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Software for Estimating *only* ???

Discussion in 'Business Management' started by mjkjr, Oct 18, 2020.

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  1. mjkjr

    mjkjr Member

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    Hi Everyone,

    So I'm looking for a bit of advice. I've already gone through and looked at similar threads on this topic and am not really coming up with a solution for me and my shop. We're a small three-person shop that does screen printed apparel, custom signs, small- & wide-format printing and vehicle wraps - so cost and complexity is a consideration.

    What we use now:

    Trello: Workflow and CRM (emailing directly within cards using the SendBoard PowerUp)
    QBO: Accounting and estimating
    Google Sheets:
    Inventory tracking

    What I'd like to change: Estimating

    Problem: We've been using QuickBooks Online since the beginning to do estimating but it just really sucks for that, especially when needing to update/adjust pricing. I end up having to stage everything to update in a series of spreadsheets to upload to QBO, and it is way too tedious to keep up with.

    My estimating style: I have a hybrid approach to estimating due to the range of products we offer. I prefer to do most estimating based on simple package-pricing with few variables. This kind of estimating is mostly done for vehicle wraps and business sign projects and is not a major challenge. My I don't give a *** how many colors of vinyl/paint or number of grommets/fasteners/etc is on a sign because my package pricing covers a healthy margin, I don't want to do an engineering project just to do an estimate for a job that might not move forward - I want to turn an estimate around with a healthy margin quickly and deal with the details during the project itself. The other method is for everything else we do that is more commodity-priced, like screen-printed t-shirts, business cards, etc, where pricing is very competitive and based on quantity grids. This method is a nightmare to manage within QBO.

    Solution I'm Seeking: I want to move to a system of only using QBO to handle accounting tasks (invoices, payments, expenses, payroll) - but add a new piece of software to just do the estimating. I'm NOT necessarily looking for software to take over the CRM tasks that I currently handle in Trello as that has been working really well for us, though I am not totally opposed to it. I'd like an estimating software that doesn't try to be a kitchen-sink solution for my business, just that one piece.

    What I've tried already:
    ShopVox:
    tried in 2018; too many bugs I couldn't trust it
    CoreBridge: tried in 2019; too clunky to build most of my estimates
    Bitrix24: tried earlier this year; too much clicking around to do anything
    AirTable: tried recently, same major difficulties as working with spreadsheets

    What else I've considered:
    Ordant:
    too expensive for my small shop
    Sign Tracker: I'm might try the trial of this, but I'm not sure it can pull in live distributor data.
    Printavo: Focused on screen-print shops, so too limited for our shop
    Nutshell: and mainly focused on CRM and too basic
    Filemaker: Desktop software that requires Win10. I run Windows 7 Pro machines at my shop and I will never be switching to Windows 10; I will be moving to a Unix system when I can no longer run Win7 (so cloud-based software is a plus).

    I'm sure I've tried a dozen others that I don't even remember any longer.

    I've also thought about just building a bunch of Google Spreadsheets for estimating, but we do both textile screen-printing as well as custom signs and just thinking about the nightmare of downloading the product database from SanMar and staging it to upload into QBO gives me PTSD, nevermind all of my other vendors. Ideally, I want a system that can live-query SanMar/S&S Activewear/AlphaBroder/Grimco/Fellers catalogs and return current pricing and inventory.

    What are your thoughts? Any suggestions? Am I just being too stupid and picky? I want to keep things simple, but I've yet to find something that really works well for me and my shop.
     
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  2. kcollinsdesign

    kcollinsdesign Active Member

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    I'd spend less time worried about estimating and more time making signs. After a while, figuring out pricing is a snap. SignCraft has a good pricing guide. Every job is different; remember, the value of your ideas and solutions is what you are mostly selling, not droplets of ink or square feet of vinyl.
    Now if you are a commodity fabricator/printer/converter with dozens of employees and a standardized product line, you could probably afford to have an Excel developer design something specifically for your needs, or investigate something like Oracle NetSuite.
     
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  3. WildWestDesigns

    WildWestDesigns Major Contributor

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    Unix or Unix-like(I'm using all Linux (although do have Mac as well for Unix-like), so there is a difference, nerdy difference, but there is a difference).

