Whether you’ve been an estimator for a while or you’re new to the job, there’s often something new to learn to make yourself even more effective.
Many of our team have worked as estimators, and we’ve interviewed several estimators over the last few years at Countfire. We’re always curious to know how they work and what they do to make themselves as efficient and effective as possible.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
What does a successful estimator look like?
One of the first things we’ve found repeatedly is that the most effective electrical estimators will almost never be out of work. There is high demand among companies and organisations in both the public and private sector for good estimators.
The key qualities that successful electrical estimators tend to have include:
- High attention to detail. Accuracy is a core requirement of estimating and attention to every detail ensures a better level of accuracy.
- A good understanding of the basics of the electrical trade. In the UK, most estimators we talk with started out “on the tools” and developed strong industry knowledge over that time. This is invaluable for understanding projects and being able to grasp the context under which they’re producing an estimate.
US estimators we have interviewed may have started out as electricians, or they may have gone through a specific electrical estimation training program or apprenticeship. A fundamental understanding of what the job involves is still important. For example, laying the same length of cable under different conditions may involve differing labour costs.
- Strong interpersonal skills. You’ve got to be able to chat with clients and colleagues alike. Clients will often want to ask questions of estimators, plus, getting to know people in your community is one way your company can boost its chances of winning electrical tenders.
- Strong written communication skills. Estimators need to send queries and provide clear written details on estimates. It’s important that they’re able to communicate with clarity and avoid misunderstandings.
- A willingness to learn. Many estimators have told us that they’ve found it important to be open and willing to learn as new tools or techniques become available in the industry. There’s often something new that could make their work more efficient, for example.
5 habits of successful electrical estimators
We’ve gone over a few traits that successful estimators tend to have, so what sorts of habits do they cultivate? Here’s what we’ve found:
#1. They pay close attention to scope of work
Successful electrical estimators at a minimum will double-check the scope of work. They’ll look for anything that may seem out of place or require clarification. They make use of RFI (Requests for Information) as early as possible in the estimating process so that they can get answers on time.
The more experience an estimator has, the better they tend to become at this. They use similar past projects that they have worked on to compare to the current one and run a “sense check.”
#2. They are masters of time management
Time management is a key skill for electrical estimators – estimates must be turned in on-time to be considered for tenders and it’s also important to give any subcontractors enough time to get back with a quote.
Successful estimators tend to have good time management systems in place. For example, we know of several who use calendar or project management apps to plan out their work. It’s often the case that they have multiple estimates on the go at any given time, so it’s important to have a way to keep track and ensure each is completed on-time.
#3. They get to know people in key roles
There are many projects out there where “who you know” can play an important part of being considered for the electrical work. Savvy electrical estimators build their networks and get to know people in key influencing roles, for example, procurement managers.
Having some insider knowledge can really help to devise a quotation that will appeal to the business or organisation that is hiring for the project. Spending time getting to know people means that estimators understand their priorities and can tailor their quote to match.
#4. They use the right tools
Electrical estimating basics have always remained the same, but how you get to those numbers, or how you manage your work has changed with new technologies available.
There are tools, software packages and apps that have been created to help make your work day more efficient. For example, using cloud-based apps means that you can get work done from anywhere, without being tethered to a particular computer or hard-drive accessed software.
“Cloud computing continues to spur digital transformation across industries, and AEC is no exception. Secure cloud-based platforms like Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and AWS are making the adoption of 3-D modeling and digital tools a reality for even small and mid-size contractors that have light IT staffs and distributed resources across regional offices.” (Source)
Specifically in terms of estimating, counting takeoffs is now made simpler by avoiding having to print out drawings, get out a highlighter and manually count. Countfire is an automated takeoff software that will accurately make those counts for you, without the need for reams of paper. Estimates can be created quickly and accurately, with users saving a huge amount of time that they can use for other parts of the job.
Some other key tools include:
- Project management software
- Cloud storage (for example, on Dropbox)
- Shared calendars and booking apps
- BIM – this is being adopted more and more by the electrical industry
- “Smart” tools, for example for virtual reality views of proposed job sites.
It’s an extension of the “willingness to learn” trait. Tools and applications are advancing with technology. Good estimators are paying attention and picking out the technologies that will work best for their own situation to make them more efficient.
#5. They have and use criteria for bidding
The most effective estimators know that “we just need the work” is not a great strategy when it comes to choosing the best projects to bid on. Estimating time itself can be costly and the time of the estimator is best spent working on bids that the company is most likely to be competitive for.
Having a “bid or no bid” criteria is a great strategy for narrowing down the projects you will create an estimate for to those that match the capabilities of your company. For example, some common criteria might include:
- The size and scope of the project – is it a good match for what your company has done before?
- The skillset the project requires – can your company check the boxes?
- The location of the project
- Whether you have the labour resources available to commit to the project
- The proposed schedule – can your company commit to finishing when the client would like?
- The deadline for bids. You probably have a certain amount of time you require in order to create an accurate bid, so short deadlines might not make the cut.
The most effective electrical estimators have found the right balance between time management and accuracy. They know the industry very well and they strive to continue learning and finding more efficient ways to work.
Lastly, over our time talking with estimators, we’ve found that developing strong connections in the industry, their communities and their colleagues is important. This helps to build good lines of communication that keep them informed and ready for new projects.
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