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Excel and Estimating Do Not Mix

by Chris Lee | October 15th, 2019
When contractors trust Excel spreadsheets for estimating, they open themselves up too many problems. Mainly because basic Excel spreadsheets and the free estimate templates floating around online with a quick google search are not designed with construction in mind. So, although it may appear to be easy and affordable to use, it’s likely costing construction estimators time and money in ways they don’t even realize. If you’ve been using Excel spreadsheets for estimating, then these most common problems will feel familiar to you:
  • Lack of estimator-specific functions requires time-consuming customization
  • Unable to collaborate and track changes made by other team members
  • Can be quick to outgrow as you bid jobs, add multiple users, and deal with debugging issues
  • Mistakes in formulas and human error can run rampant, causing drastic discrepancies in calculations which are difficult to detect

Accuracy is Essential

Calculations are easy to perform using Excel, but a small slip of human error can wreak havoc on the simplest estimates --- and the mistake can be hard to detect or fix. That’s because the formulas you’ll need to build into your spreadsheet template can be easily altered, whether by accident or on purpose, and any errors in those formulas will cause significant discrepancies in your calculations. This vulnerability to data entry error is a critical issue that’s compounded as the quantity and complexity of your formulas increases. The errors will be more frequent and costly. These are the very numbers impacting your profitability and sales price and no amount of good project management can make up for a big miss! Why trust that to a basic Excel spreadsheet or free template? Getting the numbers right can make all the difference between winning or losing a bid — and being profitable on a project. When you choose construction estimating software like Esticom, calculations for materials, labor, equipment, taxes, profit margin, bonds, line items, insurance, and other costs forming your sales price are automatic and flow right into a PDF quote template for customer distribution. This means you can avoid much human error mishaps with Excel spreadsheet formulas and streamline building a customer facing quote in PDF format versus opening Microsoft Word and building from scratch or using google to find a proposal template. Furthermore, Excel spreadsheets do not account for dynamic cost data typical in cost estimates, related uncertainties, or historical information – important to construction projects and lacking in Excel. With software designed for construction estimating, you’re able to reuse historical data, and securely share information on projects with various project stakeholders i.e. project management, owners and general contractors. That’s incredibly powerful. When you’re going to estimate as a team that has to work together, be aware that Excel has limited multi-user features. In comparison to traditional estimating programs or Excel, Esticom leverages the power of the cloud to enable team collaboration and everyone on the same page from estimating the final sales price to ensuring project management has their required scope of work laid out in easy to understand terms. It's very difficult to do this in an Excel template or estimate form. 

Eye on Growth

Savvy construction companies and contractors always have an eye on growth. So, when you get to the point that you don’t have the time or depth of team to maintain and verify the integrity of your data, then you require better technology that allows you to scale cost-effectively. You won’t find what you need in Excel – it simply isn’t big or powerful enough to properly handle multiple estimators and complicated calculations, and won’t provide the valuable standardization of estimating across your company – nor will it effectively integrate with other office functions to streamline your operations.

Outgrowing Excel

Contractors live by the code ‘use the right tool for the job’ – and that rings true for estimating as well. If you’re using Excel to build cost estimates, it’s only a matter of time before you run a serious risk of reduced profitability and competitive disadvantage. While using Excel spreadsheets may feel familiar and fast, that comes with a price and you’ll pay in lost bids, lost revenue, and wasted time. It’s wise to consider alternatives before a problem with accuracy, scalability, or customizations with no support becomes an impediment to your success and growth. Estimating software designed to meet the needs of construction companies will help you improve speed, precision, profitability and improve the reputation of your company name.
Chris Lee
Chris Lee has an extensive background in preconstruction management as a former specialty contractor and business owner. As the Chief Estimator at Esticom, he’s helped thousands of specialty contractors digitize their preconstruction process to increase revenue and profitability while decreasing unnecessary overhead.

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