How Electrical Bidding Software Works (and How It Can Increase Your Bottom Line)

September 3rd, 2020
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As their competitors become more efficient and tech-forward, electrical service businesses are increasingly cognizant of the fact that it’s growing harder and harder to maintain — let alone grow — market share without a solution for consistently generating accurate estimates

This stems from an unfortunate pattern that the industry experts on our team have long been aware of: 

For electrical contractors, more business doesn’t always add up to bigger profit margins. For many, in fact, it actually results in a reduced bottom line.

In most cases, we’ve found that small business owners that have this experience simply aren’t pricing their services correctly. Sometimes the main trouble is sales-related — flubbed labor rates or material pricing, let’s say. Other times it’s admin-related: disorganized job orders, bid management, or material lists. Whatever the case, the result is more or less the same: the more work they take on, the more difficult it is to consistently execute bidding properly, and the more money they end up losing.

Electrical contractors who find themselves in this position generally don’t have a well-defined process for creating estimates — a system that they know will give them an exact view of the time, costs, and margins for every job, and which ensures that they bid appropriately.      

Fortunately, this is an area where a service software solution can be especially helpful. In this article, we’ll show precisely how a product like ServiceTitan’s electrical software can help business owners perfect their estimating system — one that guarantees that more work results in greater rewards. 

Specifically, we’ll explain: 

  • The challenges inherent with traditional estimates

  • How ServiceTitan’s bidding-related features work (and how it connects the bidding process to other areas of a service business)

  • Stand-alone electrical contractor bidding software options

Want to see ServiceTitan in action? Schedule a call with us to learn more about how our software can help grow your business.  

The Challenges (and Subsequent Headaches) Involved with the Traditional Estimating Process

Using a pen, paper, a clipboard, and perhaps a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to do bidding is commonplace for many electrical contracting businesses. And for some, manual estimates continue to work just fine. The trouble is that, no matter how long a pen-and paper estimating program has been in use, it can create opportunities for things to go wrong. 

This is especially true if a contractor has more than a couple of trucks, or if they’re trying to grow their small business beyond a couple of trucks. So before we get into how electrical bidding software works, it’s worth briefly reviewing some of the more cumbersome elements of the traditional bidding process. 

We’ve found that common issues tend to fall into four basic categories: 

1. Organization

Electrical contractors have a lot to keep track of. There are today’s estimates, repairs, and installations, as well as bids delivered yesterday, the day before that, and those that remain unsold from a couple of weeks back (that really ought to get another follow-up). 

There are parts on backorder, requiring some appointments to be rescheduled — perhaps with new techs assigned to them. And on a majority of fresh calls, techs are dealing with equipment and hardware that is at least partially hidden in walls or ceilings, complicating the task of delivering an accurate estimate.     

No matter how talented the techs, managers, and customer service reps, trying to keep track of all of these elements manually is often a recipe for trouble. With numerous customers to juggle — each with their own hardware, equipment, and timelines — techs can sometimes make mistakes in documenting key details of a job, or in not quite relaying them in full to their support team back at the office. In other instances, details are lost via simple miscommunication during a phone call. 

Now that every cell phone has a camera, diligent techs will often try to keep things straight by taking photos during a home visit. But when they’re going on five or more calls a day, and taking photos at each site, the images are very easy to mix up.   

To make matters worse, paper records can easily get lost or destroyed in the course of the workday. By necessity, electrical techs store paperwork in their truck — the same truck that contains greasy tools, spilled coffee, and leftovers from last Friday’s lunch. Put simply: it tends to be a less than ideal location to keep important documents. 

As a result, techs sometimes end up with no record of a home visit, or of a proposal they’ve already delivered: what price they quoted, what costs were included in that price, or the specs the customer asked for. 

Without going back to the customer for a reminder on what they proposed, or were asked to propose — an embarrassing prospect — a tech in this position has no way of following through. With all that’s going on, it’s no surprise that many electrical techs (and/or office employees) have trouble regularly following up on unsold bids. 

With pen-and paper estimates — unless the tech has a phenomenal memory, or a very effective reminder system — tracking and pursuing all of the outstanding bids in their portfolio, even as they handle new jobs, can be a truly daunting task.             

2. Presentation

In order to deliver estimates as quickly as possible, some electrical contractors have their techs draw them up in their truck before leaving a customer’s home. This policy has the advantage of placing the business owner’s company near the front of the line when it comes time for a homeowner to consider competing bids. But it can also have the effect of appearing messy and unprofessional (especially compared to the clean digital proposals people may have received from competing services). 

Silly as it might seem, sub-optimal bid presentation can cause potential customers to go with the competitor, even if they’re charging more for the service. Professional presentation simply instills more trust in customers, and therefore helps win more of them.  

