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A profitable job starts with an accurate estimate that allows you to generate a firm, fixed price quote. That’s why estimating is necessary, but it isn’t easy; it’s hard, tedious workPreparing an Estimate.

There are four basic things you need before you begin to compile an estimate.

  1. You need a clear project outline.
  2. You need a commitment from the owner.
  3. You need detailed photos of the work area for reference.
  4. You need to eliminate all distractions.

You need a clear project outline.

This happens when you walk through the four basic questions outlined in Profitable Sales; A Contractor’s Guide. When you’ve done a good job of asking the four questions, and listened to their answers, you’ll know what the customer wants. This is your project outline.

You need a commitment from the owner to work out the design details and get a set of plans drawn so everyone is on the same page.

That means a design agreement for the project. If the customer is providing plans that have already been created, you need a letter of intent. Either way, get a commitment from the owner before you start estimating the job, and that commitment includes getting paid for the time you’ll invest in their estimate. We discussed free estimates in an article last February.

If they won’t make a commitment, show them the Cost vs. Value report from Remodeling Magazine and tell them that’s as far as you’ll go preparing their estimate without getting paid for the service you’re providing.

Too many contractors give away their time creating estimates. They waste valuable time and drive many miles, and end up with nothing to show for their efforts. The time they waste on tire kickers is time they aren’t giving to those who are serious about getting their job built. Why provide a valuable service if your client isn’t willing to pay for it?

You need photos of the entire work area.

While you’re measuring and making notes, take a lot of photos. Memory cards for your camera or phone are cheap, so fill them up.

Photos remind you of the details you’ll need to do your estimate. If you rely on your memory, you’ll forget details and make assumptions that lead to mistakes on your estimate. Additionally, you can email photos of the job to your subcontractors. This might eliminate some of their trips to the job site to generate their quote.

You need to eliminate distractions.

Now you’re ready to create the estimate. Well, maybe you are. This is where it gets difficult, because it requires focus. You won’t be able to focus when you’re distracted, which is why you need to eliminate all distractions. You know what your biggest distractions are, but I’ll list four big ones here:

1. Are you hungry? Don’t start an estimate if food will call you away easily.

2. Need a bathroom break? Take care of it before you get started.

3. Are you alone? Let employees and family and anyone else in the area know that you aren’t to be disturbed or called for any reason. Go into a room and close the door.

4. Is your phone with you? Turn it off and unplug the landline. Phones are the most common distraction.

Now you’re ready to create the estimate and you’ve eliminated most of the time wasters and error-generators that plague estimators. But it’s also important to include language in your contracts that covers you for those surprises that can still happen, no matter how prepared and careful you are. We’ve listed some of that language in this newsletter article from 2014.

There is no such thing as a quick, accurate estimate. Estimating will never be easy and I don’t know anyone who considers it fun. But it’s a key element to building profitable jobs, and profitable jobs are why you’re in business.

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