Won’t you try some? Then, won’t you buy some?—George Harrison
In my previous installment, I pointed out the various sources for project leads. In the process, I touted the advantages and possible pitfalls involved with utilizing electronic job boards to explore opportunities in unfamiliar areas. In following up, this writing will focus on what to look for in an e-lead service and how to set parameters that effectively serve your particular demands and your unique circumstances.
As mentioned previously, the best services reject the old “shotgun” approach and are designed to be individually “dialed in,” or narrowed to your own desired parameters for prospective projects in terms of geographic area, scope of work, current stage of development and preferred value range. In addition to lending itself to custom-tuned searches, the system you choose should be user-friendly—easy to read and simple to operate. Finally, the information conveyed should be accurate, complete and current.
Caveat emptor—let the buyer beware—clearly applies here, as the cost of tapping into these services is significant and a minimum commitment of at least a year is customary. In order to verify that a prospective service will deliver satisfactorily on all of the above-named qualities, I strongly suggest requesting a timely trial period. Most of these programs are amenable to granting temporary access and even a complimentary tutorial to ensure that the system you are considering meets your needs.
Perhaps the most critical item of all the above-listed criteria is geographic area. Aside from the obvious reason—focusing on “hot spots” for construction activity, the cost of service is likely contingent on the square mile of desired coverage, so you will be well-advised to refine the limits of your search territory to get more bang for your buck.
Cost considerations notwithstanding, the assumed purpose, or at least primary reason for availing yourself of such a service, is to expand your geographic parameters and to venture into unfamiliar territory. This calls for some careful preliminary research and some serious deliberation: Where are the new concentrations of activity? Is the activity likely to last? Who will the competition be? What is the labor market like? What are the local building practices?
Answers to these and other relevant questions are available from various sources. Your own material supplier, whose territory is likely to range well beyond your current comfort zone, may have some tips on booming pockets. Articles in trade magazines, such as this one, may give some hints on hot spots, and online searches for areas of activity may be helpful as well.
Once these prospective buzz zones have been ferreted out, the aforementioned trial period is a great, cost-effective way to verify current construction trends. Simply select those counties that show some promise as part of your dry run, and rate the number of valuable hits you get in your searches. Using this method with several prospective services, you should be able to compare their relative efficacy while testing the waters on new frontiers at the same time.
In conclusion, I should disavow any gainful connection I have with any e-lead service. I recognize that I’ve begun to sound like a promo-man, but I cannot think of any more useful tool for extending the parameters of your estimating efforts than electronic job board services. And with the right approach, the process of selecting programs can be a valuable and enlightening process.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.