I wish I had a nickel for every time a remodeler told me that if they only had better estimating software, they could handle more leads, produce more quotes, and make more money.

They may be right, but in my world there are two kinds of estimating -- the kind you do before you sell the job, and the kind you do after you have a contract in hand. When you talk about estimating software, which kind are you talking about?

Presale. This is when you think about whether this project is a good fit for you -- it's not the time to stay up all night counting how many joist hangers or wire nuts you'll need if you get the job.

A good presales estimating system will take advantage of super-fast unit cost pricing (preferably based on your own past projects) and will plug those numbers into some proposal templates that you can quickly customize to fit the situation at hand. The whole process should take minutes, not days.

Postsale. Congratulations, you got the job. Now it's time to do that detailed take-off so you can order materials and line out the job. A good postsale estimating system will provide checklists and visual feedback so you don't miss anything. It will also assist you in producing the RFQs (requests for quotes), purchase/work orders, buy-out agreements, and even the scheduling you'll need to get your employees, subs, and suppliers all marching in step.

In Part Two next month, we'll look at a few estimating products available for remodelers and examine how each might fit your operation and your needs. --Joe Stoddard is a technology consultant to the building industry. Contact him at jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com.