Contractor entrepreneurs discuss the many options and decisions when it comes to buying software to run their businesses.
Choosing new software to help you run your business can be a daunting task. First, there’s software for seemingly every aspect of your business, from financial and accounting to field service management, to sales and service. Not to mention all the software capabilities you never thought about!
Maybe you’re happy with your current company software, or maybe you simply don’t know what’s new and available.
Whatever the case, with so many software solutions available today, finding the right one for your business can make all the difference in the world.
Perhaps the best way to research software is to hear from your peers — those who run similar businesses who have been through it already.
I recently interviewed a panel of top contractors from around the country to get their thoughts on business software and how they make decisions on the purchasing software for their businesses.
The panel includes Linda Couch, COO of Parrish Services in Manassas, Va.; Karly Rolls, service administrator for L.J. Rolls Refrigeration Co. in Fenton, Mich.; https://ljrolls.com/, president of Rosenberg Indoor Comfort in San Antonio; and Brian Stack, president of Stack Heating, Cooling & Electric in Avon, Ohio.
Here’s what they had to say.
What kind of software do you use to run your business?
Couch: We use ServiceTitan for service operations, QuickBooks for financials, Microsoft O365 for email, spreadsheets, collaboration, forms and databases. We also use XOi for remote support and service, Podium for reviews and customer chat, and RingCentral, which we’re going to replace with functionality from ServiceTitan and O365. With the exception of XOi, which we started using in 2018, we’ve been using these software platforms for about five years now.
Rolls: Sage 100 Contractor, which we just started using a year ago.
Rosenberg: We use S2000 by Davisware for our service management and dispatching and Fieldesk by Mobilogic for our mobile field invoicing. We use QuickBooks for our accounting and financials, Wrightsoft for load calculations and OnCall Air for replacement proposals, which is cloud based.
We started using the DOS version of S2000 in 1988. Eventually we upgraded to the windows version. We started using Fieldesk for our mobile invoicing 10 years ago. We have used Wrightsoft for 25 years and QuickBooks for 17 years. We started using OnCall Air air 3 months ago.
Stack: We use FieldEdge, which we just switched over to about three months ago, QuickBooks and Sales Builder Pro.
What prompted you to choose that software?
Couch: Overall, we had been on a strategy since 2009 to migrate all our software to web-based so that we could work from home and improve our business resiliency; and be paperless. Every purchase fit into that overarching strategy.
We’d been paperless since 2010, so the web-based design of ServiceTitan fit our strategy. It was more expensive than what we had, so the single feature that made it worth switching was the visual price book. We believed the incremental sales would more than pay for the difference in cost. We were forced to move to QuickBooks when we chose ServiceTitan.
Rolls: The mobile tech platform and the detailed job costing capabilities is what convinced us to go with Sage 100 Contractor.
Rosenberg: We learned about S2000 from the original owner and developer at an ACCA meeting in 1986. One of our Mix Group members was also using S2000 and they were happy with it.
Stack: We were looking for a software package that provided a better mobile experience for our technicians and our customers.
When considering new software, what factors your decision?
Couch: 1) Is it cloud-based? 2) Does it integrate with what we already use? 3) What’s the financial impact (i.e., how much incremental revenue can it bring OR what efficiencies will we achieve OR both)? 4) What is support like? 5). What’s the learning curve for users? 6) Cost — which can totally be overcome by Nos. 3 and 4.
Rolls: Price point versus capabilities … what is the ROI on the software? Also, it’s important to understand the availability of use, i.e.: how many remote employees can access this?
Rosenberg: What type of contracting business do you have? Do you do mostly service or do you perform a lot of new construction work? Different software has its strengths and weakness in both areas.
Another factor is cost and whether or not the additional features will benefit your business and help pay the increase in cost.
For example, if your software has a really good business follow-up feature for additional work, this could help your business earn additional revenue to pay for your software.
The quality of support and ongoing software enhancements are also important factors in choosing a software package.
Stack: Ease of use, good flow through a work order, being able to get meaningful reports and good mobile solution for the technicians are all important factors.
How important is manufacturer support?
Couch: Very, but the ‘support’ doesn’t have to be you answer my phone call on the first ring. If the application is well-designed, the training is effective and the product documentation is thorough, up-to-date and easy to use, that’s more than enough for us.
Rolls: The importance of this cannot be understated, especially during the migration process. Being able to switch software with minimal downtime and minimal corruption is priceless.
Rosenberg: Software support is very important to us. We call S2000 for help with custom report writing and they help us if we have an accounting question.
