Then, he discovered, getting the right tool for the job would let him work smarter. He found Sigma, an effective digital estimating tool and now he spends less time putting together bids and more time working with clients on the cases themselves.
“Getting started on a proposal is now much less onerous,” he says. “All things being equal, it’s also much faster, and the end result is much more transparent and easy to understand.”
Poulsen and a partner started up their own contracting firm, Vorbasse Carpentry and Millwork but when his partner left five years later he suddenly found himself managing all the administration, including bidding on jobs.
Work cut in half
Like many contractors and skilled tradesmen, the tedious work of pulling together an estimate and sending out quotes isn’t what he liked doing. Still, as the owner of a small business, he also realized keeping the job pipeline flowing was critical to his success, so he persevered.
“I did it all by hand, but I was tired of not having any references from former cases, especially because I knew that I had created something similar previously,” he says. Working with Excel meant he was constantly entering data and checking formulas to get the numbers right.
Then, about 18 months into his journey, a colleague tipped him to a smarter, faster way of doing things. Poulsen went online and looked up Sigma, downloaded it from the site and started working with it.
“I just kind of dove into it,” he says. “It did take some time at first, but no more than what I would have spent anyways. I got some support from the Sigma team and now I use it all the time”
He’s discovered many advantages using Sigma for calculations: “Purely in terms of time, it makes a world of difference. It provides real insight into the estimate. You can set it up pretty much any way you want to and it just gets easier and easier each time, because it is so easy to retrieve the information from your own library. I would say it probably halves the time I have to spend doing proposals.”
More and better projects
Sigma has meant he has more time to prepare more estimates – and more importantly, better ones. In it means he can be more thorough, more accurate and make fewer mistakes.
“One thing I really like about Sigma, is when you figure that you are finished and are ready – up pops a warning,” he says. “If, for example I missed a price or a quantity somewhere, the system will stop up and say ‘ Whoa, seems cost hasn’t been considered for these or these elements’. In Excel, I rarely would have known I’d missed something, or that I’d left a field blank. That’s something I would have had to pay for out of my pocket if I had sent the quote out without that cost.”
And better quotes typically also lead to better projects, Poulsen has learned.
“When you have made an estimate, it’s incredibly easy to find your way around in it,” he says. I can quickly figure out where the limits are and know when I cannot make money on a case if I lower my quote”.
For Poulsen, this insight means he knows when to say ‘ yes ‘ to a project and, just as critically, when to say “no”.
“Customers will try to push you on the price, and I have seen customers who want to adjust the price to the point where we will not earn any money on the case,” he says. “Now I have the insight in time to turn a job down if I know there will be no margins.”
Overall for Poulsen, the main benefit of working in Sigma is really about the time he frees up from sitting with spreadsheets, quotes and calculations. He now has more time to follow up on the estimates, to have closer contact with the customer, to make adjustments and understand their needs to win more jobs as the relationship develops.
“If I didn’t have Sigma, I would simply not have time to do follow-up,” he says. “Often, we didn’t get a job because the customer didn’t get a proper follow up after we submitted our bid. Now I have time to call them and talk them through it, to make sure we understand each other and our bid reflects what they need and want. With Sigma, if we need to make adjustments based on those conversations, I can do it instantly – while I have the customer on the phone – and I can let them know exactly what any adjustments to the scope mean in terms of costs.”
Poulsen says Sigma has upped his game not just as a master carpenter but as a small business owner. He saves time, gets better insight and a better overview.
“We look and feel more professional,” he says. “It also means our quality of costing is always improving. If we’ve completed a job and it didn’t line up with the original estimate’s calculation, it is easy to adjust in the library. If we have priced a bracket for something and it turns out to be more expensive, in fact, it will be adjusted for next time. It is actually quite amazing. This it what turns a business into a profitable one – you never make the same mistake twice.”
There are several other advantages of Sigma, too, he says, for one, that it’s easy to insert text annotations into the quote.
“I save time on the quotation itself by setting it up with summary and adding details in Sigma,” he says. “When I worked in Excel I had to create a Word document to add notations and go back and forth. It was awkward but in Sigma it all connects. All the templates are text ready.”
From his experience moving to a digital proposal software, Poulsen says it’s like investing in the right tools for the job. A good handsaw or router or circular saw will last and repay its acquisition costs quickly. Similarly, investing in the right software has helped his business move forward and grow.
“I now know, with reasonable certainty, how my business is doing,” he says. “It’s much more manageable with the Sigma. It is easier for the entire company.”
Not to mention the extra time it has helped carve out with his family.