Have you thought about hiring an electrical estimator, or perhaps training for the role yourself?
There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. A common misconception is that electrical estimators just “count stuff,” but in reality the job involves a much greater depth of knowledge and organisational skills in order to manage a large scope of work.
In this post, we’re outlining the different stages an electrical estimator goes through from start to finish. Yes, counting stuff is definitely involved, but there is much more to it!
Finding tender opportunities
An electrical estimator may have duties to help find tender opportunities, or they may respond to the tender opportunities company management send their way. In any case, it is always a good idea to have a defined tendering strategy.
If you were to fire out bids at everything that comes along, you’d end up wasting both yours and the requesting party’s time. This is also not a good look for your company – bidding on projects that you are best suited to shows that you have given them due consideration and that you respect the time of the person on the other end. We suggest developing some clear criteria to assess whether a project should be bid or no-bid.
At a minimum, consider the location of projects, the type of work, the size of the project, the type of contract, the profitability and whether or not the design is complete. Have a look at how close the return date is too – you need to have enough time to accurately assess and bid on the project.
Where are tender opportunities found? We wrote an article here outlining several ways to find both public and private sector tender opportunities. We recommend signing up for some of the alert services we mentioned, as this helps to automate part of the process.
Forming a clear picture of the job
A good electrical estimator doesn’t just dive into “counting stuff.” They take the time to form a clear picture of the job as a whole. This helps to ensure they can be as accurate as possible, including estimates such as labour costs, which are more difficult to calculate.
This means thoroughly looking over drawings, schedules, specifications and potentially any mechanical or architectural information too. The most successful electrical estimators tend to be those who are able to allocate plenty of time to this step. When rushed, this often results in aspects being missed that affect the project later on, potentially costing more money.
You’ve got to know exactly what the client is asking for before giving an estimate.
Clarify any gaps
Next up, if any gaps have been identified amongst the provided documentation, it’s important to clarify these. The estimator should speak to the client or primary contractor to fill in any gaps.
The usual way of doing this is to submit an RFI (Request for Information). Your RFI should be presented clearly so as to better-ensure that you get the information that you need. For example, a common mistake is to format clarifications as statements instead of questions. Be clear about what you are asking and make sure it is a sentence with a question mark on the end. The idea is that no one should have to clarify your clarification…
Provide the specific reference to drawings or specifications and add any additional information that might be needed. For example, sometimes illustrating with a drawing may help.
Good electrical estimating is about being a clear communicator and being very process-driven. An estimator needs to build the skill to look at the bigger picture and to identify and clearly deal with any gaps.
Managing subcontractors is not part of every electrical estimator’s role, but it is a task assigned to many. Let’s say the project is a big one and will require bringing on subcontractors, for example, for fire alarm or security systems. The electrical estimator needs to manage the bid, including the cost of those subcontractors.
This means that the estimator will send enquiries out to each of those required companies, and then manage the process to ensure they send their specialist quotations back on time. These need to be ready for inclusion into a tender or project.
When subcontracting, this still leaves the responsibility of quality and management ultimately with the company that is awarded the electrical tender. It will be up to the estimator or a project manager to ensure that standards and processes are set with subcontractors. For example, will they communicate with the client directly? How will payments be managed?
The key element for the estimating process is ensuring that you’re getting a reliable subcontractor and accurate quotations. It can hurt the company, both in terms of revenue and reputation, if there are any disputes over costs or work done later on.
It’s important to know your subcontractors well and to feel that you can trust them. In terms of getting a quotation from them, many estimators prefer to use a template for proposals. This helps to ensure it’s not just a figure scratched out on a serviette or note paper.
Produce an estimate
Once the information-gathering is done, it’s time to “count stuff” and produce an estimate. The estimator will count take-offs on drawings to get an estimate for the cost of the elements, and will also look at costs such as labour, insurance and subcontracting.
Counting take-offs can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the estimating process, as well as prone to error. Some estimators still use the “old-fashioned” method, where they highlight the elements on a drawing and manually count. These days, there is an opportunity to improve the speed and accuracy of this process by using take-off software. Countfire is an example of software that provides truly automated counting – no highlighters required!
The overall construction of the tender documentation may look different depending upon the requirements of the client. Many companies have their own preferred template for bidding and in fact, if your company doesn’t use it, this will count against you. If we were to give some universal “rules” for producing an estimate, they would be:
- Check your work. A tender should never be so rushed that there is no time to double-check figures and estimates.
- Check that everything has been included. If there is anything ambiguous in the specifications, either get that clarified or include a note to say that your bid has contingencies based on those ambiguities. (Getting clarification through an RFI is always preferable, but include contingencies if you couldn’t get a response).
- Always follow the client’s preferred format if they have requested it. Stick to templates and word count limits.
Typically, an estimate will at least include the following sections:
- Project summary – This is an opportunity to make a good first impression. It summarises the project requirements and solidifies your approach to it. The summary can include details that highlight why your company is a good choice, such as accreditations and awards.
- Units, quantities and pricing – This is where the estimator needs to devise a system for the units of measurement, the quantity of units for each component and the reasonable cost for each unit. They will usually receive a pricing schedule from the client, which details how they would like the information prepared and the layout to use.
- Conclusion – This is usually a short paragraph or two, laying out why the estimate is suitable for the project. It is also an opportunity to connect with whoever is reviewing the documentation.
Review the tender
Whether the tender was won or not, an electrical estimator should review the process to identify any areas for improvement. Being able to streamline wherever possible helps companies to free up time to bid on more projects.
If the tender was not awarded, it is worth asking for feedback. You won’t always get a response, but if you do, that is often valuable information for next time.
Finally, look for tools and processes that can help you to make the process easier or more accurate. Software for counting take-offs, communication and project management can all help to create a more efficient and effective estimate process.