We also use support with Fieldesk when a unit is not communicating or when we need a customized form. Oncall Air has a live support Bot on their software. It makes getting answers to questions very efficient.
Stack: Support is very important, especially when first starting off. There are many ways that you can manipulate how you use software. Support helps you find the most efficient ways to use it.
What is the best thing about your current software?
Couch: It’s web-based, integrated with other applications, easy to learn and well-documented.
Rolls: The software is fluid, meaning the information needed is only ever one click away. This allows us to work more efficiently and well educated. It also is scalable — we started with 45 employees using it and moving to 60 was a breeze.
Rosenberg: It gives us what we need to run our business accurately. It also does not crash very often … it’s reliable.
Our annual software support is reasonable compared to some of the other software solutions out there.
Stack: I believe that every software package has its glitches or things that you wish it would do that it doesn’t do. That being said, you have to find the one that works best for you 80 percent of the time.
Technicians need to be able to move through their day easily on a phone or tablet.
What is your current software lacking?
Couch: I HATE the reporting functions. They’re clunky and unsophisticated. We like to dig into our data, so I would like to be able to connect directly with the database and use our own database reporting tools.
Rolls: We are 110 percent satisfied with our software.
Rosenberg: My current software does not have a live KPI dashboard that displays daily, weekly or monthly sales numbers or goals. It also could do a better job at automated marketing letters and send automated reviews.
Stack: I’m still learning how it all works, so it would be unfair of me to say that FieldEdge is not doing something yet that I may not understand that it does.
How do you research business software?
Couch: We’ve used Capterra, an online tool that lets you find and compare software. We’ve also done product demos, consulted our IT company and talked with current users of the software we’re researching.
Rolls: We spoke with other contractors of our size, field and volume. From there, it is important to evaluate what your needs are and to schedule demos. Being able to see others navigate the software helps you understand the workflow of each platform.
Rosenberg: I read trade magazines and learn about new software from networking through Service Roundtable, ACCA and my ACCA Mix Group.
Stack: Talking to other contractors is the best way to research software. Call the referrals they give you and ask lots of questions. Most contractors are willing to talk and give you their honest feedback. I learned a lot from my ACCA MIX Group members. They use a variety of different software packages and we are able to learn from each other what works and doesn’t work.
Have you ever bought a software in the past and found out it didn’t do what you wanted it to? Or regretted the decision?
Couch: No. We start all software purchase questions by first identifying our requirements for all stakeholders. That means the first question we’re asking is if the product is going to do what we need it to do. If it’s something free, we might just play with something before going to all the trouble. But for a purchase, never.
Rolls: Yes, we previously used one and we quickly outgrew its capabilities. Software should allow you to work more efficiently and potentially have room to expand, so you should make sure you do not outgrow the platform.
Rosenberg: We have purchased several replacement proposal platforms that we ended up moving away from.
Stack: Yes. We actually had purchased another package last fall. That only lasted about three months before we figured out this was not going to work for us.
What is the most important thing a business owner needs to consider before investing in new company software?
Couch: Stepping back for a minute, you want any investment to be consistent with your business strategy. If you’re a low-cost provider, you need to buy more cost-effective products. If you’re differentiating your services and charging a premium, you need to buy software that will help your company stand out.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to start with requirements and to gather them from everyone who will touch the software. It’s easy to get caught up in the vendor’s gee-whiz features, and before you know it, you’ve bought something that doesn’t work for you. Also, most companies use only about 20 percent of a product’s functionality, so you end up spending money on features that you don’t use. Finally, getting input from all your users helps create buy-in for when you make the change.
Rolls: Software is only as good as the information that your team puts into it. It’s important to consider what your KPIs are and how your team will ensure the information is accurately and consistently entered into the software.
Rosenberg: Check references, make sure they are a secure company and will be around a long time, make sure the software is going to accomplish everything you need for your business.
Stack: You need to realize that software will not always be able to do 100 percent of what you would like it to do. You need to be willing to adapt and change a bit to utilize the software to its full potential. Find one that fits most of your needs.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Couch: It’s important to identify the switching costs of replacing software. The learning curve and the initial loss of productivity are not trivial. Talking to references can help you gather information about this.
While we haven’t had the case where the software didn’t perform as expected, we did have the problem where a third-party vendor told us they would do something that they didn’t end up doing. We believed them and didn’t build a contingency plan. That was a mistake. Along the same lines, we bought software that worked as described, but our hardware didn’t work as expected. If you’re making a big decision, talk to lots of references or try to beta test something before taking the plunge.