3. Miscalculation

As we suggested above, the pen-and-paper method invites numerous opportunities for human error. A tech might fail to mention one detail or another to their CSR when they speak to them over the phone, for example, or mistake cell phone photos from one home for photos of another. They might forget to write something down, lose their notes, or overlook hardware elements essential to the job at hand. 

Errors like these, which are easy to make, can result in severe miscalculations when it comes time to put together an estimate.  Miscalculations, in turn, can have serious negative consequences:

  • When a tech fails to account in an estimate for time, parts, equipment, or all of the above, their employer can lose money on the job. When this pattern repeats itself, contractors end up in the situation we described earlier in this article, wherein they find themselves becoming less successful as they do more business.  

  • On the other hand, overestimating a job can place a contractor’s bid out of the running — either by exceeding a customer’s budget, making the contractor appear greedy, dishonest, or both. Whatever the case, it means revenue unnecessarily lost due to faulty bidding.

  • Less tangibly, a haphazard estimating process can make an electrical contractor appear unprofessional or even downright sloppy, damaging their reputation in a way that might ultimately hurt their bottom line as negative word-of-mouth limits their referral business.

More often than one might think, due to mix ups with estimates, we’ve seen contractors actually install the wrong equipment on a job, costing their company losses in some of the same categories we mentioned above: man hours, equipment expenses, reputational damage. 

And there are, of course, lots of opportunities for error in the manual calculation of an estimate. This becomes especially true in a busy office, where employees are overwhelmed with paperwork for many jobs at once. It’s easy to make simple adding mistakes, mix up material prices, parts, labor units and labor rates, or even to botch data entry. 

4. Timing

Traditional estimating takes a lot of man hours. By streamlining their process for creating bids, electrical contractors can save time, freeing up their techs to spend more time fixing and selling, and less time looking at spreadsheets and filling out forms. By the same token, contractors who delegate estimates to other employees, like a service manager, can boost their in-office efficiency — and thereby improve their bottom line.     

Another important issue to consider is that by creating a delay between a company’s visit to a home and the arrival of an estimate, the manual approach can make an electrical contractor less competitive in their market.

People are busy. If they’re going to take off work to address an electrical project at their home, chances are, they’re going to try to make the most of their time by arranging appointments with a handful of contractors, and quickly making a decision about whom to hire. Companies with a bidding process that allows them to provide a clean, clear estimate on the same day of their home visit therefore give themselves a huge advantage over contractors who take an extra couple days to send along their own bids — even if those estimates are lower and/or fairer. In other words: the best bid doesn’t always win.  

How ServiceTitan’s Electrical Bidding Feature Works (In the Context of Our End-to-End Service Business Software)

There are a number of standalone software solutions for electrical estimating on the market — products that are largely specific to estimating alone. We understand that these might be appropriate for some electrical contracting shops, and so we will take a closer look at a few of them below. 

But the trouble with point solutions for electrical estimating is that they tend to leave electricians with a host of challenges to solve. Contractors who go with a software product that focuses on estimating alone, after all, have addressed just one portion of their operations. They’re still going to need solutions to handle all the other elements of their business — like payroll, dispatching, and call booking, just to name a few.

They might choose to do this with traditional methods, or with other software products. Either way, having a hodgepodge of solutions, rather than one, integrated system generates possibilities for costly problems: 

  • The notion that a suite of (otherwise disconnected) software products can work seamlessly together is a nice idea, but it often turns out to be just that: an idea. And when software solutions fail to communicate as advertised, chaos can frequently ensue.    

  • As we’ve emphasized in this article, electrical techs have a lot to keep track of. Adding a collection of software products, each with its own password, to their already full plates, is a surefire recipe for additional confusion. It’s not uncommon, for example, for employees to forget or mix up passwords, locking them out of one or more subscriptions — and obstructing essential job functions.

  • Similarly, shifting over the course of the day between software solutions and manual hold-overs can end up creating more headaches for an electrical contracting shop than if they’d stuck to using old-school methods alone.  

Early in this article, we noted that when electrical contractors end up losing money as they do more business, it’s often because they don’t have a well-defined process for estimates — a system to give them a precise understanding of the time, costs, and margins for every job, and which ensures that they bid appropriately. And the truth is, contractors who go with a patchwork approach frequently end up in this very same boat.     

The most effective electrical estimators carefully follow a holistic, well-defined project management process. It’s no surprise, then, that in our experience, many of the most successful contractors use an end-to-end solution like ServiceTitan to act as their electrical bid manager.

