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Quoting for Work: How To Write Job Estimates That Win

When you're in a service-oriented business, you need to be able to provide accurate, appealing quotes. Whether you're bidding on a commercial cleaning contract or a residential landscaping job, your quote is often the first formal point of interaction with a prospective client. The quality of that estimate can determine whether you win the job or lose out to a competitor.

In this article, we will look at how to quote for work in a way in that builds trust and conveys professionalism, and cover the following topics:

By the end, you'll have a solid foundation for creating winning job quotes that can elevate your business. If that sounds good, let's begin.

The Importance of a Good Job Estimate

When you're quoting for work, you're not just giving a price tag - you're providing a detailed proposal that outlines the scope of work, materials, labor, and any unique considerations for a project.

The Benefits of a Good Quote

A good job estimate will:

  • Ensure you cover all costs and secure a profit margin
  • Manage client expectations with a clear, detailed outline of exactly what will be done
  • Enhance your professional image and increase your chance of winning bids

Common Pitfalls of Poor Quoting Practices

Most seasoned tradespeople have felt the impact of a bad quote at one time or another. Common errors include:

  • Underestimating, which loses you money and requires uncomfortable conversations with clients about additional costs
  • Overestimating, which often puts you out of the running to win the work
  • Lack of detail, which leads to misunderstandings and disputes over the scope of the work

They're all miserable situations. Luckily, they're all also avoidable if you have the right processes in place to ensure your quotes are accurate and thorough - so read on.

Components of a Professional Job Estimate

Job quotes consist of several key components, each of which plays a part in conveying professionalism and clarity. Most quotes, regardless of trade or industry, will have some or all of the following common elements:

Business Information

  • Your company name and logo.
  • Your company address, phone number, email, and website.
  • Any relevant licenses, certifications, and/or insurance details.

Client Information

  • The name of the person or business receiving the quote.
  • The client's address, phone number, and email.

Quote Information

  • The unique identifier (number or code) assigned to the quote, either manually or generated through your job management software, for tracking and reference purposes.
  • The date when the quote was issued.

Validity Period

  • How long the quote is valid (for example, 30 days from the issue date). Don't omit this - remember, over time, your costs and availability can change, and you don't want to be held to an estimate that has become unprofitable or unrealistic.

Scope of Work

  • Detailed description of all the tasks and services to be performed.
  • Any specific requirements or standards that will be adhered to, and any permits that will be required.

Itemized Costs

  • List of materials and the cost to the client. (Depending on the nature of the job, you may choose to bundle services and materials together so you don't overwhelm your client with the minutiae. Bundling is also a great way to ensure you don't overlook consumables.)
  • Breakdown of labor costs, including hourly rates and estimated hours.
  • Any additional fees, such as travel, disposal, permits, or special equipment required.

Timeline

  • If possible, include the start date of when you would expect work to begin, and the expected date of project completion.
  • If that is not possible, include key activities or milestones and the estimated time to complete each one, so that both you and the client are aligned with expectations of how long it will take (barring any unforeseen circumstances).

Terms of Service

  • Specify payment terms, including any deposit requirements and payment milestones.
  • Detail any guarantees or warranties on work and materials.
  • Provide a cancellation policy describing the terms under which you or the client can cancel the contract.

Client Signature

  • Provide a space for the client to sign and date the quote to indicate acceptance.

Thank You and Next Steps

  • Thank the client for the opportunity to provide the quote.
  • Instructions on what happens next should the client accept the quote.
  • The name and contact details of the individual within your company who will serve as the client's key contact.

Quote Elements That Vary By Trade

Notes / Special Considerations

Depending on your field, you may also want to create an additional section for Notes or Special Considerations, if relevant, to capture:

  • Contingency plans in the case of negative impacts to your schedule such as inclement weather or delays in permits.
  • Any relevant environmental or safety issues that must be resolved, or permits that must be in hand, before work can begin.
  • A proposed follow-up schedule for recurring jobs or jobs that can only be completed in phases.
  • Specify what you are not responsible for to avoid future disputes.

You know your business best, so give it some thought as you set up your quote template.

Tip: When you're using quoting and invoicing software such as ServiceM8, shown in the video below, it's very easy to customize templates - and all of those elements are included for you.

Building Your Quote

Effective quoting begins with gathering accurate and comprehensive information. This involves thorough client consultations and, if needed, site assessments.

Gathering Information

Start by asking all the right questions to gather all of the necessary details.

  • What are the job specifics?
  • Are there any site-specific challenges?
  • What materials and specifications are required?
  • What is the client's budget and timeline?

