Spreadsheets Work, but when is an Industry Specific Solution Better? You be the judge.
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Spreadsheets Work, but when is an Industry Specific Solution Better? You be the judge.

In breadth of the sign & graphics industry many methods are used for estimating and job quoting. Some shops are using the correct tool for the job, while others aren’t. Which category does your business fall into?

By Danny Tangredi

There are many businesses in the sign & graphics industry currently using spreadsheet programs for quoting and tracking jobs. In fact you could be one of them.

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  • In certain circumstances using spreadsheet programs 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 Are Spreadsheets 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 a spreadsheet program as a shop management system. So as long as these companies aren’t experiencing rapid growth and/or work flow difficulties, spreadsheet software will offer a substantial return on investment. But when one or more of these variables change, the need for a better solution increases. When Are Spreadsheets Insufficient?
    They become insufficient when shops experience:

    • Company growth (internally and externally)
    • Pricing inconsistencies
    • Duplicate entry
    • 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 the status of jobs 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 a spreadsheet 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 can help you to clarify your needs and give you an understanding of the tools available and what they will do for you.

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    Second, make sure you look at software that is designed specifically to fit your industry. A spreadsheet program can do some of the things needed to run your business, but an industry specific shop management 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 specific needs and business environment, are 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 as many settings as possible to fit your company needs. If you can’t customize the software to fit your shop, you shouldn’t buy it. Shop management software should offer enough flexibility 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 looking at management software already 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, and therefore it isn’t adding the needed 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, as with most things in life, 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 be saving hours each day, focusing primarily on the initial cost would be shortsighted. You should base your considerations of the investment on the total package: software features, performance, technical support offered, plus the time and money to be saved.

    Whether you are a small shop still estimating manually or a larger shop reluctant to upgrade from your “tried and true” system, you should make time to look into the benefits of industry specific estimating/business management software for your company. You will find an array of benefits and features that will help increase productivity, profits and save you and your staff time.

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