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Using Technology To Its Best To Maximize Your Company's Workflow

Do you think you are running your business as efficiently and effectively as possible? See how technology can assist you in keeping a closer track on your bottom line and maximize your profits while reducing the time your organization spends on communicating between departments.

By Greg Nelson

Few things in life are certain…other than the usual suspects like death, taxes and change. Yes, change. Time refuses to stand still. Just as the clock moves at its steady, never-ending pace, so does the world around us.

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  • “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” --Richard Hooker (1554-1600), British theologian

    Remember the good old days? Of course you do, that shiny new Edsel, rotary dial telephones, gathering around computers that took up enough space to fill an entire room and ate data cards by the thousands. And let’s not forget that all time favorite - having to walk back and forth to school, five miles each way, barefoot in the snow, and uphill both ways! Yes, those were the days.

    Now those golden memories have been replaced by the likes of SUV’s, cell phones, satellite radio, and reality television on high definition flat screens, the Internet and home schooling. And you won’t have to wait long to see what additional changes are coming next…just check back tomorrow.

    Shoshana Zuboff , a social scientist once said, “Technological change defines the horizon of our material world as it shapes the limiting conditions of what is possible and what is barely imaginable. It erodes ... assumptions about the nature of our reality, the “pattern” in which we dwell, and lays open new choices.”

    New technology continues to change our business every day. New technology is designed to make our jobs and our lives easier. And while some may prefer the old fashion way, those who best utilize the tools available to them usually find the most success.

    Stop for a moment to consider the changes in the sign industry. Manufacturing techniques have improved dramatically. Installation methods have changed for the better. Computers have simplified our processes for maintaining payroll and inventory. The list goes on and on.

    Not all technological advancements are right for every company. But chances are, most sign companies can likely improve on their processes, pricing and profits by making changes in the way they approach their business. It’s wise to keep a watchful eye on new ways to approach your business - from production techniques used in digital imaging to office operations.

    One area where many sign companies fall short is their effectiveness at estimating jobs ­ both big and small. By estimating the old fashioned way, you may actually be losing jobs and dollars. And for many, those lost profits can be the difference in success and failure.

    How comfortable are you with your estimating processes? Are you utilizing all the tools at your fingertips? Are you going about business as usual, happy with the status quo? This is a natural course of action for many, while it is actually a lack of action. It’s often easier to stay in your comfort zone than to make a change, no matter how large or small the difference. But even a small change could result in a big difference in your company’s ultimate profitability.

    What worked fine even a year ago could already be outdated. Yesterday’s “rules of thumb” are just that - yesterday’s. Costs have changed, lighting options have changed and production techniques have changed. Fortunately, today’s software systems can keep you up to date with those changes. You can move forward knowing you are up to date with your pricing, costs, parts lists and inventory. Why should you estimate and price based on what others are doing when you can be a leader in your marketplace. With the right system, you’ll be confident you are always up to date and that your own rules of thumb include all the latest variables - and that can be just the difference in how many jobs you ultimately win, or lose.

    Yes, it’s easy to shy away from new technologies. We don’t want to feel stupid or be frustrated by trying to learn how something new works during our busy schedules. And with so many different products looming out there to choose from, sometimes it’s difficult to even figure out where to start. Today’s sign industry offers a wide assortment of choices in every aspect of the business, including estimating software. From basic packages to advanced programs with all the bells and whistles, there’s a software program designed to suit your company’s unique estimating needs. Although some careful thought and effort will be required to determine a product that’s right for your specific needs.

    Where to begin
    Start by performing an assessment of your operation’s current challenges and needs to create your own “wish and needs list”. Then search the Internet to find potential candidates to further research, and then look into the details of the various software choices you find from the comfort of your computer. Try to get a feel for what the different software programs can offer to your company. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each as it fits your particular situation.

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    Once you have narrowed the field, contact the companies to see an actual product demonstration. See for yourself if the software systems can indeed fill the needs and expectations that you are looking for. Also consider any positive and negative components the software presents during the demonstration and ask questions and request clarifications as needed…don’t just assume.

    For example: What is involved in setting up the system to use in your company? How much time is required to get an employee trained to use the system? Is training available? Are product upgrades available? How much are the upgrades? Is there a charge for support? What about multiple users? Can you get tech assistance from the manufacturer or personal training? Try calling for tech assistance, do you reach a real person or voice mail?

    Finally, ask for referrals to companies that are already utilizing the software system. How is the system working for them? Has it increased close rates, sales and profits? Has it reduced expenses? What is their opinion of the system, both positives and negatives? Has the software helped them run their business more efficiently? Of course you should add your own specific questions, as each company needs will vary based on size, specialty and numerous other factors. These questions are just some basic ones, but they will help you to evaluate a prospective system beyond the shiny polish and allow you to determine how well a system is able to meet your wish and needs list.

    The product
    Your best bet is finding a product that offers the productivity increase that you seek and the flexibility to grow and change with your business. There are programs on the market today that can help you run every aspect of your business smoothly and efficiently.

    Some programs can be tailored specifically to the needs of your shop…from estimating to complete business management. You can do anything from pulling up customer records quickly and easily, creating re-orders and effectively establishing new estimates to collecting customer information, adding new products and invoicing in seconds.

    With the right software, you’ll go from doing things the old fashioned way to becoming so fast, consistent and efficient that you’ll wonder what took you so long to see the light. With the click of a mouse, you’ll be able to see which estimates are outstanding; you’ll have the power to create new estimates in minutes, check on jobs in production and know instantly what orders have shipped. You could have access to your accounts at any time, whether you are at home, in the office or away on vacation!

    That’s only part of the new technology. What if you could also target market your customer base…providing them with the right message at just the right time by automatically emailing, faxing or scheduling follow-up calls when an estimate, order or invoice is created?

    “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” --Andy Warhol

    How ready are you to make a change in your life and your business environment?

    Are you ready to take the leap? Are you ready to start changing with the times and start using some of the advanced tools that are available to you? Are you ready to start saving money and begin building better profit margins? It’s easier than you might think. Go ahead. See how technology can help your business operate more effectively.

    Software can help you with many of your needs. Take your estimating processes from a rough estimate to a much more exact science. And by zeroing in on your estimating abilities, you’ll be able to win more jobs, price more effectively in your marketplace, and build profits.

    Greg Nelson is an independent writer and marketing consultant with more than 20 years experience in advertising, marketing and public relations. His professional background includes working with several Fortune 100 companies and providing expertise in a variety of fields, including the financial, travel, automotive and high tech industries.

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