Of course, this will depend on the job. In some cases, a simple form on a website will give you enough information to let you to proceed with a quote without even having to speak to the prospect directly.

Example 1: As a cleaning service business, requests for quotes for residential cleaning may be handled by an online form prompting the client to include the address, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, any pets, any special requirements, and the desired frequency. That could be sufficient to let you respond with an initial quote and service options - and even to let them accept and book a time.

an online form for a cleaning business that gathers information to build an automated quote
Cleaning Service online quote and booking creation, powered by ServiceM8

Conduct an Onsite Visit

In most cases, though, a little more client consultation will be needed. Whenever possible and appropriate, conduct a site visit to assess the project yourself. This can help you gather important details that might be missed over the phone or via email. Measurements, site conditions, and other on-the-ground realities can significantly influence the scope and cost of the job. (And if you have a mobile app that lets you create a quote on the spot, even better!)

Example 2: As an HVAC contractor, visually inspecting the ducts and existing systems will give you a more accurate estimate than one based solely on client descriptions. This hands-on approach minimizes surprises and ensures your quote is as accurate as possible.

Calculating Costs Accurately

Accurate cost calculation is the backbone of a reliable job estimate. You need to:

Source Materials and Obtain Accurate Prices

Maintain a list of preferred suppliers and keep your price lists up to date. When sourcing materials, always include a markup when quoting to your client to cover not only the cost of the materials but also handling, storage, and any potential price increases. For example, if a part costs you $20, you might mark it up by 50-100%, charging the client $30-$40 to ensure profitability and cover any unexpected costs. Markups tend to vary by trade and local market conditions, so do your homework to stay competitive, yet profitable.

Calculate Labor Costs Based on Time and Expertise

Calculate labor costs based on the time required and the skill level of your team. High-skilled labor costs more but ensures quality - and skilled workers may be able to complete tasks faster. Factor in all labor-related expenses, such as travel and insurance. For big jobs, a contingency allowance (typically about 10-15% of the total project cost beyond regular profit margins) can cover unexpected expenses, ensuring you’re not caught off guard financially.

Know Your Profit Margins

On a general basis, you need to have a good handle on your overhead costs like administration, utilities, and rent in your estimates, and then figure out what profit margins you need to apply across all areas of your quote to ensure profitability.

Presenting a Branded, Polished Quote

Although the content of your job estimate is the most important, don't overlook the importance of presentation. In the service industry, clients typically ask for quotes from multiple suppliers. Your quote needs to be polished, error-free, and visually appealing to reflect your professionalism and attention to detail - otherwise it's easy to get relegated to the bottom of the pile when all bids are similar. Here are some tips for presenting a professional quote:

Simple Format, Simple Language

Use templates that are aesthetically pleasing and easy to read, with important points highlighted. You also want to avoid jargon and use simple, clear language. Detailed descriptions should be easily understandable by clients so if you have to include industry terms, make sure you define them.

Brand Consistently

Brand your quote with your company logo and colors. And, as covered in the previous section about quote elements, make sure you include all necessary contact information, making it easy for clients to reach you. A well-branded document projects professionalism and can leave a lasting impression.

Additional information

For certain jobs, it helps to include additional information with your quote to either showcase your work, or to help clarify options for a client. For example, a roofer may want to include a link or brochure that shows the different color options for shingles, while an electrician may want to include a picture of a room marked up where LED downlights will be installed. Little extras show that you've taken the time to consider what the prospective client may need, and you're anticipating their questions.

A branded, professional proposal created within ServiceM8 that includes images of the room to be serviced
A detailed proposal made with ServiceM8 that includes photos to help describe scope of work and to make the bid more compelling.

Enhancing your Estimates with Job Management Software

Incorporating technology into your quoting process can significantly enhance accuracy and efficiency. Job management software like ServiceM8 can not only free up your time, but boost your profits as well.

Benefits of Using Job Management Software

Integrating estimating software into your workflows can have the following benefits:

  • Efficiency: When writing a quote, you don't want to prioritize speed over accuracy, but when your software can pull directly from your price lists and client information, you get the best of both worlds. Automating parts of the quoting process can help you get the quote out in a fraction of the time.
  • Accuracy: With built-in calculators and bundled services, you can minimize human error and ensure that your quote is both comprehensive and accurate.
  • Professionalism: You can have variations of branded templates to choose from, depending on the type of job and client, letting you generate clean, polished quotes quickly and easily.

Where ServiceM8 Stands Out

a tablet and an iphone showing the ServiceM8 mobile app with an editable quote open
ServiceM8's mobile app lets you create quotes and invoices on the spot, right from your phone.

