There are many businesses in the sign & graphics industry currently using Microsoft Excel for quoting and tracking jobs. In fact you could be one of them. Under certain circumstances using Excel to manage these tasks could be an adequate way to handle shop management. But how do you know when it is time to look for pricing, job tracking and a better software solution? What should you look for when taking this next step?
When is Excel Sufficient?
Companies with a small number of people, where only 1 person estimates, producing very few quotes daily, with little to no re-orders, and selling a small number of products with few options, may do fine using Excel as a shop management system. So as long as these companies aren?t experiencing rapid growth and/or work flow difficulties, Excel offers them a substantial return on investment. But when one or more of these variables change the need for a better solution increases.
When is Excel Insufficient?
Excel becomes insufficient when shops experience:
Company growth (internally and externally)
Inability to quote jobs quickly
Lack of integration between management, marketing, & estimating tools
These are often shops that are looking for a way to:
Save time and increase profits
See where jobs are while in production
Easily train others to estimate
Know the cost of a job
Control costs and stay competitive
Effectively target market
Easily export to accounting software
Am I Ready Now?
The key to an effective business management change, like incorporating an integrated software solution, is to identify the right time to make the switch. In an article I read recently called ?Estimating Software Yields Higher Profits?, the author spoke of a shop owner who quoted all his jobs using an Excel program they developed in house. Due to this company?s growth and a strong need for an accurate representation of their operating cost, the company decided to make the switch and acquire a software estimating system. Why, you might ask? The owner said ?When we lost our three largest customers by raising prices, it really opened our eyes.?
Understanding, Through Research
Trying to understand the benefits of estimating/business management software isn?t an easy task. As you can see in the above situation it is not always clear when your business is ready to begin searching for a shop management system. One thing that is clear though, starting this search early will help you avoid the pain of losing customers, profits, and maybe even a few strands of hair.
Choosing an estimating/business management solution requires basic external and internal research. You need to examine what software is available and how that software will fit your needs and benefit your shop. I have come up with a short list of key items to note when you are ready to purchase a shop estimating/management system.
What Should You Look For?
First, think about the many things you would like a system to do. Are you looking for an integrated system to track customers, orders, and estimate data in one package? Are you looking for a program to help increase your marketing and management capabilities? Or are you just looking for a system that acts like an estimating calculator? No matter what you are looking for in a software package talking with software consultants, such as Cyrious Software?s, can help you to clarify your needs and give you an understanding of the tools available and what they will do for you.
Second, make sure you look at software that is designed specifically to fit your industry. A generic program like Excel can do some of the things needed to run your business, but an industry specific shop management system like Cyrious Software will be more useful in the long run. Industry specific software is more valuable to your company not only because of the tools it provides, but also because the training and support staff available to address your company?s needs and business environment, is already familiar with your industry.
Third, make sure you understand what it?ll take to implement the system. Some systems can be setup by you, others will require more time and outside help. This means look at it and get a feel for the software, get trained, and then fine tune it for a smooth transition. Good software companies should have a great implementation team as well as a great technical support staff. These people will help you get the program up and running quickly and smoothly. Also, the software should be designed so it is easy for you to customize every setting imaginable. If you can?t customize the software to fit your shop, you shouldn?t buy it. Cyrious Software has shop management software that is flexible enough to allow you to customize the system to match your company?s specifications no matter how many different product lines you carry.
The most important requirement of any software system is the ease of use. Most shops we talk with have more work than they are able to handle. This means shops can?t afford a slow down due to a complicated software system. ?A few clicks, and that?s it!? You should make sure the benefits and features of the program are saving time. If the software isn?t saving you time, it?s definitely not saving you money, therefore isn?t adding any value to your company.
Cost, is it an issue?
One thing you shouldn?t do when searching for a software solution is focus solely on the cost of the system. Be sure to look at the life cycle cost including support and compare that to the cost of not making a change. With estimating/management software, you really do get what you pay for. Remember a good software system is an asset to your company. The more customizable the software, the more valuable the system is to your business. Since you will continually save hours a day, focusing totally on the initial cost would be a mistake. You should base your investment on the total package: software features, performance, technical support offered, time and money saved.
Whether you are a small shop still estimating manually or a larger shop reluctant to upgrade from your ?tried and true? system, the capabilities of estimating/business management software, like Cyrious Software, is worth an investigation.