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A Quick Look at Free Estimating Software Packages

by Chris Lee | December 22nd, 2016

When you're trying to cut expenses, free electrical estimating software packages can be a very tempting proposition. Instead of having to pay for a program to do your estimating, you get a free program that helps you run your business. But what features should you look for in your estimating software, what's in the currently available packages and how do you get the most out of every minute of your office time? Here are some things to keep in mind when looking at estimating software packages.

A Quick Look at Free Estimating Software Packages

What Do You Need in Your Estimating Software?

When it all comes down to it, estimating software exists to help you create professional estimates. The software may, however, also have certain failings that you should be aware of before you invest a great deal of time and energy into setting up that system. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Is the software compatible with other programs you use? If it isn't, you'll need to take into account the amount of time and labor it will require to manually enter that information into the other programs, such as accounting and word processing capabilities.
  • Is the software focused on your specific specialization within construction? Though it's great to have paid nothing for your software, it can be frustrating if you have to go through 52 entries for boxes for tools just to find the entry dealing with boxes for new electrical outlets.
  • Is the software easy to use and does it have technical support available? Some of the free software packages cost nothing, but you'd need to be a computer genius to figure out how to put the software together and make it work for your business.
  • Does the software have all the features you need to get the job done? If you have three separate estimating software packages, you'll have to transfer a lot of additional information across, which leads to a significant investment of time and labor.

The Free Software Packages

It should be noted that these “free” packages do still cost something, whether it's having advertising on the screen, a payment for printing an estimate, limitations on advanced features until you purchase an advanced license or requesting a donation when you win a bid. Here are a few packages to consider.
  • Estimate: This is a fairly robust piece of open source software, but it still has some issues in terms of hidden costs. It provides a costing database, project management tools, document management, detailed PDF reports and is fully customizable. However, to install the estimating software, you'll need a computer tech and may also need server space to keep the program, depending on how you want to set up the software.
  • Easy Pro Builders Estimator: This spreadsheet-based software package provides specific spreadsheets for 24 different trades and has formulas in place for automating time, material and tax figures. The software developer requests a donation of 0.01% of every bid you win using this software package.
  • Estimator Application: This is a spreadsheet-based estimation software package that has the absolute basics and no frills. It has a decent cost library, ability to export and import from Excel, generates proposals and does cost calculations. Unfortunately, it doesn't include much in terms of instruction and it will take some serious time investments to get a good grasp of how the software is supposed to work.
  • IScope: Specifically designed by an insurance adjuster, this type of estimating software works decently because of the similarities between the process of insurance adjustment and electrical estimating. You can adjust price by dollar amount or percentage, which works well for last minute revisions to an estimate. However, you will be limited to the program's capabilities.
  • PlanViewer: As the free version of On-Screen Takeoff, this provides plan viewing, plan notation and take off capabilities that are missing in several of the previous packages. You can view a number of different file formats, take measurements and do your counts, but if you want to save your information, you'll have to pony up for On-Screen Takeoff's full version.
  • VU360: This plan viewer and takeoff tool allows you to take measurements, perform your counts and add notations to the plans. You can also change your view to pan, rotate and tilt to find the perfect angle on the plans while being able to export into XML and Excel. Regular access is allowed to tutorial videos and the setup guide, while a strong push to join the Blue Book Network to pay for the software.
Though free estimating software can seem like a great deal, you'll want to read between the lines to figure out whether you'll have to pay for more advanced features, to print or to get rid of advertising within the software, some of which could potentially include malware or viruses. The other concern to keep in mind is whether these programs will have all the features you need or if they will work well with other software to help you create an integrated office automation system. Many electrical contractors find that despite the fact that paid software costs money, that money is often more than made up when less time is required in the office because your automation system is working well and allowing you to remain in the field. If you're shopping for software, Esticom's comprehensive estimating software gives you advanced capabilities, including completely customizable estimating documents that can be exported into Word or Excel, easier takeoffs and a shorter estimating processes, as well as the option to export your pricing data directly into QuickBooks online, reducing back office work and your overhead. It's time to see the difference a comprehensive electrical estimating software package makes in your business. Please feel free to contact us so you can sign up for a free trial of Esticom's comprehensive software with no credit card required.
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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