Gone are the days when schedules were tracked on a calendar on the wall, work orders were written out by hand and invoices were sent by snail mail. Now, contractors of all sizes are relying on comprehensive business management software to do all of that – and more.
“It’s really the lifeblood of communication, information, and technology all in one little package,” says Joe Berry of Yardworx in Calgary, Canada. His residential and commercial lawn care company has used EverGreen, a cloud-based lawn service software from Marathon Data Systems, for the past five years.
“We’ve been able to integrate everything we do on a daily basis. We use it for office interactions and communications, too. It’s pretty much all we use other than standard email,” Berry says.
Berry is one of many business owners discovering the benefit of using one program to handle all of their operations.
In addition to EverGreen and QXpress, both from Marathon Data Systems, other software geared specifically toward the landscaping industry includes DynaSCAPE’s Manage 360, Include’s Asset and GroundsKeeper Pro from Adkad Technologies.
Although each brand offers a distinctive interface and features, some elements are common across the board.
Most comprehensive software options help companies with sales and estimating; job management including scheduling, routing, and time tracking; and accounting, including billing and payroll. Some software is PC-based. Others are cloud-based, so they can be used anywhere a company has Internet access.
For companies still relying on paper, the perks of switching to business management software can be huge. “Doing it the old way, there’s so much to lose track of. This way I keep track of everything easily,” says Fred Wolf, owner of Wolf’s Lawn Care in Hammond, La.
He’s been using GroundsKeeper Pro for about five years. “It’s pretty easy to navigate and work with, to integrate into your business. This one covers everything I need,” he says.
Upgrading to a newer program – particularly one that’s industry-specific – can yield major benefits. Prior to trying EverGreen, Yardworx used a program that was still rather paper-dependent.
They printed and mailed 2,500 paper invoices every month.
Now, they only send 75 to 100 printed invoices. The rest are distributed electronically.
In addition, service orders are sent to crews electronically. Customers can even pay bills by credit card online. And perhaps most conveniently, employees can access the system at home at 3 a.m. – a boon during winter for snow removal jobs.
Plus using the software has helped Yardworx “grow by a couple of hundred percent over the last four years,” Berry says, without having to hire any new office staff.
“We’re able to do more work with the same amount of people.” And Yardworx locations in Calgary and Edmonton are able to work seamlessly thanks to the software. “You wouldn’t know we’re in two different offices,” Berry says.
Mike Martin, president of Live Green Landscape Associates, a full-service design/build landscape contractor in the Baltimore area, ditched his previous operations software (which he says was user-unfriendly) for Asset.
One benefit, Martin says, is that he can limit what certain users can do in the program. For instance, estimators use the software for developing proposals, but only five people in the office use the entire program, including looking at payroll and profit and loss balance sheets. It’s also easy for Martin to keep an eye on things.
“We can check very quickly whether we’re billing something correctly or see if there’s a problem from the job costing standpoint,” he says.
When it comes to selecting the right software, Martin stresses that what’s best for one company isn’t necessarily what works for another. “I know companies that have bought software and it’s sitting on a shelf,” he says.
“People need to take their time, educate themselves, and understand the endeavor they’re about to get into.” Getting input from key stakeholders in the company can help ensure their buy-in once it’s time to roll out new software. Martin also recommends bringing your accountant into the conversation. “Make sure that the software works for them as well because at the end of the year the accountant has to get the information needed to do taxes,” he says.
Once you’ve selected your software and are ready to make the transition, training is particularly important.
Berry used PMP Campus, a training video website offered by Marathon Data Systems, to help employees get up to speed on the software. “It’s great. They log in and get the basics of the system and even take a test. It really makes the transition to the software very simple,” Berry says.
Martin recommends purchasing technical assistance hours from the manufacturer, if possible.
“Buy chunks of time upfront so you can have them working with you well into the first year,” he says.
He also suggests identifying one person to train first. “If that one person knows it very well, then you can start to train other people off of that person.” Perhaps most of all, all three contractors stress, be patient. For Wolf, getting started wasn’t difficult – but it did take several days to get all of his customer information entered into the system. That was Berry’s biggest challenge, too – albeit on a much larger scale.
“Our transition from one database to the other was a lot of work. But it’s worth it,” he says.
Yardworx used its old system side-by-side with its new one for about two months to make sure everything looked right. “Then one morning we came in and said, ‘There’s really not much more we can do, let’s shut the other one down.’ We never opened it again,” Berry says.
There’s bound to be a learning curve when you implement all-new software, Martin says, no matter how easy it is to use. For his company, it took well over a year before everyone felt comfortable using the new program.
“It doesn’t matter what the program is, that’s the hardest part. It takes patience,” he says. L&L
The author is a freelance writer based in Lincoln, Ill.
Using mobile technology the right way
As the green industry becomes more tech-savvy and streamlined, the amount of available, customized technology for our companies is constantly increasing. Gone are the days of paper work orders, sketch pads, grid paper, notebooks and day timers. Virtually, everything you need could be found at your fingertips, either on your phone or a tablet.
Here are some tips to keep in mind to get the most out of your mobile technology:
Pick the right plan and provider. When choosing new phones or tablets and your mobile service provider, keep in mind that what you select will have a major impact on the technology you use. Choose a type and brand of device that will be logical for everyone in your company. This makes everything from training to replacement infinitely easier. When choosing a mobile carrier, your goal is choosing the one that gets superior service in your area, meaning that more often than not, you have access to your 3G or 4G wireless network.
Be aware of your carrier’s data and text messaging plans. Going over the limit on texts or data can quickly escalate your mobile expenses far beyond the budget. When you try a new application, monitor the data usage it requires if you do not have unlimited data plans for your phones or tablets. Once you have settled on the best type of device for your company, get protection for your phones. This investment is small compared to the cost of replacing devices.
Choose who uses. Depending on your organizational structure and the type of mobile technology you are implementing, you may want to employ it on different scales. For production-related products, you will need to provide all crewleaders, or even all crewmembers, with devices.
For email and administrative software, managers and ownership may be the only employees who need access. Mendez says Mariani Landscape has provided hundreds of staff members with mobile devices. “We try to implement widespread use,” he says.
“All crewleaders have an iPhone. There is a group texting application that the production people have made good use of to coordinate changes. Crewleaders are also now using emails. All sales staff, all production coordinators, all designers, ownership and crew leaders all have iPhones.”
Formulate and follow a plan. First, document how to properly use the technology, update this documentation regularly and make it available to your employees. If the application has instructions available online, tell your employees how to access it.
Have several staff members familiarize themselves with your “help file” so they can help employees who are struggling with a new process. You and your staff will benefit enormously from testing the product before real-time use begins. Have all employees who will use an application download it ahead of time and try it out, if possible. If the product is a single-basis purchase (such as a licensed, integrated system), create a test system for employees to try out all the features and work out kinks before you go live with actual data. Take advantage of the testing phase to see what works for your employees and what processes may need revision.
After the testing phase, evaluate your data usage and any device performance issues. Now you can make changes with your carrier that can save you thousands in the future. L&L
The author is a client care analyst at Include Software in Annapolis, Md.