That’s how Vicki Pine, director of administrative services for Swingle Lawn, Tree & Landscape in Denver, Colorado, describes the process of upgrading the company’s accounting and billing software – at least at first. But once the software was implemented, it was smooth sailing.
Picking the right product – whether it’s industry-specific or not – can save time and make invoicing and tracking income a cinch.
But with so many options, deciding which software to use and integrating it into your business is challenging.
These considerations can help.
Find the right fit. Company size, the number of employees who will use the software and budget should all factor into purchasing decisions. Also consider which options are must-haves.
Special features allow companies to do everything from scheduling to printing project proposals onsite. Many programs also allow for customization.
When the hunt for new software started in 2007, Pine knew an off-the-shelf industry program wouldn’t work because of the variety of services Swingle offers. After customizing his choice, the company can track its business in real time. “I can tell you how and what we’re doing by the minute,” Pine says, even as the company has grown to 230-plus employees and $19.6 million in revenue in 2012.
For Jeremy Griffin, president of Just Right Lawns in Austin, Texas, finding software on the cloud (so it’s accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection) was key. “That way, we didn’t have to worry about servers or technical details, which let us focus on our business,” he says.
Think long-term. “If you plan on growing, you should pick software that will work four years down the road. We weren’t big enough when we first bought our new software, but we grew into it,” says Griffin, whose residential maintenance company now has about 30 employees and $2.5 million in revenue.
Get input. Involve employees from every part of the company in the selection and customization process. “We wanted everyone to be engaged in what was happening,” Pine says. “We had subcommittees who defined and tested every process. Everyone put in their two cents.”
Seek help. Both Pine and Griffin stress the value of bringing in outside assistance.
“I would recommend hiring an outside firm to anybody if they’re going from extremes like we did,” says Pine, whose company went from using proprietary software running on an AS/400 server in the office to a web-based system.
Swingle hired consultants for software selection, rollout, and training, but looking back, Pine says she wishes they had kept the consultants longer.
“If we would’ve had the consultant there, it would have been faster for us and maybe we could have diminished some of the issues people had,” she says.
Four years ago, when Just Right Lawns transitioned, Griffin thought the company was small enough to handle data migration on its own. But, in hindsight, Griffin says he would have made a different decision and brought in technical support.
“It was difficult. There was a learning curve,” he says.
Offer Training. Just Right Lawns spends a couple of weeks training new customer service representatives.
Swingle also created a series of classes for employees, based on the level of training they need to reach certain “security levels.”
“Now we’ve evolved it so anyone who comes in has good training criteria and curriculum for their level,” Pine says.
The secret, she adds, is to “make sure you train people – and then trust them.”
Here’s a sampling of some accounting and billing software on the market.
The pitch: ArborGold Software’s online edition performs the same key functions as ArborGold’s windows version.
- Includes phone message and appointment management, job proposal creation with landscape CAD drawings.
- Integrates with QuickBooks.
- The cloud edition works with the Mobile Estimator iPad app for sales people.
For more information: www.arborgold.com.
The pitch: DynaSCAPE Manage 360 comprehensive business management software designed specifically for landscape companies.
- Capture hidden costs like travel time, load/unload time and site clean-up
- Establish your break-even point and know your profit on each estimate
- Generate employee hours report
For more information: www.dynascape.com/manage
The pitch: LessAccounting is a web-based software that creates workflows to do things like categorizing expenses
- Send online invoices to any of your contacts, and track payments when you receive them.
- Set up invoices to reoccur whenever you need.
- Customize your invoices with the software’s template engine.
For more information: www.lessaccounting.com
The author is a freelancer based in Lincoln, Ill.