Most job management software providers have some elements of estimating built into their offering. Simple templates, the ability to define payment terms, the incorporation of client and business info - those are table stakes for any estimating software provider.

But ServiceM8 quoting and invoicing software takes it a step further with the following functionality that is specifically designed to help small trade businesses to be as efficient and productive as possible when quoting for work:

Mobile Quote Creation

For simple jobs, you can create a quote on the spot, right from your phone using the ServiceM8 mobile app. No need to send a quote through in the evening after you've gotten home from the onsite visit - the app makes it easy to create a quote on the fly, share it with the client, and even collect a signature of approval while you're still there!

Auto-Quote

ServiceM8 uses AI to analyze information available in the job card, as well as similar jobs in your work history, and then draft a work description and list of items and services for your review. In other words, it writes the quote for you - you just need to approve it before sending! For routine jobs, this is an enormously helpful productivity tool.

Proposals

Some jobs require a little more than your standard quote. The Proposals feature in ServiceM8 lets you add multiple choice options and photos and videos to your quotes, giving clients more detail, choice, and control in the buying process.

Job Costing

ServiceM8's job costing feature gives you an estimated profit or loss dollar amount on each quote before issuing, taking into account the purchase price of all materials, the direct costs of labor, and the hidden costs of administration time. It's a very helpful feature to quickly ascertain which types of jobs are good for your business, and which ones are now.

Bundles

This feature lets you streamline your quoting practices by creating predefined packages, known as bundles, of labor, materials, and/or services with a fixed price and a single description for clients to see on your quotes and invoices. For example, a pool service business may include chemicals, test strips, and labor allocated for debris removal and water level adjustment as part of a weekly maintenance package quote.

Following Up With Clients

Once you've sent the quote, your job's not done. Following up shortly after sending the quote is an important step for converting quotes into contracts. It shows clients you want to work with them, and also gives you the opportunity to address any questions and provide any clarification needed to win the business. This level of attentiveness builds client trust and can be the difference between winning and losing a job.

ServiceM8's Quote Follow Up Automation

With the ServiceM8 Automation add-on, you can set it up so that clients receive a follow-up email or text within a specific timeframe about a quote you've recently provided. You can even build a sequence to follow up, and use the ServiceM8 Smart Writing Assistant to generate the messages for you! For example:

  • 4 hours after sending quote - send text to confirm receipt
  • 3 days after sending quote - send email asking if any clarification is needed
  • 7 / 14 days after sending quote - send a reminder that they have received a quote
  • Final reminder that quote is set to expire

Using the follow-up automation is a great way to systematically win more work without having to put in a lot of manual effort.

Reviewing and Improving Your Estimating Process

Quoting is an evolving process - no matter how good you are and how high your win rate may be, continuous improvement should always be the goal. Consider the following:

Gathering Feedback from Clients

Ask clients for feedback on your quoting process, and consider how and if you should adjust your process to account for their input. This can help you align your quotations more closely with client expectations, and to spot any areas in your business that need additional focus to be more competitive. Make sure you ask for feedback regardless of if you won the job or not - understanding why some quotes succeed while others fail can provide valuable insights.

Staying On Top Of Industry Standards and Pricing

Monitor industry standards and regularly review and update your pricing to stay competitive. Here are some actionable steps to help you stay current:

  • Join Professional Associations: Becoming a member of trade associations can give you access to valuable resources, including industry reports and networking opportunities with other professionals. Talking with fellow tradies (who aren't in direct competition with you) can be a great help.
  • Subscribe to Industry Publications: Sign up for newsletters, magazines, and blogs related to your trade. They often provide insights into current trends, new tools, and pricing benchmarks.
  • Monitor Competitor Pricing: Regularly check the pricing of your competitors. This can be done through their websites, advertisements, or even from prospects who went with a competitor instead. (However, be confident in the value of your work and your desired profit margins, too - don't get drawn into a price war where no one ultimately wins. Some jobs, it's ok to walk away!)

The Clear Path to Winning More Jobs

Crafting winning job estimates involves understanding the basics of job estimates, gathering accurate information, calculating costs precisely, and presenting the quote professionally. By implementing these practices, and by leveraging tools like ServiceM8 that can make the quoting process more efficient and accurate, you can write great quotes and significantly improve your success rate in converting quotes to jobs.

The journey to mastering the art of job estimating begins with a single, well-crafted quote. Take the first step with help from ServiceM8 in a free, 14-day trial today.

Article last updated on
June 27, 2024

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