If you work for yourself or in a management role, it’s likely that you’ve produced an estimate or quote. There are many approaches we can take to producing these critical documents, from spreadsheets and dedicated software, to informal emails and even just plain old hand-written notes. Some methods require us to start from scratch and others let build on previous estimates, like a phoenix rising from a great benchmark. Simplestimate uses the “dedicated software with benchmarks” approach.
A rough start
Simplestimate is a subscription-based application hosted in the cloud. No need for fussy installations, just sign-up online and get started. I say “just” but honestly, the registration process is not without its difficulties—Notably, the requirement to enter a company name. This won’t be an issue in most instances but might be bothersome for the casual user wanting to try the free plan.
Simplestimate password requirements are a far bigger issue—after rejecting my first password choice the software provided no further guidance or hints about requirements. Users are left blindly testing longer character combinations, uppercase and lowercase letters or numbers, a favourite colour, mother’s maiden name, streets from childhood, etc. After a few tweaks, I finally found something that passed.
An example estimate is provided after login, but, disappointedly there’s no guidance beyond that—no coach marks, no product tour and no guide for getting started.
I like diving in to figure things out on my own, but this lack of a proper welcome will be particularly disappointing for users preferring to read instructions.
That said, this isn’t a deep, complex application. It’s very approachable when paired up with a healthy ration of digital confidence.
A rough middle
After login, you can navigate to Estimates, Templates, Roles & Rates, Clients, or Settings. These are pleasantly straightforward and self-explanatory. Estimates reveals all active estimates and the option to create new ones. New estimates require a title, client and estimation technique (more on this to come).
Upon creation, the app adds an Example Section, an Example Task, and a previously indicated or default role. A seemingly random time value is also assigned depending on the estimating technique you have used. Neither task or section can be deleted and there’s no ability to customize structure (e.g. sections per team or per project phase). In other words, estimates must be built this way. Tasks are the only activities opened in sections. As a result, I was forced to create an unnecessary structure for my estimate.
I predict that the automatic assignment of a role and value will become tiresome fast. After some testing, I discovered that the active role is listed first on the Roles & Rates screen. I’d advise making sure the role at the top is one you expect to use most. Time can be assigned in units varying between 8 to 10. (It seems that the tool measures time in hours; however, nowhere is that specified.)
The system allows a set-up based on days rather than hours but will default to a base value of 8-10 days each time. Worryingly, estimates indicate no indication of the measurement unit which can be confusing for clients. There’s a chance that clients assume they’re getting two days of work when they’re actually getting two hours.
Estimates are built up by adding roles under tasks within sections. Each role must be assigned units of time to be spent on the task. This is where the aforementioned estimating technique comes in. Simplestimate offers three different approaches to estimating.
One (most simple) Enter a single value estimate. The system creates a low and high value around that number with a -10% and +10%.
Two (Low, High) Enter a lowest and highest expected value. The system averages the two and provides a third value as an estimate.
Three (Low, Most Likely, High) Enter these three values and the system averages across all three.
It doesn’t seem possible to estimate without the spreads above. You can go for Option One and put a 0% spread and it will produce three identical values in the estimate.
Completed estimates can be delivered as a PDF, an online link and, if you’re feeling low-tech, there’s an option to print.
There’s an option to show the full Low/Average/High spread or just one of those values. You can also choose how much detail to share. For example, you may just want to communicate headline costs per section.
The Share Online feature allows you to share the estimate online. However, the software doesn’t automatically generate a URL for easy copy and paste into something like a client email. The URL must instead be loaded, then copied and pasted from the browser bar. It’s a small thing but feels like a missing feature, especially because standard services like Google and Dropbox auto-generate links.
Edits can be saved as versions, which is useful during price negotiations and the scoping process. Estimates can also be saved as templates, which is handy for setting up similar jobs in the future. Visit Templates to edit each boilerplate independently of its root estimate.
Note that templates cannot be created from scratch and can only be modeled on true estimates. In other words, there’s no easy way to set up multiple templates ahead of time.
