Let’s say it’s early March in Colorado, and while the actual onsite construction activity may still be hampered by the death rattle of winter, faxes and e-mail monitors are buzzing with invitations to bid a myriad of commercial drywall projects that are already going into the ground for the upcoming summer boom. Backlog is sagging and sales have been flat for months. The sound of opportunity couldn’t be sweeter, and your sole estimator is bracing for the familiar onslaught of long days at the digitizer, and fitful, sleepless nights—wondering what he might have missed.
Then, without any forewarning, a sudden bout with the flu turns to an ugly case of pneumonia, and the estimator that you were counting on for the healthy spate of sales you were anticipating is now bedridden for who knows how long. Your best customers are sympathetic, but hard bid dates are looming and windows are closing on you. You are in a quandary with no apparent solution. What do you do?
There is an answer that many of us have not considered: outsourcing. The above scenario combines a couple of commonplace occurrences in our business that can go from nail-biters to heart (or bank) breakers. Every outfit experiences peaks in estimating that overburden the department, but do not necessarily justify hiring another estimator. Then there’s the illness, the vacation, the unexpected resignation, a long-needed discharge, or (God forbid) a death that cripples your program.
For whatever reason, you find yourself short-handed or between estimators. Or perhaps you have such a comfortable backlog that you have your entire estimating department working on project management; you only want to bid a few select projects, and you don’t want to distract your project managers. For these and other circumstances, outsourcing your estimating may be a quick-fix remedy, or part of an overall procurement strategy.
In any case, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the available sources before one of these emergencies arises. Because you are a specialized sub with a specific scope of work and a particular estimating program, some pre-planning will go a long way toward finding and arranging for the right fit. For the illnesses, vacations or short-term deficiencies, you may want to consider resource sharing with a joint venture partner or friendly co-sub in a complementary trade. For instance, there are many plaster/EIFS contractors who team up with drywall contractors for combined bids that may be able to share estimators as a temporary need occurs.
For more long-term voids in staffing, there are estimating services that utilize the most common estimating software programs and may prove to be a perfect match for your temporary shortfalls or long term supplementary needs. These services can be found online or in trade magazine ads. Fee structures vary from a per-hour basis to a percentage of the bid price.
Another source to consider: previous employees who are familiar with your program who may be able to help on a part-time basis. Of course, this is only possible if no ethical conflicts exist—such as the case of a former associate who lives and works in another geographical area and is not a competitor, or in the case of a retiree. Make no mistake, though, there are estimators out there who are perfectly willing to supplement their income with side work.
Regardless of your particular circumstance, outsourcing some or all of your estimating is an alternative you should consider. And a little prior research can help you prepare for the unexpected with a contingency plan, or provide you with a more stable procurement program.
About the Author
Vince Bailey is a project manager/estimator for MKB Construction, a commercial drywall/plaster/paint contractor in Phoenix, Ariz.