By Steve Stencil, CTO and Co-Founder of Leap
Choosing the right software to run your business can be daunting. There are too many vendors using the same terms and making the same claims to improve performance and grow business. There are also many different types of software to address various operational functions, such as customer relationship management, estimating and contracting, project management, staff management and all of the above. With so many options available, how do you make a decision that is right for your business? Read this guide to learn the critical questions that need to be answered before purchasing software for your home improvement company.
If your operational needs aren’t aligned with the software tools you‘re considering, you could end up making a big investment in software that does little for your business. According to a Construction Industry Trends Report by Software Advice, there are three main reasons why construction companies adopt new software: company growth, new employees highlighting the need for standard processes, or a costly mistake. In my experience, home improvement companies are no different when it comes to their reasons for going digital. Whatever your reason, use it to guide your internal research and decision-making process. If you’re looking to achieve faster growth, determine what has kept you from growing faster already. What keeps you from completing jobs more profitably, or maintaining a higher quality of service? If a rush of new employees has you looking to digital solutions, consider how you will train them, keep that training consistent, and scale your processes. The answers to these questions are usually operational, not technological. Knowing them can help clarify what you want to achieve as a company, and then define the role software can play. That simple step immediately narrows the field.
Some software platforms like Salesforce.com or QuickBooks focus on a core business function regardless of industry (i.e. sales, marketing, accounting). Other solutions are designed to address the pain points or unique needs of businesses serving a specific sector. Examples of industry-specific solutions include MarketSharp, a customer relationship management solution for exterior remodeling companies, and Leap, an app that enables home services companies to conduct the entire in-home sales process through a tablet. There is no “better” choice between industry-agnostic vs. industry-specific solutions, but there are trade-offs. For instance, industry-agnostic options usually require more customization to make them work for your service model, whereas industry-specific options may require you have more than one vendor to span all your needs and goals.
Business owners should take inventory of software they already have and decide what they want to keep and what they want to replace before looking for new vendors. This serves two purposes. First, it narrows your focus to software solutions that fill a gap in your business, which can keep you from overbuying. A peripheral benefit is that you may become aware of functionality in your existing environment that you never knew you had. Second, the inventory gives you a checklist to discuss with software vendors to determine if they can interface with the solutions you already use. For home improvement companies, integration with DocuSign, with digitally-adept manufacturers such as ProVia, or with other popular packages can save time, reduce headaches, and increase adoption of the new system by your team.
Despite how easy it has gotten to adopt cloud-based solutions, in-house management and oversight is still needed to ensure long-term success. You’ll need to evaluate and adapt your processes to reap the benefits of the solution, and your staff will need training, as well as a go-to person on your team that they can contact with questions or issues. Designating a subject-matter expert or “super user” in your organization to perform these responsibilities, and act as a liaison between the chosen vendor and your staff, is a best practice that should be exercised early in your search process.
The good news is that cloud-based solutions reduce the burden of management and maintenance. When your software is “in the cloud” it doesn’t need space on the computers or servers in your business. Bug fixes, security patches, and updates happen automatically, often without any interruption in access. And field staff can access cloud solutions from a job site via their smartphone or tablet, so they will always have the most up-to-date information.
Businesses grow and contract, develop new service arms or eliminate lines that are no longer profitable. Some changes come quickly with little notice, but most business owners know where they want to go and how they want to get there. Keep those plans in mind when evaluating software solutions, and make sure the software you choose can grow with you. Solutions you implement today need to be able handle the kind of scale you expect in 5-10 years, as well as the scope of work you want to do.
Steve Stencil, co-founder and CTO of Leap, is a former home improvement sales rep who developed the Leap app to address the digital divide in the home services industry. Leap digitizes the entire in-home sales process, including estimates and contracts, financing and integration with industry CRMs, lenders and manufacturers.