How to Win Construction Bids in 2024 being a Subcontractor?

Essential Skills for New Subcontractors in USA

Hey There, New Subcontractor!


This took me 10,000+ hours of working in construction industry to learn but I’ll teach you in less than 5 minutes!

So you’re diving into construction estimation? That’s awesome! Mastering this skill means nailing bids, keeping projects on track, and ensuring you get paid right. Let’s break it down with practical tips you can use right away.

1. Get a Grip on the Project Scope

  • Reading Plans and Specs: For instance, imagine you’re subcontracted to install HVAC ducts in a new office building. Understanding the mechanical plans will help you see where ducts need to go and how they integrate with other systems.
  • Defining Your Work: Let’s say you’re responsible for concrete work on a residential foundation. Clearly defining your scope includes pouring the foundation slab but not landscaping or electrical work. This clarity prevents scope creep.

2. Measure Twice, Cut Once

  • Takeoffs: If you’re tasked with installing windows in a commercial building, precise measurements from the plans ensure you order the correct sizes. Count each window and factor in any special installation requirements.
  • Units of Measure: For instance, for a flooring installation job, knowing how to calculate square footage accurately ensures you order the right amount of flooring material. Don’t forget to include waste and trim allowances.

Step-by-Step Construction Estimation Process: Measure Twice, Cut Once

  1. Project Plans and Specifications:
    • Example: Subcontractors responsible for installing windows in a commercial building need to review the architectural plans to identify all window locations, sizes, and types.
  1. Identify Scope of Work:
    • Example: Define the specific tasks you are responsible for, such as installing the windows but not the surrounding trim or blinds.
  1. Quantity Takeoff:
    • Example: For a flooring installation job, precise measurements from the plans ensure you calculate the total square footage required.
  1. Material Calculations:
    • Example: Ensure accurate calculations of material needed, considering factors like waste and special requirements.
    • Example: For a flooring job, including a waste factor of 5-10% for cutting and fitting.
  1. Order Correct Sizes:
    • Example: Confirm the sizes and quantities of materials before placing an order to avoid shortages or excess.
  1. Include Waste and Trim:
    • Example: For a flooring job, make sure to include allowances for waste and trimming to ensure enough material is available.
  1. Final Measurements:
    • Example: Verify all measurements on-site before installation to ensure accuracy.
  1. Review and Adjust:
    • Example: Double-check calculations and measurements to adjust for any discrepancies found during the final check.
  1. Accurate Estimates:
    • Example: Provide precise and comprehensive estimates that account for all necessary materials and potential adjustments.

This systematic approach helps subcontractors ensure accurate and reliable construction estimations, ultimately leading to successful project execution

3. Know Your Costs

  • Material Prices: Installing plumbing in a new home? Get current prices for pipes, fittings, and fixtures to build an accurate estimate. Fluctuations in copper prices could affect your budget.

For example : If you’re subcontracting for electrical wiring in a renovation project, calculate labor costs based on hourly rates and the estimated hours needed. Factor in any overtime for evening or weekend work.

4. Factor in Overheads and Profits

  • Overheads: For a roofing job, include overhead costs like insurance, equipment rental, and administrative expenses. These are essential to cover even if they’re not directly on the roof.

 For example, bid on a commercial painting contract? Add a profit margin that accounts for the complexity of the job and ensures you make a fair return on your investment of time and resources.

5. Leverage Technology

  • Estimation Software: Using software for estimating costs, likePlanswift , Bluebeam or Buildertrend, can streamline your process. For example, estimating framing costs for a new residential build becomes more efficient with digital tools.
  • Training: Invest time in learning these tools—they can save you hours of work and reduce errors. Training tutorials are often available online and through software support.

6. Plan for the Unexpected

  • Contingencies: On a kitchen remodel, set aside a contingency budget for unexpected discoveries like mold or structural issues. Being prepared avoids surprises that could blow your budget.
  • Risk Assessment: Assess risks like weather delays for an outdoor concrete project. Have a plan to mitigate these risks, such as scheduling work during dry seasons or having tarps ready for rain delays.

7. Review and Refine Your Estimates

  • Double-Check: Review your estimate for installing drywall in a commercial space. Ensure you’ve accounted for all materials, labor costs, and any specialized tools needed. Accuracy here avoids costly mistakes.
  • Peer Review: Have another experienced estimator review your bid for a large-scale plumbing installation in a commercial building. They might catch errors or suggest more efficient methods, improving your estimate’s accuracy.

