By Zen Newman, Marketing Analyst at PipelineDeals
Sitting here in Seattle, it’s obvious that we have entered something of a construction boom. As we’ve exited the recession, people are suddenly building again, and the construction industry has taken on renewed life. I can hardly think of a contractor in recent months who isn’t “out of their mind busy”. As work gets more plentiful, more contractors are choosing to get back into the business.
The startling thing about the construction market today compared to 2007 is how completely technology is a part of it. Contractors, big and small, now rely on a full suite of mobile devices and computers to accomplish their projects and maintain contact with clients and prospects. On these gadgets run a host of software designed to help contractors manage customers, process bids and put together accurate estimates. Computers are also essential to keep their books and manage subcontractors.
The list of potential programs and tools that are available for an entrepreneurially minded contractor are easily overwhelming. This article attempts to cut through the noise and offer three distinct pieces of software that are essential for a contractor.
CRM: Manage your contacts & bid flow
The uncomfortable truth is that striking out on your own in any business requires gaining customers, in other words selling, and this holds true for contractors. In most ways, the building industry has very little in common with the organizations that we think of when we talk about selling, but there are some things to learn from how sales professionals manage their business.
Customer Relationship Management (or CRM) is an internet-based platform that sales teams use to keep track of their client’s information and manage the jobs that they have in the works. These are all functions that are just as useful to contractors. Keeping track of your contacts and following up on bids in a timely fashion are, more often than not, the key to being the one to get the job.
There is no shortage of options out there, many of which are quite good. The Important things to keep in mind while shopping is the ease of use, the level of customizability, and the cost. Some the most prevalent options are designed with large companies in mind who are less sensitive to price and need a variety of complex and difficult to use features. For most contractors, however, simple is preferable. The most important function of this software is to get the client and job information to the foreman to ensure a smooth operation and a successful client experience.
Estimating: Keeping track of materials, labor and time
Keeping track of clients is an essential activity for any business, but once you’ve got them on the hook, you need to be able to supply an accurate estimate of what a job will entail including time and expenses. There are a variety of different estimating programs out there which are tailored to specific industries. When choosing software of this kind, like a CRM, it’s important to pick something that offers the functionality that you need without weighing you down with a bunch of features you don’t need.
Select a program with the ability to take into account labor hours, materials and sub-contractors. Providing an accurate bid is an integral part of creating a satisfying experience for the client as well as being critical to your company’s ability to turn a profit. For potentially a huge bonus feature, look for a software package the integrates with your CRM. That way you have an easier time getting estimates and other information about the job into your CRM where it can be accessed by anyone who needs it.
Accounting: Expenses, taxes, profit & loss
For many small businesses without a dedicated bookkeeper, managing the finances is one of the most challenging aspects of the business. Understanding how a company’s money moves is critical, especially for a small business with limited cash flows. Complicating things further for contractors is the need to commit large amounts of money up front for materials and labor long before a project will generate revenue. This means that contractors must keep a close eye on their finances.
In spite of the obvious importance of finances in the health of a business, contractors who do not have a dedicated bookkeeper are in the position of needing to minimize the amount of time spent on these tasks for more time in front of customers and on job sites. Selecting intuitive, yet complete accounting software is critical to saving time and increasing accuracy. Much like your bid software, ideally look for a platform that integrates with your CRM so that you can easily pass billing information between your bookkeeping software and your customer database.
There are so many different programs built with contractors in mind in the world today that it is overwhelming to try to sort our which of them are the most useful. Even worse, it’s entirely a waste of your time to even try. As you dive into the world of construction related technology, you’ll no-doubt find that there are certain programs that you can’t live without and other that you simply don’t need. Until then, take these three types of software, Customer Relationship Management, Estimation, and Booking as the foundation of your business. They’ll help get you off on the right foot. Keep you organized as you begin to grow. And focus you on the job at hand.
See how PipelineDeals is built to be a CRM for contractors