Down to one

Features - Technology

The staff at Richter Landscape had too many systems to support its daily operations, so they had to shift to one type of software.

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March 28, 2016
John Richter
© Vit_Mar | Thinkstock

Microsoft Excel templates, Word documents, multiple types of software, time clocks, time sheets, work orders – you get the picture. This was just part of my team’s daily routine at Richter Landscape Company and something had to give.

As our company grew, information sharing and communication continued to be a challenge. We had good systems in place and they worked, but we struggled to keep everyone on the same page by updating information in a timely fashion. We decided to look for one software to streamline the business. Here’s how the process worked for us.

BEFORE: Customer relationship management.

Here is what the process used to look like at Richter Landscape Company. A phone call would come in and our office manager would fill out a client information sheet with the basics. This was a simple process when I was the only sales rep in the company, but when we added our first project manager/sales rep, we had to have a more defined process. If we were not in the office, our office manager would hand the sheet off to whomever she felt could return the call. Once the sheet was handed off, we did not have a measure of accountability or track the lead.

We then decided to create a whiteboard and post/track our leads. We thought we had created something really special and really organized. This system was great until we all became too busy to update it. We knew something needed to be improved and we had heard the word about customer relationship management software, and decided to dig a little deeper.

Bidding.

We used Excel as one of many tools, but our bidding process needed to be more streamlined and simplified. The problem we encountered was all the information from the Excel sheet needed to be entered to the accounting software. While there are some import functions, it still takes a great deal of time to get this information re-entered into another system. Also, there is human error involved by entering data over and over again.

Scheduling.

We identified our schedule board to be the best tool for us. We have a magnetic whiteboard schedule that allows us to view each division in our company. With one glance, we can monitor the flow of each job, view our maintenance properties and monitor how our labor and subcontractors are being used.

Accounting.

As our business grew, so did the amount of data and reports. We did everything to simplify our system, even down to our team clocking in and out with a swipe card. This data was transferred directly into our accounting software for payroll, but we still had to go back into the payroll to report man-hours to the jobs. This system saved a great deal of time, but it was one more system with one more password and something else to manage. We used another Excel template to report actual vs. estimated job costs. Our accounting software provided us with a job costing function, but there were a few more details we wanted to provide that the software just would not do.

DURING: The search.

When we decided it was time to implement an all-in-one cloud-based software, I investigated by talking to industry friends. I sought out companies that are similar in structure, but larger in size. We all want to grow, so why would I want a software that would only fit our needs now and not in the future? Once I had a few software programs to review, I began doing my research online. This can be a bit of a challenge because everyone writes about how their software is the best.

John Richter, owner at Richter Landscaping, advises contractors to set up live demonstrations of software systems they’re interested in. This gives them the chance to see how each program fits into their own business.
Photo courtesy of Richter Landscaping

I found the best way to research a software was to set up a live demo. Once you go through a live demo, it’s tough not to think this is the software for you. Consider yourself warned and take your time. Have your leadership team participate in these demos.

It’s important to get the company to really drill down into the software. Be prepared to ask questions about how the software will work for your company to get the salesperson off his script. Also, encourage your team to ask their own questions to get their perspective.

AFTER: Making the purchase.

Finding the right software took us about three months from the time we decided to begin the search until we made our final decision: Boss LM. We were very fortunate not to have had any major roadblocks while searching or during implementation.

Once we signed the agreement, we were given a guide sheet for the data we would need to start collecting. We found our spreadsheets to be very useful for this process and they really helped accelerate our live date.

We did several virtual meetings and watched various instructional videos on the support website. Once our site was live we began entering and tracking all leads. We also started working on landscape design/build bids and our maintenance bids along with existing contracts.

By Feb. 1, we had all maintenance contracts entered into the system and began using all functions of the software. As of March 1, we are using the mobile feature where our team leaders use their mobile devices to clock in and out, review their work tickets and report their time on the job. We now have streamlined our process and brought all our data under one login.

CRM.

Have we perfected our process? No, and we never will. However, now when a prospect calls in to our office, their information is entered into the system, and their data moves with them throughout the process from the initial meeting to bidding, selling, scheduling, billing and tracking their activity throughout the year and hopefully many years of service.

Bidding.

Just as we did in Excel, we have a list of services we perform. These services are specific to divisions, labor skill sets and materials. Not only do we have the resources available and always up to date, we have set proposal templates depending on the work being performed. These templates are also auto-populated with your proposal and legal text. Talk about saving time preparing bids and preparing a proposal. I have also been pleased with the way you can build out a proposal template to really set yourself apart during a sales presentation.

We now know the moment a sale is made with an email alert. We have the ability to watch man-hours in real time and keep a job on track.
Scheduling.

Having a software that will populate a work calendar based on the man-hours estimated for the job has been liberating. We have used several programs to schedule jobs and maintenance visits. The problem we faced again was having the data in one location and available to everyone involved in the project and the daily grind of creating a work ticket from Excel that required more data entry based on the materials, equipment and sub-contractors that will be used that day.

Accounting.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Our accounting team used to spend hours trying to take the data from time sheets and work orders to create a report we could use to measure our labor efficiency and actual job cost. While this software has cut down on the number of hours accounting has to put in, they still have plenty of work to do.

Not only do the reports give you more data than you could ever ask for, they provide you with any and all necessary data to measure all aspects of your business. We all had a desire for these reports, but we seemed to always run short of time.

The verdict.

Having one software has been a great move for our company. It has brought our team closer together.

We can see all of the items each of us is working on and offer a helping hand if we sense someone is overloaded. We can work on estimates together without the mistake of reviewing an older version of the Excel document. We can track activity and interaction with each client, and see where we are in the selling process.

We now know the moment a sale is made with an email alert. We have the ability to watch man-hours in real time and keep a job on track.

While we have a long way to go and much more to learn, we are confident this has made our company and team better.

Plus, as we see the production teams are doing a great job with their budgeted man hours, we can encourage them to keep it up as the job progresses. The accounting team enjoys knowing where we are on the job and has a faster turnaround on billing because they are not waiting on paperwork to be submitted. Maybe best of all, we have just one program to log into.

While we have a long way to go and much more to learn, we are confident this has made our company and team better.

I hope our experience is helpful to you in your decision-making process in finding the right software and program.

The author is owner of Richter Landscape Company in Birmingham, Alabama.