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Handling Estimating in Security System Design

by Chris Lee | October 17th, 2016

When you work in security system design, it's inevitable that you're going to do a lot of estimates to keep work coming in on a regular basis. But how do you handle the process? It's easy to get caught up in spending a lot of time every week creating estimates, but what information is really needed and how do you manage the process to ensure you're minimizing your estimating time and maximizing your production time? Here are some tips to help you work through the process in security system design estimation.

What do you need to factor into your estimate?

When you're working on a low voltage proposal for a security system, there are some obvious things that need to be included, specifically time and materials. But is the structure you're designing for a typical construction? What kind of time is involved in dealing with specific structural issues? Will you need to run additional wiring if you're upgrading or expanding an existing system or is it already in place? You'll need to know what will be involved in the process to provide your prospect with the most accurate possible estimate. But beyond time, materials and specific structure and wiring issues, when is the building available for the installation? If you're working with a business or institution, they may have specific times that are better for the work to be done that may not work with regular daytime hours. Will you need to pay your crew extra for evening or night hours, weekends or holidays to meet the client's scheduling needs? It's important to get that information ahead of time to ensure you can include it in your estimate and not end up losing money or frustrating the client with additional costs once the job is underway.

Is there additional information you need to have on your proposal?

But there is some other information you can include that will help your prospect make a good decision. An AV proposal should be included if the prospect wants to add audio or video monitoring, including both the cost of the wire for powering the system as well as the cable or equipment needed to get the media back to the main security office for the facility. Is the facility in an area that has problems with vandalism? If so, you may want to look at adding an option for armored cable to prevent problems with cut wires down the road. Beyond that, you'll want to include your terms on the estimate so the prospect knows what to expect. Do you require a deposit? Who is responsible for damages caused by delays due to shipping of specialty items? Are you able to offer a discount for accounts paid within a certain time period? Are there fees added to late accounts? How much lead time do you need to get the project scheduled, designed and started? All these factors can play into your total overhead and are important to include on your initial estimate, if possible.

What are the different ways to manage your estimates?

There are any number of ways to manage your estimates. Some are good or bad, some are more or less efficient of your time. Here are a few that are fairly common:
  • Pen and paper in the field. Typically drafted using a two-part paper, these involve simply writing out what is included in the estimate. Unfortunately, it's also one of the least efficient and most likely to be lost when it's needed as a prospect calls back. It also takes significant time to look up the materials or risk underestimating material costs, and must then be entered into an accounting system, requiring significant overhead costs.
  • Excel spreadsheet and estimate printout. This involves typing out the information into a spreadsheet. It still involves having to look up material costs and must then be entered separately into the accounting system, making it a bit cumbersome, but less likely to be lost compared to paper estimates. It allows some avenues for customization and a more professional appearance, but still has higher overhead costs and additional back-office labor.
  • Professional estimating software. When you're using professional estimating solutions, you're often paying a small amount out for the service, but that fee is more than made up in the lower overhead costs. Good estimating solutions include an online database of costs that is maintained by the company providing the estimating software and the option to compare your estimate to the national averages. They also have easier takeoff options and can integrate with an accounting package to make transitioning from estimate to project management much easier. They should also include some form of export option for simply moving the information you've entered into a customizable document you can then email or print and deliver to your prospect. Cloud computing is becoming another popular option with this type of solution, allowing you to electronically fill out the information for the project on site and immediately deliver a copy to the prospect, eliminating delays site visit and proposal delivery.
Security system design estimating is vital to your business' income, but it can also strongly affect your profitability. If you're spending hours at the office looking up costs, recording it into a professional proposal template and then transferring that information into your accounting setup, you'll have a much higher overhead and fewer hours to spend on the job every week. To improve your profitability and the number of hours you can spend away from the office, you'll want to investigate digital estimating solutions. Esticom offers an automatically-updated database of costs, comparison against national averages for similar projects, easy export to a Word, Excel or PDF document and integration with QuickBooks Online. This drastically reduces your office time and back-office labor costs. Take a few minutes today to see what Esticom has to offer to help keep you in the field doing what you do best.
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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