Your estimate is one of the best pieces of machinery in your shop, believe it or not. Your proposal that you send out should reflect who you are, and how well you can do the project.

The better you tune your machinery the better it works, and that goes for your proposal as well.

A proposal should be relatively simple: tell your potential client what the overall manufacturing cost is, and how much to install it, and then a grand total.

When I ran Final Finish, an architectural woodworking firm, we never itemized prices in a proposal stage. Along with the costs, we had our general conditions - as most do -  but we also listed the page numbers of every drawing and the specs / addendums as well as their dates.

That saved us on a number of occasions.

We also included an itemized list known as "tasks" of what we were bidding on. We listed the item, the room number, the elevation and the sections along with the quantity. 

Last we described the item in depth. All this was done when the estimator did the takeoff. Our proposals could be 4-6 sheets, but were very complete. This gave the general contractors a good feeling that we had it covered, if they had never worked with us before.

We had return clients coming back at 85% and our proposals that turned into projects at 13%. Do you know your numbers? You should.

Every estimate you put out you should be able to predict the future of your shop if it becomes reality. What amount of qualified labor you will need? And how much time will you need to produce the project?

This brings up another important item: scheduling. You should be able to project the hours needed for the shop or, better yet, by department. You can see when you overbooked and need to charge more money for overtime. When to hire or sub-out so you don’t get into trouble.

How many of us do that right from the beginning? Not many, I bet but we all can be smarter on our future.

We always had a schedule board to show 9 months’ worth of work projected out by departments so everyone could see it, and do their planning. Estimators could look at it and see when they had to sell more work. The drafting department knew what was coming at them, and the time that was projected.

Office personal knew when they could take a vacation, or were overloaded so you could see when to hire at the right time. Remember, we sell time. And we better do a good job at managing that time or you lose money every minute were open.

The idea is consistency in the shop and office. No one likes to work without a day off for weeks on end. Sometimes it is necessary but not for an ongoing amount of time. When that happens things get compromised and mistakes happen. Planning is key in today’s workplace. When the plan works it’s a good day. When it doesn’t, you have trouble.

So how do you prevent those issues from happening?

We held a 9:00 a.m. Monday scheduling meeting with all the department leaders - PM’s, Drafting, Accounting and the Shop Forman. Yes, every Monday, no exception.

Schedules are changing daily, drawings didn’t come back approved, site wasn’t ready to field dimension or the samples were not returned approved.

Each Monday we saw what we would need to make happen that week, and every week after that. Every Monday gave us a chance to regain our composure and share what happened and what we were going to do to get it back on target with each project.

A group effort with all departments takes place so you are all working as one unit. And it all starts with your estimate. That’s why it is your best piece of machinery. Keep it maintained.

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