Stop me if you've heard this one before. You get a call inviting you to bid on a project.

You schedule time to meet with him to start the estimating process. You pick up the plans and specs, you do your material take-off, figure labor costs, visit the site, figure rental equipment needs and costs, and attend pre-bid meetings. Finally, you add in enough profit so everyone makes money but the company stays competitive.

At this point, you might have already invested days, weeks or months, depending on the project, in addition to the money spent in gasoline, copying services, couriers and salaries putting it together.

Of course, all of your hard work, diligence, time, and money you spent putting this bid together will be worth it, right? Probably, if you're the winning contractor. As it turns out however, despite your best efforts, yours wasn't the winning bid. Now what?

Every contractor, including me, has experienced this. We've all invested our valuable time to assemble the most competitive bid, only to come up empty-handed.

But was all of that time truly wasted or is there any payoff to be had? I've learned a project is not mine and have never thought about it again. Why dwell on that lost project when all my competitors are out there bidding the next one? Shouldn't I chase the project?

I've learned from experience and through talking with other contractors that there just might be something to be gained from those lost jobs.

First, disregard the bizarre reasons your bid didn't win, especially on a residential job. Maybe a distant friend or relative had a chimney repointed. He can't remember the company's name that did the work, but their truck signs were red, white, and black. Your signs also happen to be red, white, and black, so the homeowner didn't want to take a chance. It sounds crazy, but it happens. There's not a lot to do but get into your truck and go to the next one.

But the commercial side of the business can be a little different. This is where you can try to get some return on your investment. So how do you know when to look back and try to figure out what happened and when to move on?

Compare bids

First, carefully examine the winning and losing bids. “It all depends on the size of the project and how much higher your bid is than the low bid,” says Jerry Painter of Painter Masonry in Gainesville, Fla. “It's easy when the spread between your bid and the low bid is significant. If you've been in the business for a decent amount of time and are bidding against other contractors that are experienced, the bidding should be pretty tight.