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Southwest HVAC News Guest Column

How Do You Successfully Bid a New Project?
By: Jack Wilhelmi The Waldinger Corporation
"People buy from people they understand and trust. It’s tempting to hide behind your Smartphone and tablet, trying to squeeze more work out of your day. Don’t do it when you are working on acquiring a new project. The risk to your company’s profitability is too great,” Jack Wilhelmi recently told attendees at the Construction Education Institute® located at Mechanical Contractors Association Chicago (MCA Chicago) headquarters.

“Write the proposal first and give your potential client the opportunity to review it, asking him to fine tune it with you. The construction industry is still a people-based industry. Don’t forget that the estimating process is your prime opportunity to build a relationship with a prospective client so find a way to see him in person,” says Wilhelmi. “Waiting to develop the proposal near the deadline means you are risking that the receiver will find gaps in your document, frustrating him as there will be no time to clarify. From a client’s perspective, a well-planned estimate delivered before the deadline says your organization will execute the project on schedule as well.”

Isn’t technology important?
“Sure it is. You have to keep up on emerging technology. Contractors are looking for accurate estimates that are automated using 3D modeling, pricing that is instantaneous and accurate, design software that’s linked to the model, as well as billings generated from the model. They also expect the model to reflect labor feedback and cost control,” says Wilhelmi.

And if your head is spinning at this point, he suggests the antidote is an acquisition process that is standardized. “You need a checklist of information and tasks to be performed the same way each time. Eliminate the chance for costly mistakes. Estimating is the backbone of the entire construction process. Give yourself the chance to define what you are going to price, price it, perform the work and measure it afterwards. True nuggets of competitive insight come from understanding how the project performed against the original estimate. Whether your organization is a small shop or a multi-million dollar corporation, without a good estimate you are flying blind.”

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Overwhelmed by too much bid work?

“You need to have a standard process for deciding whether to bid or not bid, too,” says Wilhelmi. Given the economy, it’s tempting to load up on work to keep busy. “Understand where your sweet spot is. Rank the customers and bid based on your available resources and abilities. Keep your company safe by dealing with customers that fit: not too big, not too small and in your area of expertise. Don’t risk not being available for a good customer.” He points out it may be much more profitable to focus on doing a great job for the current customer than adding one more project into the mix.

And if you don’t get the contract?

“Be sure to call. If you have established a relationship during the bidding process, you are more likely to get valuable feedback. You should also mine the unsuccessful project for data that can be used on future projects,” says Wilhelmi.

The MCA Chicago Construction Education Institute® is the premier training facility in Chicagoland for educating mechanical contractors. It leads the green contracting movement by offering courses in commercial building retro-fit and re-commissioning, as well as LEED® and sustainable design. More than 75 courses are available in classroom and online formats. Ranges of topics include use of information technologies, safety and risk control, estimating, project management, HVAC service, as well as operations, supervisory and sales management. More information is available at

About Jack Wilhelmi:
As president emeritus of The Waldinger Corporation, Jack Wilhelmi has a passion for estimating. He has produced more than $1.5 billion of mechanical proposals throughout his career. He is past national president of Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and teaches high performance estimating and project acquisition classes for MCAA and local associations like MCA Chicago.

About MCA Chicago:
Mechanical Contractors Association Chicago promotes the highest caliber of worker at all levels of the union mechanical contracting industry by advancing safety and education. MCA Chicago represents 60 member companies who work with the highly qualified pipefitters and service technicians of Pipefitters Local Union 597. Together, they install and service heating and air conditioning; and install piping wherever it's needed – from power generation, to oil refineries, to pharmaceuticals, and food processing plants. For more information, visit




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