There are probably just as many different ways to run and manage a construction company as there are general contractors who run them. That's why selecting the right estimating software program can be a challenge - an estimating method that suits one contractor may be of no value to another. But that dilemma sums up exactly what you should look for in construction estimating software - flexibility. A software program that can be customized to fit the needs of your specific company and your personal management style is truly a valuable tool, no matter what your style.
But before we discuss customization, let's take a look at some of the basic characteristics you will need to evaluate when selecting a construction estimating program.
Ease of Use
Is the program user-friendly? Construction estimating software, by nature, is complex. Many programs have tutorials, online help, training classes and online demonstrations for support. Be sure the product you are considering offers support by your preferred means.
How large is your company? Is your contracting business a one-man-show or do you employ a full-time estimator? Your company size will help dictate the complexity of the program you should use - if you manage a small contracting business you should consider a program that's simple. You're probably not spending much of your time on bids and so can't afford to go through a learning curve every time you have to get a bid out. Larger companies with full-time estimators have more manpower available to invest in creating bids and so, if this is the size of your business, you would be wise to purchase a sophisticated program since your estimator can invest the time to learn to use the program's powerful features and also will become faster at cranking out accurate bids with consistent use.
Work crews can also be set up to take advantage of this timesaving feature when creating a bid. Centralized cost books allow you to import national and regional cost information as well as organize and store all your cost information for the various items of a bid. For example, you can insert a set cost for labor, material, subcontractors, equipment, man-hours and other factors. These can easily be changed whenever necessary.
Report generating capabilities will allow you to print out forms for the client, including contracts, change order forms, cost breakdowns and many others. These interactive versions of the forms on the computer also allow you to track jobs and costs so that with one click of the mouse you can instantly track how quickly jobs are progressing and how close you are to your cost estimate. Some programs have built in interfaces which allow the program to interact with popular accounting and bookkeeping programs.
The most valuable feature in a construction estimating program is its ability to adapt to your individual needs easily. Can you customize an assembly and cost book to your company's way of doing business? Are you able to change the formulas used for calculating to your way of specific preferences? Can you customize your work crews, pay scales, costs per item and your markup levels? Is the program expandable? Can you incorporate existing accounting software or will you need to replace it?
From my perspective as a general contractor, a program that I can bend to fit my needs is an asset I can't work without. Customization is perhaps the most important factor when considering software, even more so than cost and ease of use, because an adaptable program will pay for itself and be easier to use accurately.
No program can guarantee you success in winning every contract you bid on, but a program that you have been able to customize to your company's specific needs will buy you peace of mind when you do win because you will stay close to budget since all your bases are covered in your bid.
View a side-by-side comparison of Construction Estimating Software.