When it comes to the tools of your trade, you know what works. But when it comes the tools for doing business, some plumbers, electricians, and HVAC contractors are less confident.
Technology allows more work to get done with fewer people. In that way, apps and other tech tools are no different than a wrench or multi-meter. Good quality tools help you do more with less.
But the amount of apps and gadgets available to run a business today is unbelievable.
The endless options make it hard to know what to spend money on and what to do the old fashioned way.
Which business tools save you time, energy, and effort and which create more of a headache?
Compared to the software of old, cloud-based subscriptions are super cheap. But low-cost isn’t always a bargain.
Keeping expenses low is critical for a profitable business.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone came along with all the answers?
If someone researched for you and figured out which tools could save time and help drive profit?
Wouldn’t it be a dream come true if these tools all worked together too?
Well, Christmas and your birthday just came early.
Here are my top five tools that every service contractor should be using to keep their office organized and business profitable:
When starting a business, it is easiest to use your cell phone number. That’s a big mistake – unless you use this tip!
Service contractors often don’t think their business is big enough that they ‘need’ another phone line.
It’s ‘easier’ to use your phone – and money is tight anyway, right?
This solution can quickly turn into a nightmare as your business grows.
You certainly don’t want to change the number for your business, so you end up changing your cell phone — a hassle, but not the end of the world.
That phone number is still on a cell phone, which is okay at first too. Your office probably isn’t so sophisticated that you need a fancy desk phone.
But eventually, you will.
And doing what is called “porting” your number can be a nightmare.
The first time we ported our number from a cell phone to an office system, our phone line rang as “disconnected” for four hours in the middle of a workday! Customers thought we had gone out of business!
While not every phone porting story is a nightmare like ours, you can avoid the whole mess with minimal cost by thinking ahead.
It’s incredible how easy it is to get a second local number to ring to your cell phone – or any phone – with virtual phone service.
These phone numbers don’t belong to a physical phone. Instead, they live in the cloud and therefore are transferable between devices.
Transfer phone duty to others either on the fly or permanently with this incredible technology. This way, you can keep your phone (and contacts) private long-term. Switching phone numbers is a mess!
Digital Pricebook and Invoicing
New contractor businesses start with the same pricing strategy – a few bucks cheaper than their old boss.
Afraid to lose the job, they chronically underbid their work and wonder why they aren’t making money.
Because they lack confidence in their pricing strategy (and don’t have business logic behind it!) they end up all over the place.
There are a few reasons why your pricing strategy shouldn’t work this way:
- You aren’t pricing for profit. You’re hoping for it. Your business can’t grow if no money is left over at the end of the day.
- Inconsistent pricing creates a poor customer service experience. If you are making things up as you go, it’ll probably look that way to the customer too!
There is a lot of debate about how you should price your services.
If you feel up to a rabbit hole, check out customer value pricing vs. cost-plus pricing (which doesn’t even get into marketing strategies like premium, penetration, economy, skimming, psychological, and bundle).
Get taken seriously by taking your business seriously.
That means consistent pricing and professional invoicing.
Yeesh, invoicing. I’ve met contractors that are weeks behind on their invoicing. I get hives just thinking about it.
Bottom line is: the faster you invoice, the faster you get paid.
And if you are dealing with residential customers, there is no reason not to get paid at the time of service.
Keeping cash flowing in your company is critical to success.
Everyone wins with digital pricing and invoicing:
- Your customer is comfortable that there is real math behind your quote.
- You have a record of the work done at the property, which protects everyone involved. (Mostly you!)
- You can apply prices consistently which means consistent profits.
- The customer can pay their bill on time and get a receipt.
Digital Calendar with Online Scheduling
Even if your customer count is small now, it won’t always be.
Getting appointment and customer details in a digital format from the beginning will help you create a long-term and searchable customer record.
The bonus to an online calendar is that you can’t lose it or leave it behind. It is always with you, and you can give other people access to it as time goes on.
A digital calendar gives you the opportunity to create easy online scheduling options for your customers — another way to wow with service.
Not to mention that if you are answering the phones for yourself, online booking can be a lifesaver (literally).
Imagine you are on a ladder, under a house, or using heavy machinery — your phone rings. You don’t want to miss the call, because that means losing a booked appointment!
Answer the phone, risk your life, and forget the details of the appointment anyway because you didn’t write it down. Lots of poor life decisions there.
Link to your online scheduler in a pre-programmed call decline text. The text that looks something like this:
“Hey, thanks for calling. I’m on the job right now. If you need to book an appointment, use this handy online scheduler: [link]. Text me back if you need a return call instead.”
Your customer will be impressed at your professionalism and grateful for the simple solution. (Plus, they don’t have to wait for you to call them back!)
They’ll also know that when you are at their house, you will be just as focused on their job. It sets a nice tone.
If you use Square for credit card processing, they have a convenient appointment booking feature. You can also use Meeting Scheduler for Gmail, which is free and integrates with Gmail calendar, which integrates with Coolfront.
Local Citation Management
While not an app, I do consider strategic outsourcing like this a tool for the modern entrepreneur. Managing local business listings is a time-sucking hassle though. It is critical for local businesses to be listed online.
Here’s why local citations are so important:
- There are hundreds of sites like Yelp, HomeAdvisor, and Angie’s List online.
- Their goal is to connect customers searching for a local business to those businesses.
- For better or worse, Google uses these to gauge whether your business is legit or not.
Important distinction: Any legitimate listing site has a free listing option. DO NOT want to pay for listings or advertising on these platforms.
Many of these company’s use aggressive tactics to try to get you to pay for a listing.
One more reason to let someone run interference for you on that!
Luckily, you don’t have to manage all of this yourself. There are services for that, and they are worth every penny.
Like most services, local listing management services are not all created equal. Make sure you get login information for each listing. Also, ask if you maintain ownership of your listing.
Online Accounting Software w/ Receipt Capture
Last, but certainly not least, you need accounting software — ideally, one that integrates with your other programs.
The self-employed version makes basic accounting easy and straightforward when you are just starting.
I can’t recommend it enough.
Get in the habit of inputting expenses as they occur.
It’s an incredibly important step in keeping good books. Nearly as important as staying on top of invoicing.
After all, all the revenue in the world won’t help if you spend more than you make.
If you aren’t staying on top of your expenses, you have no way of knowing your profit!
Not to mention that keeping up with receipts will pay huge dividends later during tax season!
Luckily, the QuickBooks app has a built-in receipt scanner. Other accounting apps are making some headway in the market, but QuickBooks has led the pack for a long time. They integrate with a ton of other programs – such as CoolFront, which can make life easy.
The best part? QuickBooks Self-Employed starts at just $10 per month.
Just remember that QuickBooks does not replace a CPA for taxes. It can help guide you on things like quarterly estimated taxes, but you still need a CPA!
I always recommend Saunders O’Dell Public Accountants, a boutique firm who specializes in contractor business. I use them for my own business.
Can you run a contracting service business without any of these tools? Yes.
Will you spend a lot more hours and need to be a lot more organized? Yes.
The entire suite of tools I recommend above can cost as low as $31 per month.
For that amount of money, you’ll save countless hours and a lot of headaches in the future.
Not to mention that you’ll look slick and professional to your clients, who will take you seriously as a contractor.
Being an owner-operator is hard for service contractors.
You have to do the work and own the business.
There aren’t enough hours in the day. Rather than run yourself ragged, work smarter with tools and apps that are built to do jobs that used to take a staff person to manage.