Setting up Roles & Rates is straightforward and begins with assigning a name and value to a role (a charge per unit of time). As mentioned, there’s no way to specify the unit of time but the suggestion is hours. The default currency is dollars ($) but this can be adjusted in the settings. Currency is a global setting so changing it will affect all estimates. Multiple currencies aren’t possible.
Add and track the number of estimates per client in Clients. New clients can be created when you make new estimates so I’m not sure there’s much value in adding any outside of that workflow.
Basic customization to branding and company info can be made Settings. A logo can be uploaded to display on estimates but I could not get this to work even after trying different file types and sizes. Again, there’s no guidance. Primary colour of the interface can be adjusted to match your brand. Regional settings like currency and date format are available, as are some defaults for estimating technique and charge rates.
Simplestimate doesn’t integrate with any other apps and services, which is unfortunate given that it cannot issue invoices. That means at some point you’ll likely need to recreate all your estimate details in another system—another system that, perhaps, can also create estimates.
At this point, I can’t help but mention Harvest. It’s another cloud-hosted app that’s been popular with agencies for years. With Harvest, you can create estimates, projects, track time, generate reports, and issue invoices. It also integrates with just about every other cloud-based app out there and has mobile apps to boot. If you are only needing one user then Harvest is free with limited functionality or $12/month for the unlimited plan. Not bad value I’d say.
A rough comparison
So, how does Simplestimate stack up?
Well, for a single user the app is free without limitations on clients or estimates. For unlimited users, it’s only $15/month. When you stack Simplestimate and Harvest side by side, there is no comparison—Harvest offers much more functionality for less. Harvest is priced at $49/month for multiple users, but considering you’ll likely need an invoicing application to go with Simplestimate (not to mention a time-tracker), Harvest still feels like a better value. It’s just a more complete and hassle-free package.
It’s also worth mentioning Quickbooks (from $10) and Xero (from $9). These cloud-based accounting packages handle estimates, invoices, and expenses as well as servicing all your other accounting needs. Once there’s a requirement for more than one user, Simplestimate just can’t compete.
Yes—I feel like I’ve been giving Simplestimate a hard time. I actually quite like the app. For starters, it’s pretty. The UI is carefully crafted. The colour palette is fresh and well balanced, and the considered font choice of Museo is very pleasing. Despite zero guidance on how to use it, I found my way around fairly well. It’s simple and you can estimate things… so they’ve at least covered their primary goal.
Bugs. Lots of bugs.
My main problem with Simplestimate is that it feels like an early prototype. Functionality is very limited and there are usability headaches all over the place. For example, it’s possible to enter “low” values in estimates that are higher than the “high” values—but the high values don’t update to match so it’s possible to make quite a mess.
The button labelling isn’t terribly clear either. To save profile edits after you’ve made them, you have to click Edit company. There’s an option to add a custom markup to estimates, but when I tried to apply a discount, the system threw an error. It appeared to work the second time I tried, but the discount somehow wasn’t applied to the PDF it generated. On another occasion, I added a markup of 20% and the PDF output something completely different to what I was seeing on screen (and very wrong).
I’m a keen advocate of the lean startup approach—build it, get it out there, and learn from your users so that your next release addresses their needs. Missing features I can appreciate, but bugs are an issue.
Teething issues aside, this would be a great tool for users with low digital confidence. I find it strange that Simplestimate is targeted at digital and creative agencies, given the examples on the main landing page. Having worked in a digital agency myself, I don’t see how this could be useful. There’s no ability to add material costs or expenses unless you add them as a role. At some point, you should be tracking estimates, payments, and profitability. None of that is here.
I guess I’m just not sure who this is for. I’ve freelanced before and in that realm, it might have seemed appropriate. But, I’ve also used Harvest which gave me much more functionality and flexibility than I found in Simplestimate.
Simplestimate is a small and pleasant application for creating basic high-low estimates. The lightweight feel and nice UI will appeal to less digitally savvy users that still need digital estimating tools for their business. Freelancers may find some value in the professional output for minimal cost. Invoicing and payments may require less rigorous structure and administration which is also great for freelancers. For the business client that Simplestimate seems to be targeting, I’d say there are much better options available on the market.