What’s your top priority as an electrical estimator?

Most of us would answer with some variation of “accuracy and speed” right? Of course, those two things can seem to be a bit at odds – accuracy can end up sacrificed for speed and vice versa.

We’ve been there, with countless hours spent poring over drawings or specifications in an effort to create the best-possible estimate. (This is a big reason behind why we created Countfire!)

Based on our experiences in the industry, here are our best tips for producing accurate estimates as quickly as possible:

What steps should you take to prepare an estimate? Get our tips here

#1. Be organised

An electrical estimator tends to wear many hats – take-offs is only one of them. Before any sort of estimating can be done, you need to be well-organised and have taken the time to understand the job at hand.

This means you should read through specification documentation as well as any architectural, electrical and mechanical drawings. You need to be able to form a picture of what the job actually looks like and whether you feel there might be anything missing from the information that you’ve been given.

Give yourself plenty of time to do this – the most inaccurate estimates tend to be those that have been rushed through in a last-minute effort to meet a deadline.

On the surface, people might think that your job mostly involves “counting stuff”, but that’s just a fraction of what you need to know and have organised, which is why there is a trend for hiring professional electrical estimators rather than just leaving it to an electrical contractor.

Not only do you need the quantities and types of components involved, but you need to know how long the fit times are for any line items, as well as material costs which will be incurred. Part of being organised is keeping yourself updated on the latest rates and costs. Is there an upcoming price rise on certain components? If a purchase will be made after this time, then that needs to be accounted for in your estimate.

#2. People skills

What do people skills have to do with speed and accuracy? Well, your ability to do your job well depends a lot upon your communication with other stakeholders. You might need to query specifications or have a chat with someone to get a better picture of the project, for example.

Your ability to do the job well depends a lot upon communication with stakeholders Click To Tweet

Surly contractors or estimators don’t tend to get results. It’s common sense really – people will lean toward those who are pleasant to deal with.

We know it isn’t always easy to deal with clients and figure out exactly what it is that they’re looking for, so your ability to communicate with them really counts. You need to be able to get answers to questions, negotiate and possibly even explain why something is not possible.

After your bid has been sent in, there’s the process of tender interviews which are essentially an opportunity to impress, just like a regular job interview. How can your people skills influence the interview? Here are some things that the interviewer may be looking for:

  • Cultural fit – They want to know that you’ll be a good fit for their team to work with. Someone who is more personable will definitely be preferred over someone who is abrasive, especially if all other things are equal.
  • Answering any concerns – Your ability to explain yourself and reassure the interviewer over any concerns they may have can help to elevate you above other options.
  • Any questions you ask – Do you have something sensible to say on the project? 
  • Competence – Your ability to confidently discuss the project with the interviewer is one way they gauge your competence for the project. Do you seem to be prepared? Have you clearly done your homework on the project? They are looking for reassurance that your bid is accurate and that you have the required resources to do the job as needed.

#3. Send queries early

One of the worst things you can do during the electrical tendering process is leave anything until the last minute. This is virtually guaranteed to result in inaccuracies in your estimate.

You will not always have a full set of drawings, or, perhaps there are features which need clarification on the drawings that you’ve been given. You need to try to obtain structural information including any unusual heights or features, such as what you might see in the construction of sports or commercial facilities.

This point is important for the impression you create of your business too. For one thing, getting in early communicates interest and professional diligence. Secondly, it’s about those people skills again. If you’re sending a query the day before a bid is due then it’s likely you may strike someone who takes the view “lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

You might also need to query any contractors or suppliers and confirm their rates. The same principle applies. People don’t like to be rushed and may in fact deliberately not deal with anyone who leaves things until the last minute.

Send queries early and create the right first impression. In the case of contractors or suppliers, we would send them out as soon as the tender information comes in.

#4. Check for accuracy

Ok, we know this isn’t easy. If you’ve used manual methods of counting take-offs, you’re not going to do a recount because that’s just too much hassle (and really, it can be a bit of a moving target!) This is one reason why we recommend going with an automated system like Countfire. You will easily be able to see in the software if anything has been left out. You can also split different areas up later if you find that is necessary.

Besides take-offs, there are a few other important points to check for accuracy, for which we’d usually recommend having some kind of buddy system for checking. A fresh set of eyes tends to be better if you’ve spent hours over the estimate already.

Important items to check

Some of these might also be termed as “common pitfalls” because they’re the sorts of things that might be forgotten on your bid. Here are some important items to check:

  • Sales tax requirements – Have these been included or is this particular project exempt from sales tax? 
  • Pricing breakdown – Have you filled out the pricing schedule / formatted your price according to your client’s requirements?
  • Should any cash allowances be included in the bid price? 
  • Insurance – Does the project require special insurance and have you included this in the pricing? 
  • Have you accounted for any security deposits or performance bonds? 
  • Equipment – Is all equipment your responsibility, or will some be furnished by the owner? 
  • Materials – Have you obtained accurate costing from suppliers? 
  • Changes – Have you included a clause for any change orders or extras that the project owner may come up with during the course of the project? 
  • Temporary power – Who is responsible for furnishing and paying for temporary power?
Get our steps for preparing an electrical estimate here

Final thoughts

Speed and accuracy are two key goals when it comes to producing an electrical estimate. In fact, your business depends on those things.

We developed Countfire as a solution for quickly and accurately counting take-offs, which is one part of your estimate, however we also recommend:

  • Being organised
  • Honing your people skills
  • Sending queries early
  • Checking for accuracy

All the best for your next bid!