    Personally and some are going to roll there eyes, but I would roll your own. That is the only way to get exactly what you want.

    Use a framework like Qt (I'm a huge fan of Qt and a big user of Plasma). It's a cross platform framework, so it will give you some future proofing as well. If you use the widgets, it's mainly geared to desktop, if you use QML (which is what I would suggest), can also compile to mobile (and web via WASM). QML does allow for either JS or C++ for the logic, while the widgets is C++ exclusively (I have used both widgets and QML).

    If you are used to full stack dev, can do it just using web tech with node or deno for the backend and be good to go and just run it on a local server. Or if your hardware is capable enough, wrap it in Electron and create a Hybrid App.

    While there is an open source community version for Qt, make sure the license affects what you need, but if you are keeping everything in house, this shouldn't be a problem, but just be aware of that as there are multiple licenses attached to this framework if you do distribute it to the public.
     
  4. ColorCrest

    ColorCrest Active Member

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    Most all recent versions of FileMaker enable both saving as former versions and runtimes as well. As far as Unix, FileMaker should be re-releasing another version of their Unix server but as far as a typical user, one will most likely want mobil and desktop access to the solution. So, old and new FileMaker enables that also.

    Stay tuned, more later.
     
  5. ColorCrest

    ColorCrest Active Member

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    Without me individually snipping so many details of your well organized post, know that this in particular is how the picture frame industry has been operating for a very long time. The upshot is the frame suppliers make their SKU and price data available at any time via a common data type of CSV. So, if your suppliers offer that accessibility, all is good. The picture frame industry enjoys a single-button data update.
     
  6. ColorCrest

    ColorCrest Active Member

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    Again, without me snipping your individual posted details, what you're wanting is easy to build. Just post here the column headings of your existing spreadsheets or grids. It will result in a actual database as opposed to a spreadsheet. If the structure is not ideal, we'll make it so.
     
  7. WildWestDesigns

    WildWestDesigns Major Contributor

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    What is their database format? All I saw mention of was SQL, which is the querying language, not necessarily the database itself. I tend to prefer SQLite as that is actually a database and doesn't need to be operating on a server. Far more portable as well. SQL is used within SQLite, but SQLite is actually the database.

    How open is the API? Depending low code programs (which are good on one hand, but more restrictive on the other), extending it is only relegated to what the OEM allows you to do. So much is abstracted away the more one gets to low (or even no) code.
     
  8. dypinc

    dypinc Very Active Member

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    Here
  9. Stacey K

    Stacey K Getting Back in the Game

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    You seem to be like me, a little too much into the details. I received no responses back a couple weeks ago on shirt prices so I started my own spreadsheet. I don't adjust my shirt prices based on sales, the base price is the base price, period. I can CHECK the base price monthly and adjust when they raise prices. I can send it to you if you want, it might spark an idea. PM me.

    Sheet one - calculator (it works but it seems too complicated lol)
    • My Current pricing list of basic items (Gildan tshirt, long sleeve, hoodie and sleeveless) - all other prices are based on these BASE PRICES.
    • Table that adds the current price and the "difference in cost" to the basic items list using a drop down of items I sell - this is the price I tell the customer in the estimate
    • Calculator that I can put my actual labor, exact costs per print, vinyl, etc. - shows the exact breakdown plus profit margin - recommended sales price and hopefully my BASE prices are correct and all my labor, etc. have been covered. I've been using this to make sure my pricing sheet if correct and to double check after an order is finished that I actually covered my labor and expenses.
    • Summary - includes 3 pricing scenarios, RECOMMENDED SALES PRICE based on my actual labor, costs, etc., Materialsx2 (common pricing scenario based on general pricing from Sanmar), actual costs x2 (sometimes you get a sale price or a deal or you screw up!)
    Sheet 2 has the lists of products with pricing and discounts added.

    I started making one for signs but I didn't get too far. I use the Signcraft pricing guide with lots of notes written in it and a calculator LOL
     
  10. Gino

    Gino Premium Subscriber

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    I see these kindsa questions all the time here at s101. You seem quite business-oriented and intelligent, so I'm gonna ask you some questions of my own, to better understand.
    • Is this estimating program to help you figure all the various types of signs to quote to an end-user ??
    • Is this program gonna calculate every bolt, nut and paper towel being used in the quote ??
    • Is this program supposed to help you re-stock your shelves and keep inventory ??
    • Is this program gonna track the progress of a job after being accepted ??
    • Will this program create an invoice based upon your original quote or can you put additional items in as not first included ??
     
