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Selling Your Services

Bids-A-Lot Program Enhances Contractor Professionalism

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

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Rocky Scrimshire, owner of Bids-A-Lot, introduced his product to the industry almost a decade ago. Recent major upgrades have significantly improved the program. Today's version offers more benefits than ever before as well as more ways to help sweeping contractors increase their profitablilty.

For almost a decade, contractors have credited Bid-A-Lot's parking lot bidding program with helping them get business and stay profitable. For a number of years after its introduction, the program was computer-based. In 2005, in a nod to the widespread use of the Internet, the program became web-based. This eliminated the hassle of software installation, upgrades, compatibility issues, etc.

From that point on, contractors are able to do all their bidding from any computer, and in an absolute minimum amount of time. Now, with the recent introduction of a new Marketing Module, Bids-A-Lot's program has become a better value than ever. Current pricing is $165/year, or $295 for a two year subscription. Here is an overview of the way the program's interactive Bidding, Marketing and Invoicing Modules work, and the value it provides to the sweeping contractors who use it.

The program's Bidding Module remains the program's core feature. Simple to use, it is based around a 25-question survey that analyses all the different aspects that might be present in a parking lot. The program then uses the information entered to modify each bid via taking into account all the parking lot characteristics that are present at a given location. These questions include number of islands and their shape of them, number of parking spaces, quality of asphalt surface and type of material in islands.

As an example of the latter: The program recognizes that a different amount of time is needed to clean landscaped areas covered with wood chips, because they must be hand-picked instead of cleaned via blower. By contrast, landscaping with a grass or rock covering are much quicker to keep clean.

One place the program saves money is in the time it takes to gather enough information to make up a bid. In many instances, doing a quick drive-through of a prospect's lot is enough to allow filling out all pertinent info, especially if the prospect can provide the number of parking spaces contained in it.

Screenshot #1

Once all the information asked in the 25 questions are answered, the next step is to choose among varied levels of service. These range from level one, very basic (sweeping without exiting the cab of the sweeper), up to level five (customer who wants you to use a magnifying glass and tweezers...). The program then takes into account the time factor changes represented by your choice of service level.

Next is to select the 'charge standard' you want to use. This is a figure that is based on the rate per hour you want to use. This needs to be the figure you have established will provide the level of profitability you need to maintain a healthy business. The program then bases its calculations on that rate. The charge standard may be changed for each bid, and so can be adjusted for any sweeper used, for accounts located farther away from your base of operations, etc.

Once all the information on a current bid has been saved, the contractor is re-directed to the bid worksheet. This area of the program offers nine different sweeping frequencies, from daily to once-a-month. The bid worksheet automatically generates both the price per sweep and, as a customer courtesy, the price per month the customer will need to budget. This makes it easy to modify the sweeping frequency -- keeping in place all the other information -- to provide several sweeping frequency options to the prospect.

Do you offer services other than sweeping? No problem! There is an easy way to enter in any other services you offer, such as garbage bag change-out, back-pack blowing, loading dock cleanup, pressure washing, etc. This allows the contractor to easily come up with different prices for an array of different options. This allows a virtually unlimited number of options to be generated. The program automatically breaks out the cost for any additional services into a separate section, so the prospect can easily see what the add-on services will cost, over and above just the sweeping.

Not only are the results then printable, but the output generates a format that's nicer than the ones I've seen used by most contractors. If you have a logo, email it to the folks at Bids-A-Lot and they'll include it in your account. They'll even scan it from your letterhead for you, if need be.

Don't have a logo? Quit procrastinating: now's your chance to have one made for just $35! Using information they get from speaking with you and taking a look at whatever you might be using currently, in just a few days you'll have three different options to choose from. Satisfaction is guaranteed. The one you choose is then uploaded and appears on all your bids. You'll also get a high-resolution file you can use in your printing, on your website, etc. The process is slick, easy and inexpensive.

After you've entered in all the information for a bid, including the prospect's name, address, etc., that information automatically is available in the program's Invoicing and Marketing modules.

Invoicing Module

The invoicing section of the program is equally easy to use. It's as simple as choosing the frequency that you sweep the customer's property. An area is also available for adding in any extra work done, as well. Once you enter in your local tax rate, that is included and calculated in the result. As mentioned above, the customer's information and your company information -- even your payment terms -- are all automatically generated. Another new feature is that bids can now be emailed to the customer. This convenient feature saves both time and money, let alone being more convenient. Another advantage to emailing of bids is it makes it easier for property managers, many of whom operate remotely from their home offices, to forward on the quote to their manager.

Marketing Feature

The Marketing Module of the program was added at the end of 2006. It is designed to help contractors overcome both their fear of cold-calling and cold-phoning, and to save them time in providing unsolicited bids. The fact is, many contractors are shy about cold-calling, yet marketing is really the lifeblood of any business. The Marketing Module gives the contractor the option of developing a bid for a property, then generating a marketing letter that can be used as a cover letter for the bid. This professionally-written letter may then be mailed to the prospect, along with the bid.

Screenshot #2

There are currently five different standardized letters that users may choose from, each designed to cover a little different situation. For example, one of the letters tells the prospect that you'll be coming to see them personally after they've received the bid. Others indicate you'll be following up via a phone call. As needed, more letters will be added in the future. The Marketing Module gives Bids-A-Lot subscribers the option to mail out different letters to both introduce and present bids. It also gives them letters to say thanks for getting a bid. You can use the letters to break the ice.

The Bids-A-Lot program has made enormous strides in professionalism and ease of use over the last decade. Today's version is simple, quick and easy to use. Perhaps most importantly, use of it will enhance both the professionalism and profitability of most sweeping contractors. The coding behind this program is based on 25+ years of personal experience in the sweeping industry. Another value of the program is that it takes into account the many independent factors of each job and uses a common standard to evaluate them all.

Why is such a common standard so important: It ensures accuracy in your bidding and, at the same time, maintains the profit margin you have chosen. Establishment of a reasonable profit margin will prevent you from bidding too high on some and too low on others. By using the processes and the calculations of the software, you generate consistent bids and, thus, a consistent level of profit. Get the picture?

Some readers are probably saying "The program seems to be good for new contractors but what about established businesses?" After reviewing the Bids-A-Lot program, it seems clear that even very established sweeping companies could benefit from its use. Even a larger company, one with multiple salespersons can benefit by the same consistent standard, and generate bids with a consistent level of profit. It mitigates the problem of having one salesperson bidding high, and one low. By the same token, it benefits owner/operators by reducing the time it takes to bid, as well as to increase bidding accuracy.

Commercial Power Sweeping Logo The comments of Eddie Hamilton, who manages Oregon-based, Commercial Power Sweeping, Inc., are representative of the contractors I've spoken to about the Bids-A-Lot program:

"I've found the Bids-A-Lot program to be very helpful to our company," said Hamilton. "Now, with the addition of the invoicing and marketing modules, it's become even better. Using Bids-A-Lot has enabled me to better visualize the scope of some of the jobs. Mid-sized parking areas, for example, is a segment of the industry where I've historically not been as accurate in my bidding as I'd like. The Bids-A-Lot program interface lets me evaluate -- because the program has the ability to allow me to enter different numbers and see different outcomes -- what my best bidding options might be for a given situation. The program is definitely worth the modest cost per year."

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