How to Give an Estimate: Dos and Don'ts

The estimation process is easily the most important part of securing a job. A thoughtful, well...

The estimation process is easily the most important part of securing a job. A thoughtful, well written, and professional appearing estimate can help a contractor secure a big job even if his bid isn’t the lowest. In this case, it really is the presentation that matters.


When you’re writing up an estimate, do:

  • Give Good Customer Service-Just because you know what every word on the estimate means doesn’t mean your customer does. Explain any technical sounding parts or materials so your customer knows exactly what’s what. This will also make you appear more honest and create a sense of trust between you and the homeowner.
  • Account for Miscellaneous Items-It goes without saying that building a house will require nails, right? Wrong. By including all miscellaneous items you’ll need for the job in the initial estimate, you can be sure you’re giving the most accurate assessment of the costs as possible.
  • Provide an Estimate In Writing (In 2 Forms)-For obvious reasons, homeowners prefer an estimate in writing. They also far and away prefer a professional looking estimate in writing. Using Excel to create the estimate in a grid formation is a clean and easy way to keep your estimate looking great and ensuring mathematical accuracy. It’s also a good idea to offer to send a digital copy of the estimate so the customer always has a backup in case the hard copy is lost or destroyed.
  • Utilize Technology-Use a free project calculator to help you write your estimate. This of course should not be the whole basis of your estimate, but it is a useful tool to help you get a ballpark figure.
  • Itemize Your Estimate- Itemizing your estimate allows the customer to see what the costs will be for parts, materials, labor, permits, etc. This will serve to reinforce the trust being built between you and the client, as an itemized list shows that you’re willing to stand behind your estimates of time and material costs.

 On the other hand, when writing up an estimate don’t:

  • Lowball to get the Job- This is not only dishonest, but will certainly come back to bite you when the project cost goes over the estimate. It will also make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s not a good look for any business.
  • Cut Corners To Lower Costs-Listing and using cheap materials pretty much guarantees an unhappy customer. If the customer asks you to use the least expensive material possible, then by all means do so. If they don’t, use whatever you normally use but alert them to the fact that there are lower cost options out there.
  • Be Afraid To Say No-Sometimes it’s simply impossible for you to accept a job. In some cases it’s because it requires specialized knowledge or equipment. In other cases, it’s because you’re simply too busy. Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to tell a homeowner you can’t commit. They’ll appreciate that much more than being led on to the point of firing you. When you have to turn down a job, it’s a good idea to refer them to a company you’ve worked with in the past ho has earned your trust.

These dos and don’ts for estimates are a great way to ensure that your estimating process is as successful as possible. Remember that how you present yourself, your manner of speech, and your level of courtesy will all be huge factors in the decision of the homeowner, so it pays to be polite and well groomed. Most importantly, a professional appearance and a professional estimate are the most important parts of securing any job.