Managing estimating for security system designs

Does your company estimate and install security systems?

If so, you’re probably kept quite busy managing estimates in order to keep up a steady flow of booked jobs. As with any sort of estimating, it can be a challenging balancing act.

You need to devote enough time to the estimating process so that you’re able to turn out accurate, timely estimates that win you the contract. At the same time, many estimators in security companies don’t solely do estimating as part of their job. There’s often an aspect of being on the tools too, so you need to balance estimating time with production time.

Creating an efficient system for managing the estimating can help you to strike the balance that is needed. Here’s what you need to consider:

Get our checklist for improving security system estimates here

What do you factor into your estimates?

There are a number of things that a security system estimator needs to factor into the calculations for an estimate. The most obvious is the materials that you need to use to build the system. You need to know that you’ve got correct measurements and requirements so that your materials estimate is accurate.

This isn’t always as obvious as it might sound. One thing to pay attention to is whether the job appears to be typical of projects you’ve completed before or not. Does it seem to add up when you look it over?

A mistake that has come back to bite many companies is when specific structural issues aren’t taken into account. Perhaps you need to run extra wiring due to features of the structure, or perhaps there will be other complexities involved, such as areas that require extra time because they are difficult to get to. (You’ve probably met those jobs where you find you need to get behind an existing concrete block wall!)

Extra time eats into your labour costs, which is another key factor in your estimate. It’s also another area that is at risk of being underestimated. You need to have all of the details about the project at your disposal. Just for example, if you’re installing a system at a current business, will you be able to do so during business hours? If not, you’re going to need to factor in any additional payment required for team members who work after-hours or weekends.

It’s important to nail down the details, such as the conditions of the installation and the availability of the building, before settling on an estimate.

Estimating for security system

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How do you present proposals?

Presentation goes a long way toward winning tenders for security systems. Many companies will request that you follow a specific template when you put a bid together, so make sure you use it if this is the case. Typically, they prefer the template because it is structured in a way that they like and allows them to easily compare bids, side by side.

If there is no template provided, consider having a tidy template that you use as a company standard. This ensures consistency and helps to make sure you’re not leaving out any important pieces of information.

Consider any extra information that you might need to include which will help your prospect to make a decision. For example, will they need audio and/or video monitoring? If so, an AV proposal is appropriate to include. You would need to consider whether a security office is to be set up, and what is involved in cabling back to the office. Another consideration is whether it is a business type or in an area that is at-risk for vandalism or break-ins. It may be worth providing pricing for armoured cabling to prevent wires from being cut if so.

A clear breakdown of any costings is important to establish trust with the prospect. Show your calculations and define what any fees mean. People like to know exactly what they’re paying for, rather than having a vague notion of a “fee.”

Another important section to be very transparent about is any terms or conditions of your proposal. What are the inclusions and exclusions? Are there any assumptions made which should be spelled out for the prospect? You should also include any terms that you have, such as deposit requirements and account conditions. For example, perhaps you offer a discount for early payment, or add on fees for late payments. If you have requirements around lead time for getting the project started, these are also important to communicate clearly.

How are estimates typically managed?

When we’re talking about efficient systems for managing your security estimate, we have to consider how estimates are typically managed. There are a few common ways:

1. Pen and paper. The truly old-school method is using pen and paper out in the field. Estimators usually use some kind of carbon-copy pad to write out what is included in the estimate. The plus side of this is that a very experienced estimator may be able to produce an estimate very quickly on-the-spot. A distinct minus is that this method is very prone to error.

It’s easy to make estimating errors when all of your work is done on paper. If you’re not using a clear template, you might miss important parts of the estimate. It’s also very easy for paper copies to get lost, typically right when the client calls you back!

Another consideration is that if anything needs re-working, you often have to re-do the entire paper. A paper copy has to be stored in one place, so it is less transparent when it comes to sharing information with those who need to see it. It also requires physical storage, which involves office space and filing cabinets.

In companies where paper estimating is used, there is often an aspect of double-handling too. Costs are often taken from the paper and manually entered into an accounting system, which is not the most efficient use of time.

Lastly, consider the look and professionalism of paper. If your estimator’s handwriting is somewhere up there with a doctor’s note, it may not be the best look!

2. Excel spreadsheets. A lot of estimators still use Excel spreadsheets, a more modern, but nonetheless dated method. An advantage of spreadsheets is that they’re saved on a system, so are harder to lose. If you’re using the cloud-based version of Microsoft Office, this is even better because files are automatically saved to the cloud, as are any updates to those files.

Spreadsheets allow for some level of customisation of your estimates, and can help you to create a professional appearance. They can involve a fair amount of back-office labour however, as materials and numbers are manually added.

A disadvantage of spreadsheets is that they can be cumbersome to manage, and you’re still going to enter information manually. For example, many estimators will count materials on a drawing using a highlighter, then enter the numbers into a spreadsheet. To double-check their counts, they have to re-count on the drawing.Estimating for security system3. Automated estimating software. Software that can automate the counting of take-offs on your drawings has some distinct advantages. Estimates can be completed very quickly and accurately, without labourious manual counts of drawings.

A potential disadvantage is that you usually pay a monthly fee for access to a cloud-based software, however this can be more than compensated for by savings in time and improvements in accuracy. When choosing a software, you’ll also need to check that it has the features that you need for your particular line of work.

A good estimating software, such as Countfire, helps you to easily check your estimate and points out any areas you may have missed. You can especially see the advantage of this if you’re pricing a large or multi-storey building. If there are any revisions made to drawings, Countfire will automatically count again, based on a new drawing you upload.

The cloud-based system means that estimators can work from anywhere, and it is easy to store and share work. Automated estimating software can be a competitive advantage, allowing you to work more efficiently and put together more accurate bids.

Download our quick checklist for strong security system estimates here

Managing estimates for security system installations doesn’t have to be a headache – find an efficient, repeatable system that works for you.

If you’d like to know more about how Countfire can help you to produce timely, accurate estimates, contact us here.

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