As any construction professional knows, you must be able to bid a project accurately in order to run a successful business. Bid too high, and another contractor will probably be awarded the job. Bid too low, and you risk not being able to turn an adequate profit. Fortunately, there are dozens of construction estimating software programs designed for this exact purpose. Knowing which one to choose just requires evaluating how you'll use it.
- Residential or commercial? Some construction estimating software programs are designed for residential projects, and some are better suited for commercial projects. Many can also be used for either type of project, but as with most things, the more options the program has, the more you will pay.
- What type of contracting do you do? There are construction estimating software programs designed for general contractors, electrical contractors, concrete and masonry contractors, landscaping contractors, and mechanical contractors. There are even programs which are written strictly for remodeling projects.
- Do you use other software programs in your business? If you also use project management software, you may want to choose a construction estimating software program which was designed by the same company so that they will work well together. Some software is written to interface with such programs as QuickBooks and the Microsoft Office package.
- Is it customizable? It's nearly impossible to find one construction estimating software program which fulfills all of your estimating needs, so you may want to consider a program which can be customized to suit your business. The construction estimating software program itself may offer options so that it can be tailored to your needs, or the company which designed it may have programmers that can re-write portions of the program for you.
Once you've narrowed down your choices based on the above criteria, contact each software company. Nearly all construction estimating software programs offer a free trial period or an extensive online demo. These can be a great way to get a feel for a program. Consider some of the following when making your final decision:
- Is it frequently updated? Things can change very quickly from one year to the next in the construction business. Does the construction estimating software program that you're considering seem to be updated regularly? Also, are these updates included in the purchase price or do they come at an additional price?
- Is it easy to use? Unless you have days to devote to learning your new construction estimating software program, you'll want one which is very intuitive. The useful features shouldn't be buried in obscure menus that are difficult to access.
- Is help readily available? If your construction estimating software program crashes or isn't functioning the way you would like, the software company should have a help desk that is easy to contact, either online, by e-mail or by phone.
- Will it work with your operating system? Most construction estimating software programs are written to work with Microsoft Windows 2000 or newer. If you have an older operating system or you use Macintosh computers, you'll need to make sure the construction estimating software program you've chosen is compatible.
- Does it accurately reflect your building costs? If you have a free trial period, take advantage of this to input data from a recently completed project. Do the estimates from the program match what it actually cost to build?
- Price. Once you've found a couple of programs that you like, compare prices. Most construction estimating software programs run between $100 and $500. Naturally, with the higher price, you usually get more features. However, if these are features that you don't really need, you may be perfectly happy with the lower-priced product.
An excellent resource for evaluating construction estimating software is the Construction Estimating Software Review. It can save you a lot of time when you're determining what programs have the features you're looking for. Good luck and happy bidding!