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My Do’s & Don’ts for Estimating

I am constantly asked what is the right way to estimate a job. Unfortunately, there is no single answer. Different companies focus on different services, crew size/structure, and tier of customer. I was fortunate at the time to be working for a company that allowed room for the learning curve, and a leader and mentor that guided me. 

I was always very analytical and was persistent in finding that great balance between sales and operations. However, that does not mean I was always right, and my team was ALWAYS sure to let me know I messed up. I have listed some do’s and don’ts below so you can avoid some of the lessons I had to learn myself.


1. Keep it simple! As I mentioned before, I am a very analytical person which was a positive but in some cases a negative. I would easily get bogged down in the tasks from a customer, or how I would structure the contract. Take your companies standard format and anything outside of it make a few additional notes. When it comes down to measuring and taking notes in the field, think to yourself, “will this make sense when I get back to the office?”

2. Use your own experiences. If you have prior field experience, USE IT! Don’t be afraid. Of course measure your bid site, but also take a step back and imagine performing the service.Where would you stage the truck? Would you break left or right? Does the sequence keep your team busy and efficient? I used this just about every time. Loop the property in your truck to get your bearings, then measure away!

3. Be observant! It took me a while to figure this out, but ask yourself, “what is the current contractor doing on this property?” Property managers will often list out in the RFP (Request for Proposal) anything that might be outside of the typical scope. Be sure to address those asks, but chances are they asked the previous contractor to maintain something that isn’t often  recognized. Often times I have seen natural areas, dumpsters, high traffic areas that may need additional hours. 

4.Consult your team! Yes, your accuracy will be tested if the job sells! Before your team gangs up on you to warn you of your mistake, be proactive. Ask them for a second opinion. Invite them to meet for lunch then sneak a ride-a-long in. They might notice things you may not, or have even worked with that property or property manager. No one will be mad at you for trying to get it right the first time. Never forget, feedback from the crew performing the job will always give you the best insights.

5. Check your efficiencies! Yes you are busy, everyone is. You HAVE TO check your efficiencies. Measuring and selling the job is only half the battle. You can be robbing your crew of time and never take time to improve your estimates going forward.Never forget, feedback from the crew performing the job will always give you the best insights.


1. Stop sitting in your truck! Yes, it is 2018 and there are plenty of great tools to help you measure remote. Either way get out of the truck! Use those tools to help you but you HAVE TO walk the property. 1. Time how long it takes to walk the property. It will give you a sense of how long it could take a crew. 2. How can you expect crews to get out and do the work in triple digit temps when you won’t?

2. Make sure you verify! It isn’t usually the case, but every once in a while I would get a property that we already bid, or a Property Manager would give us a hard-stop budget. Get out there and verify! You might disappoint a Property Manager or upset some one who quoted it before, but its better to be sure than to be dead wrong.

3. Stop Undercutting! Let’s be honest, there is enough undercutting in this industry. If the prospect isn’t willing to fork up the necessary cash…MOVE ON! If you take pride in your work, then sell the work you want! People will always want to be below budget, but bring realistic expectations and scope. If there is an opportunity to win more work with an account, be reasonable. I promise you, your going to want the ops team on your side.

4. Let the little things go! I am good at over analyzing, but eventually learned if you get jammed up on something, move on and come back to it. You will find that having another piece to the puzzle will help you solve a problem. Also keep in mind, no one has pulled a dollar out of their pocket yet. Estimates have to be accurate but not perfect. Don’t get hung up on something that hasn’t been addressed first. Verify your scope and your end game, then ask your self “is this one part significant?”

5. The sales pitch is not law. I hope my friends in the Business Development roll don’t hate me for this. Don’t allow a BD to over sell! This can be a huge mistake. Towards the tail end of my estimating days, I noticed I needed to be around for more pre-bid meetings, it’s crucial. I even do it now, but when it comes to sales, we really want to impress. Don’t be afraid to butt in and give realistic expectations. Commissions can cloud a common goal and leave the burden on ops.

At the end of the day, the goal is to win good work. Use your resources, consult your team, and measure twice and cut once! As you build a list of bids and estimates, learn from them. Your not the only one affected by your numbers. It easily spills out to your crews, managers, and business developers. Take your time and enjoy the position. This is a fairly uncommon and often forgot about role, make it yours!

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