The construction industry is a roller-coaster at best. With heavy investments in equipment, tools and labor it's a challenge for a contractor to stay afloat in unstable economic times. A small-scale contractor may only be able to afford few, if any, frills. Should an investment in construction project estimating software be one of them?

First, let me identify what I consider to be a small contracting business. Being a general contractor myself, I feel the definition has nothing to do with the amount of yearly revenue generated or the number of simultaneous projects tackled, but the number of different "hats" an individual contractor is required to wear at any given time. I consider the small contractor to be one who wears not only the hat of General Contractor but also takes on the roles of: Bookkeeper, Estimator, Secretary, Job Foreman, Human Resources Director or one of many other tasks necessary to ensure the success of the business. A medium-sized contracting business would be a company that chooses to hire at least one person for each of these positions, and a large construction company is a business that can hire multiple people to fill each of these positions, able to compete on a large-scale basis.

For the large and medium-sized construction companies the answer is obvious: purchasing an estimating tool is a no-brainer. Now, let's consider the small contractor. There are two categories that could better define them - those who are comfortable with computers and those who aren't.

General contractors new to construction management but comfortable with computers should take time to investigate programs that can assist them in the complex task of estimating. Contractors will gain a marvelous tool for not only estimating but related tasks too. Several estimating programs have been designed to interface with popular business bookkeeping software. The advantages of employing such a program in your small business include better time management, more accurate estimates, superior financial organization, including job costing and tracking, and the ability to instantly see if a given job (or your whole business) has been profitable. Not taking advantage of such technology to make these repetitive tasks simple and consistent would be a mistake.

Experienced general contractors who were around long before computers became a part of day-to-day life may not have the technical computer background to operate construction estimating software. So is purchasing estimating software worthwhile in this case?

I'd say yes, but the contractor should be willing to invest some time and energy to acquire some basic computer skills. There are several programs that are inexpensively priced, relatively easy to use and, with a little effort and patience, will free up some of your time. Time and effort previously spent on preparing bids and other paperwork can then be spent on other areas of the business (or perhaps on some well-earned R&R).

An estimating program can work for you when it comes to tasks not only related to organizing bids, but also keeping books, tracking projects and costs, presenting documents to clients, writing contracts and preparing order forms and reports. These and other organization tools that will allow you to achieve the same professional touch as the larger contractors. The more tasks you delegate to your software, the faster it will pay for its keep.

The learning curve for using an estimating software program will be greater or lesser depending upon your computer skills and your familiarity with estimating. Many user-friendly, affordable options are available for small businesses.

When making your decision about whether or not to purchase estimating software for your small business, keep in mind that your competition may already be using one. To remain competitive and achieve a professional quality in your presentation documents, do your homework and select a product that will suit your needs now and for the future.

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