them know exactly what you need. Set realistic deadlines for members of your team to get you information so you have time to prepare the estimate by the date you promised it to the customer.
  5. Have the best tools available and know how to use them wisely. The selection of estimating software available today is overwhelming, but if it’s not easy to use, you’re paying for headaches and complicating the task even further. Take time to research new software options that could make estimating smoother, or to learn how to use the software you already own more effectively. Take advantage of the help available within the software, in online tutorials, or through in-person training the software creator offers. If you’re shopping for new estimating software make user friendly and customer service your top priorities over price. Buying something you won’t use to its full capacity just because it’s the cheapest won’t save you money in the long run.
  6. Have good systems in place. Templates that can be used repeatedly make estimating quicker because things that are always part of the estimate are filled in automatically. Templates can automatically calculate taxes, hourly rates and other costs. Also maintain an up-do-date database of common material costs and charges that is easily accessible. It helps to have a strong follow-up system in place too. That means keeping accurate, detailed records. For example, if a customer asks for a heating and cooling estimate but decides the new furnace takes priority, thorough record keeping prevents you from having to start from scratch later when an estimate for adding the AC is requested.
  7. Train more employees to estimate jobs. Make sure several people in your company are fluent in your estimating software and familiar with your processes and templates.
  8. Consider outsourcing. Hiring an independent contractor to do estimating for you on an as-needed basis has pros and cons. It gets the task off of your plate, but no one knows your company better than you. And, of course, it’s an added expense. Plus you may be worried about confidentiality and not want to share your estimating practices with an outsider. Keep in mind, however, that someone who makes a living as an independent estimator won’t be in business long if they can’t be trusted to keep information confidential. Outsourcing can be a good stopgap solution for a growing company that’s big enough to not have time for estimating but not quite big enough to hire a fulltime in-house estimator.
  9. Learn from mistakes. When an estimate takes an inordinate amount of time to complete or the actual cost of a job comes in significantly higher than the estimate, don’t just shrug your shoulders. Go back and study the estimate to see what caused the problem. How could the process have been more efficient and/or accurate? Build fixes into the system to prevent a repeat performance.

You can’t avoid preparing estimates if you want to stay in business. The key to making the process less disruptive to your business is simply to become better at it. Start improving by looking carefully at how you have been handling the task of estimating and adjust your processes to make them as efficient as possible.

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