ServiceTitan offers much the same tools that the best point solutions for electrical estimating software provide:

  • User-friendly, tailor-made catalogues of equipment, hardware, wiring devices, templates, assemblies, and services, allowing for easy change orders.

  • Price lists that remove math errors from the bidding process and facilitate painless invoicing and work order creation.  

  • Illustrated product descriptions to minimize material mixups. 

  • Customer-facing presentations with good, better, best options devised to nudge up average ticket prices. 

  • Proposals — customizable with brand logo and other personalized info — that techs can generate in PDF and deliver in real time during home visits.

ServiceTitan is designed to integrate estimating seamlessly into this process, ensuring that the bids contractors provide to customers are merely the public-facing representation of top-notch internal operations, and helping contractors take each job smoothly (and profitably) from bid to completion. This starts before a tech even arrives at a home. 

Many of our contractors use ServiceTitan’s alert function to give their customers a definite window for their appointment, so that when their tech gets there, they don’t feel as though they’ve been made to waste their time waiting around — and they’re more likely to be open to hearing a sales pitch. 

Similarly, electrical techs can depend on ServiceTitan to furnish them with abundant information about every customer they visit. The software will actually provide them with audio from each homeowner’s conversation with their CSR. That way, by the time they arrive, they’ve already educated themselves in detail about what to expect, and they can proceed from inspection to estimate as efficiently and confidently as possible.      

ServiceTitan subscribers can use the software to guarantee that these latter portions of the call — that is, the execution — go smoothly, too. Using automated digital checklists, contractors can require their techs to proceed through a series of prescribed steps: conducting preliminary investigations behind walls or in ceilings, taking measurements, locating key structural elements, asking about homeowner needs, and the like.   

The software will allow them to move on to the next part of the home visit only when all previous required steps have been completed. This feature ensures that estimates account for each and every vital detail, drastically reducing the incidence of error-marred bids. Since ServiceTitan is a holistic solution, integrating operations in the field and at the office, techs, CSRs, and their employers can also rest assured that no vital data was dropped as a result of miscommunication or faulty cell phone service.  

Many of our partners use ServiceTitan after estimates have been delivered, as well, setting up alerts that keep them on top of follow ups, and using the software to quickly and securely collect payment when jobs are complete.

Point Solutions for Electrical Estimating Software

For all of the reasons mentioned above, and many more, we believe that the best electrical estimating software is holistic electrical service software. Still, we know some electricians don’t want to get too modern too quickly. Others — at least for now — just concentrated on addressing estimating-related issues, or are especially interested in takeoff software. There are quite a few point solutions for electrical estimates on the market, from companies like ConEst, Accubid, and McCormick Systems. 

So as promised, we’ll review three software solutions currently on the market that are focused on bidding alone.

TurboBid

Designed for use by both plumbing and electrical contractors, TurboBid offers affordable software that can create estimates both for individual projects and flat-rate service work. Prioritizing user-friendliness, TurboBid comes with an interface designed to help users get the most out of the software, as well as a variety of live tutorials and support options.

Vision InfoSoft

Like TurboBid, Vision InfoSoft serves both electricians and plumbers. Their product includes thousands of assemblies, a couple of million electrical components from more than 100 materials catalogues, and a bid analysis tool that allows business owners to adjust profit, overhead, materials and labor costs. Catering to contractors specializing in small, medium, and large jobs, Vision InfoSoft comes in three versions: Classic, Plus, and Pro.

Esticom

Esticom has greater scope than the first two products we discussed in this section, offering estimating software for trades including HVAC, fire and sprinkling, and painting — in addition to plumbing and electric. But that doesn’t mean they don’t offer plenty of electrical contracting-specific features. With Esticom, electricians can deploy features for construction takeoff, electrical takeoff, job management, branded quote creation, and markup tools, as well as access an extensive electrical materials database. Esticom comes in both monthly and annual subscriptions.        

Conclusion

While it’s true that standalone estimating software can sometimes help electrical contractors avoid some of the hazards of pen-and-paper bidding, it’s also the case that estimate-specific software can result in brand new issues. 

Not infrequently, contractors who opt for point solutions for electrical estimating find that what they have is a patchwork of half-coordinated shortcuts, rather than an integrated and well-defined management system. It’s an approach that can leave them vulnerable, open to myriad opportunities for the ball to drop, and for things to go off track. 

In our experience, contractors who adopt an end-to-end software solution like ServiceTitan find themselves in a much better position. With a tool like ServiceTitan, many contractors find it easier and more efficient to maintain an effective, holistic process for electrical estimates — one which ensures they have an exact understanding of the time, costs, and profits for every job, and which guarantees that they price bids correctly every time.

Want to see ServiceTitan in action? Schedule a call with us to learn more about how our software can help grow your business.

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