The Dos & Don’ts Of Estimates

Though every job is different, contractors should be willing and ready to provide estimates to their customers. Knowing what to present and how to present them can be tricky, especially when you’re trying to land the job.

Providing an estimate can be the hardest part of the business. Your estimate needs to be high enough to make a profit, but low enough to win the job. These tips below will help you create a good estimate and win the job.

Do: Provide Great Customer Service

To gather information on the project, you’ll need to have a conversation with the customer. Some clients are already aware of what they need and can provide you with information over the phone. However, it’s always a good idea to see the job in person, as customers can leave out important details. In all situations, this is your first impression with the client, so you’ll want to provide them with great customer service.

It’s important to arrive or call on time, as scheduled. Or, if you’re running late, call and let the customer know. This shows your potential customer that you’re reliable and increases your chances of landing the bid. Ask as many questions as possible to try and get the best idea of what they’re looking for. You can provide them with a quick estimate, but take the time to add up the costs in a written estimate. Send it to them for their review.


Don’t: Be Afraid to Account for Miscellaneous Items     

When making your calculations for the estimate, don’t forget about the little things. These tend to add up if not accounted for and will make for a very unhappy customer. As much as you want to keep costs low, try to account for as many miscellaneous items as possible, such as dumpsters or permits. The closer you come to your estimate when the job is complete, the better chance you have at achieving another loyal customer.

There are many ways to evaluate an estimate and you may already know a few. One really easy, simple method is known as the “stick method.” This consists of creating a complete list of materials, down to the very last “stick,” as well as labor and miscellaneous costs. Add them up and there is your estimate. This method tends to work best for smaller jobs, usually under $5,000.

For larger jobs remodeling jobs, use estimates from related previous projects to help account for the total cost. Though every project will be different, it may come close to another remodel or build you may have done. Go over these total costs and compare to the current job.

To help with your estimate, many of the big box stores have project calculators you can use online. This makes it easy to quickly add up how much material is necessary and what the costs will be.


Do: Provide An Estimate in Writing

Even if you quoted a price verbally to the customer over the phone or in person, be sure to include an estimate in writing. This is beneficial to you as well as the customer, as you both now have an idea of what is required on both ends of the project. The customer can also visually see costs and evaluate your estimate. This also avoids confusion on the agreed cost of the job later on.

You can print it out, deliver it to them, or send via email. Either way, your client will be grateful.

Don’t: Be Afraid to Say No    

Harder than providing an estimate is knowing when it’s time to say no to a potential customer. No one ever wants to turn down the opportunity to make more money. However, if you receive a project that is just not in your skill set, or you can’t devote the time necessary to completing the project, respectfully decline and if possible, refer someone else you know to the job.

Customers will give you a call back when they have a project that is right for you or pass your name along to others they know. This is a great way to generate leads, even if you can’t take the job you were called in for. Knowing when to say no is a difficult thing to do, but can mean better business for you in the end.


Do: Use Technology to Help

Technology provides an opportunity to go above and beyond in your estimate. Create a template in excel or word, depending on the method you choose to use, to easily plug in items and costs. The program will then do the math for you. You’ll save time and provide a more accurate estimate to your potential client.

Keep an iPad with you as you arrive for your consultation to take notes and quickly evaluate the project on the spot. By keeping a template in excel or word on your iPad, you can provide real-time estimates that will put you ahead of the rest.


Estimates are key to winning the business. Remember, providing an estimate is not a favor, but part of the service you provide. Estimates act as a roadmap to the final contract and add clarity for both you and the customer. It should show a win-win outcome for both you and the customer. By utilizing some of the above, you’re sure to win the bid and develop new, loyal customers.

What do you think is important in an estimate? Share in the comments below.