  11. Stacey K

    Stacey K Getting Back in the Game

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    These are good questions. Mine is to make sure my BASE PRICES are correct. I started doing this because I suspected I may not be charging enough for certain labor costs. After a month of tracking every minute and every penny it turns out my prices are almost perfectly in line based on my hourly rate and desired margin. However, a few items are lower than the market so some adjusting is needed.
     
  12. The Big Squeegee

    The Big Squeegee Major Contributor

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    I got fed up with QB and started to use Wave accounting. It seems to be more suited to estimating than what I need it for. Best of all it's free and has a built in billing system which is where they make their money. It also does payroll for less than QB charges. https://www.waveapps.com/
     
  13. Stacey K

    Stacey K Getting Back in the Game

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    I use Wave also! I love it!
     
  14. ColorCrest

    ColorCrest Active Member

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    If you're asking about FileMaker's format, it is their own database engine.
     
  15. ColorCrest

    ColorCrest Active Member

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    Of the first four points, yes, however the OP seems to be looking for a pricing tool for what he's calling "packages" of sign products as well as t-shirts.

    The last point of "original quote" but "putting additional items" comes down to both a business rule and a way for a computer system to handle the addition. Generally, a quote is a quote, not an estimate. A quote is accepted by the customer and the quote gets a unique ID reference number applied by the computer. For additional chargeable items, a new quote referencing the original would need to be generated. For blanket purchase order customers, and especially advertising agencies via change / addition orders, this is typical. For non-chargeable items, a new line item can be added to the original quote with notes to that effect for the internal record. When the invoice is generated, certain line items may appear or not.
     
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  16. WildWestDesigns

    WildWestDesigns Major Contributor

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    Hmmm, that's too bad.
     
  17. FireSprint.com

    FireSprint.com Trade Only Screen & Digital Sign Printing

    How so?

    To the OP, are you looking for something that will generate estimates that you can hand to the customer, like a PDF that can be printed, or are you looking for a fancy calculator that just gives you a price at the bottom after taking costs and inputs into consideration?
     
  18. Christian @ 2CT Media

    Christian @ 2CT Media Major Contributor

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    From my research, the FileMaker database engine has been around with little change since the 80s. It's proven and more powerful than SQL in many senses. They have nearly 40 years of development and tons of current users so you can connect to anything.

    To the OP what is your specific hold up with the solutions you have tried? We are in the same boat and building our own solution.
     
  19. WildWestDesigns

    WildWestDesigns Major Contributor

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    I like portability between solutions, needs change and relationships with software vendors change. While on one hand having in house APIs is great and provides a lot of power for those that are able to keep up with development of said API, but having things that are unique to one business (while great for the business) is not so much for the end user if their situation changes. I always like having a back door.

    I have switched from one platform to another due to changes with 2 major companies and how they did things, however, anything I use on my current system, if that changes, I have to be willing to look at another option or go back to the first platform that I left. I don't rule anything out. Always like to have a "just in case" plan. But I am weird that way.

    SQL is actually the language not the database itself. SQL I believe has been around 40+ yrs as well.

    Database "engine" usually denotes 2 components, database itself and the language (or languages) used to query the database.

    Regardless if it's more powerful or not, isn't my main concern as long as the less "powerful" option does do what I need for it specifically do or extend something to do what I need. If it doesn't do that, then obviously, the more powerful works. I fear lock in more then anything and I'm willing (and able) to do hacks to make something work for me in order to give more more "maneuverability" to prevent that.

    That's why I said it was to bad.

    Think about how many software solutions people have switched on here over the years, not just CRM type solutions, but other solutions as well. The more portable that everything is, the less painful that it is.
     
  20. Christian @ 2CT Media

    Christian @ 2CT Media Major Contributor

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    There are tons of FileMaker conversion tools out there, both in and out. They have tons of connectors already built and you can use JScript to get anything else you want done.
     
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