8. Communicate Clearly

Clear communication is vital for smooth collaboration on any construction site. Actively listen to the GC’s instructions, ask clarifying questions, and keep them informed about your progress and any potential challenges.

Example: As a plumber, promptly notifying the GC of any unforeseen pipe issues during rough-in allows for adjustments to the plan before drywall goes up, saving time and money in the long run.

     Building Cost Estimating has to communicate generally with all the participants that include

  • Engineers
  • Architect
  • Project Manager
  • Client
  • Sales Teams
  • Labourers


Communication Channel

Information to Convey


Project meetings, shared documents

Material costs, constructability concerns, impact of design changes on budget.


Project meetings, shared documents

Cost implications of design choices, value engineering options.

Project Manager

Regular meetings, cost reports

Overall project budget, cost variances, potential risks.


Project updates, presentations

Simplified cost breakdowns, project timeline, potential cost changes.

Sales Teams

Pre-construction estimates, value proposition meetings

Project feasibility, budget range to secure contracts.


Project briefings, task assignments

Labor costs associated with specific tasks, impact of delays on budget.


Contract negotiations, change orders

Material pricing, lead times, impact of cost fluctuations.

9. Complete Knowledge Of Construction Methods

A competent estimator mainly evaluates along with the different construction methods. He/She should know a comprehensive knowledge of different strategies and demanding personal technicalities to make any particular project distinctive. For instance, in a specific scenario, an estimator had to differentiate between two types of plans. He usually needs to travel against the construction site before beginning his estimation. It implies that field experience is always considered essential. Any expert estimator knows a few other specific disciplines that are mention below:

  • Civil
  • Architectural
  • Structural Engineering
  • HVAC
  • Landscaping
  • Risk Analysis
  • Develop Cost Estimates

10.A Strong Understanding of Construction Materials and Their Properties

A thorough knowledge of building materials and their characteristics
Any general contractor worth his salt will tell you that success in the industry requires a thorough understanding of building materials and their characteristics. After all, a vast range of materials, each with a distinct set of properties, are used in construction projects. A general contractor will be more capable of selecting the right materials for a specific project if they are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of various materials.

For instance, because pressure-treated lumber resists decay and insect damage, a contractor building a deck may decide to use it for the framing. On the other hand, should the deck be exposed to direct sunlight, the contractor may decide to go the more heat resistant material.


Example: As an electrician, staying up-to-date on the National Electrical Code (NEC) and advancements in energy-efficient lighting systems makes you a more desirable subcontractor.

11. Adaptability and Flexibility

It is imperative for general contractors to possess the ability to adjust to evolving situations and requirements. This entails having an adaptable strategy and being prepared to improvise your approach as needed. For instance, you must be able to comply with a client’s request to modify the plans if they arise midway through the project. This can mean adding more staff or adjusting the work schedule at the last minute. In a same vein, you must possess the ability to come up with creative solutions for unforeseen issues.
This could entail developing a different building technique or locating a different material supplier. Adaptability and flexibility are critical abilities for general contractors in the ever-changing world of today.


Example: As an HVAC installer, being flexible to accommodate ductwork modifications due to electrical rerouting demonstrates your ability to roll with the punches.

Common estimating mistakes subcontractors in Texas and Florida need to avoid in 2024

Skipping Site Visits: Imagine bidding for a roofing job without visiting the site first. You might miss critical details like access issues or structural concerns that can blow your budget once work begins.

  • Messing Up Takeoffs: Picture estimating electrical work for a new office building. If your takeoffs miss counting all the outlets needed or underestimate cable lengths, you could end up short on materials and time.
  • Labor Costs: Say you’re estimating plumbing for a condo complex in Miami. If you base labor costs on inexperienced rates without considering productivity, you might underbid and lose money.
  • Materials Pricing: Think about quoting a concrete job in Houston. If you don’t lock in prices with suppliers and costs rise unexpectedly before starting, your profit margins shrink fast.
  • Ignoring Risks: Suppose you’re bidding on HVAC installation in Dallas. Without planning for potential delays like permit holdups or supplier shortages, unexpected costs could eat into your bottom line.
  • Guesswork: Imagine estimating landscaping in Austin without tracking past project costs. Guessing on labor and equipment needs could lead to inflated bids or underestimated expenses.
  • Forgetting Reviews: Consider bidding on a painting project in Orlando. Failing to double-check your estimates for errors or missing items could mean losing money on overlooked materials or labor.
  • Subcontractor Oversight: As a subcontractor in Tampa, ensure your bids align with the general contractor’s project scope. Review subcontractor estimates thoroughly to avoid redundant costs or missed responsibilities.

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