How RapidBid Is Transforming the Art of Estimating

On any given evening, just think how many roofers across Australia are working late trying to get another estimate done. In most cases, the takeoff is usually the most time-consuming part of a roofing project, with printed drawings scattered across the desk (or floor).

Of course, that’s only one part of the problem. Even after spending hours trying to accurately count up all the quantities and note down all the measurements, how many of those guys will actually win the job? Probably half, at best. It’s not exactly motivating.

The long process starts with getting those drawings in the first place; unless you’ve invested in the equipment yourself, you probably need to contact your local print shop, wait for them to get your drawings ready, then travel to pick them up. It’s a strangely old-fashioned process, but one that many contractors still rely on.

Once you’ve done this (and hopefully got things like the scale right on the first attempt), it’s time for the real hard work to begin. No, not the actual job… we’re still a long way from that. Next you need to count and measure all the relevant details on the plans, while making sure everything is accurate to the best of your knowledge.

All roofers – in fact, all contractors – know this process isn’t easy. It’s slow and frustrating. You probably don’t get paid for this time either, and just to top it off, you might later find out it was a complete waste of time. When you stop to think about it, why does anyone bother?

The answer, obviously, is because you might end up making a profit on the job. Of course, the chances of making money would be a lot better if the estimating process only took an hour or two instead of triple that time. But how realistic is that?

Roofers are wasting over $21,000 worth of time every year

Let’s think about that time another way. As a general rule, the takeoff for a roofing project will take approximately five hours to complete. This means a couple of estimates a week, or maybe three, are the most a typical tradie can manage.

So if that’s 15 hours per week, that adds up to 780 hours every year, purely to do takeoffs. To put it in perspective, that’s more than a month of non-stop estimating with no sleep.

To think in terms of money, let’s say those hours spent estimating could be better spent actually doing the work. On average, say an Australian roofer earns about $27 an hour, so the total value of those (mostly wasted) hours works out at $21,060. That’s a lot of money coming straight out of your annual profit.

Once you multiply this across the entire roofing industry, that’s a whole lot of unpaid work happening every day across the country. Then, consider the contractors in other trades who are facing a very similar problem at the same time.

Lastly, don’t forget to factor in the margin for error. Counting or scaling mistakes are easy to make under pressure, especially on large and complicated projects (where the risk is also greater). Overestimating or underestimating can be equally harmful to your profits, causing delays and reflecting poorly on your hard-earned reputation.

Let’s face it, doing estimates by hand is a minefield that nobody really wants to navigate. But is there a better way? The short answer, according to RapidBid’s Jonathan Goulstine: yes.

“Software can’t build a roof like you can, but it can count much faster.”

“Our company first started working with roofers and contractors in all kinds of trades nearly 40 years ago,” says Jonathan. “Since then, the traditional method of estimating is almost unchanged. You might not use the same materials or follow the same processes, but you still need to sit at a desk for hours with huge sheets of paper when you estimate the cost of the project.”

However, the pressure on roofers to keep their costs low is increasing all the time. The market is slowly getting more crowded, so only the most competitive businesses can survive. When it comes to working on-site, lots of modern processes have streamlined the way things are done. However, as Jonathan points out, not much is different when you look at the bidding process that goes on back at the office.

For whatever reason, technology hasn’t helped many contractors change their ways. There are a lot of people who simply learned to manually takeoff and estimate projects when they first started working in the trade, and have never changed their process since.

“We’re always surprised to hear from so many contractors who’ve resisted changing their process for so long, even when they’re making mistakes and wasting time,” Jonathan explains. “People don’t want to rely on a computer, because it can’t do what they do in their trade.”

However, Jonathan and the RapidBid team saw the opportunity for improvement at this point in the process. They looked at the problem from a software developer’s perspective, figuring out ways to simplify or fully automate each part of the takeoff.

“It’s true that software can’t build a roof like you can, but it can count much faster. It can do complex calculations in a fraction of a second with perfect accuracy. That’s where the potential saving starts to make a huge difference.”

Tradies have to start taking digital solutions seriously

The concept of RapidBid starts by taking everything you’d normally need to do a takeoff – the drawings, rulers, pencils and highlighters – and creating a more efficient, digital version of each element. The result is a powerful program that lets you open PDF files of drawings and gives you all the on-screen tools you need to work with them.

“RapidBid is a product of what contractors asked us for,” says Jonathan. “We didn’t necessarily know that certain features were as important as they turned out to be when we first created the software.

“For example, when roofers receive PDF copies of the plans for a project, they told us how much time they waste just opening the files to check which ones are relevant to them. We added a feature that lets you preview files instantly so you can do this much quicker.

“There’s also the ability to open an image from Google or Apple Maps and scale from that if you haven’t got the plans. Another one is the auto-counting function that tells you how many of a particular item there are on the drawing. These are all relatively simple features that actually end up saving hours and hours of time, and we were able to implement them because we listened to what people in the trade really needed.”

Making fast progress in a slowly shifting industry

Independent testing has been carried out to see if RapidBid really saves time compared to the manual method of estimating, and the results were clear. Contractors were able to save up to four hours each time, which adds up fast over the course of a week or a month.

Jonathan is now talking to new contractors every day, slowly but surely guiding the industry towards a more efficient and more profitable way of working. The feedback has been excellent so far, although he expects people in the business to remain cautious until they try it for themselves.

“It’s a common misconception that getting software involved will always make the process more technical and harder to understand. It can be tricky to convince people otherwise, especially those who tend to avoid new technology and prefer to get stuck in with manual work.

“That’s why we wanted to make it as simple as possible, and I think we succeeded. We make sure that every feature in RapidBid is easy to explain, so everyone can get the most out of it easily. We’re proud to have a program that’s really accessible, so it can help people regardless of what their skill level is, or even which trade they specialise in.”

Maybe the outlook isn’t quite as bleak as we thought. If the average roofer can save 80% of the time it usually takes to put together every estimate, that might even be enough to avoid working those dreaded long evenings altogether.

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