Even behind-the-scenes employees can help the effort

Many estimators think of marketing as something that is done by others in the company. However, electrical contracting is a changing industry, and these days estimators are part of the marketing team. It may not be called marketing, but working toward bringing profitable jobs to the company should not stop at the office front door. Without marketing efforts by all in contact with clients, business—and therefore need for estimators—may decline.

My thoughts about marketing were crystallized when I was invited to make a short presentation to my chapter’s safety committee. In discussing the issue, I came to realize the many positive features a signatory contractor can offer, and then wondered why so few use this valuable tool. The point was brought home when I started to analyze my caseload and found that most on-the-job accidents and deaths involved ill-trained people claiming to be electricians.

Your company’s safety record is certainly something to crow about, especially in these litigious times. Owners and builders may come to appreciate that a subcontractor with a clean safety record will improve the project’s productivity and time lines. While no one is immune from accusations by a litigious party, an established safety reputation with few losses can be an important commodity.

The modifications factor of the workers compensation insurance paid by the contractor is part of the direct costs of a project. Estimators should familiarize themselves with the company’s experience modification factor. The factor is determined by stacking your company against an industry average with the result expressed in a percentage basis. In this case, the better your company’s record, the lower the percentage. Why not proudly publicize this factor when in negotiations to land the job?

A mailed advertisement on my desk touts the contractor’s qualifications, all intended for the general public and loaded with platitudes. Law requires many of the items, such as a license and bonding, but the advertiser disguises those with eye-catching pictures of minimal importance as being a plus for his company. The insinuation is that others may not be meeting these basic necessities.

There are many ways estimators can participate in marketing, let alone by producing a well-prepared estimate that can be used for negotiations when necessary. Establishing a one-on-one relationship with key personnel at the client company or design professionals is perhaps the best. These contacts may often provide some tips on work that may be coming up. Another wrinkle is to keep in touch with owners whose projects you have worked on in the past. While not everyone has the big job continuously, the smaller work can add up especially in otherwise slow times.

A professional salesman pointed out the importance of not only meeting the people you know but also approaching those whose work could be profitable. Most projects these days will include a variety of work—not just what most considered “electricians’ work” of years ago. These other jobs are ripe for the plucking. Remember the days when integrated systems were not part of a project? Often this work is bid separately and there is no reason for the estimator to let that work escape without at least working up a bid. This practice directed my business away from the highly competitive work to those projects fewer people would bid. The obvious result was a better batting average of estimates that produced hours of work and the resultant profit.

Check your purses and wallets and see if you can produce a business card for the company, or for yourself. If your answers are like most people, it’s time to get one for your estimating kit and wallet or purse. If the company doesn’t have cards for individuals, get permission and have some printed for yourself or offer to pay for them. The investment is well worth the minor expense. In my company, if any employee couldn’t produce a card when I asked for one, they were fined a quarter, which then went into a fund used for the Christmas party. Very quickly, the fund dried up as everyone got the hint.

In my educational career, I insisted on getting cards with the union “bug” on them. When I negotiated training contracts with labor organizations, you could see the barriers melting when they noticed the bug. The important factor is to direct your marketing to the people whom you expect to make your customers with meaningful information including the advanced training of your employees. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at edavid@lbcc.cc.ca.us