How to Choose Service Business Software

10 Points to Consider

job scheduling display monitor
1. Do your research. Create a list of several relevant software programs designed for your service business industry. Start by searching on Google and talking to other companies in your industry or other service-related businesses with similar processes.
2. Are you thinking about having a custom program created? Perhaps you’ve looked at all the available offerings and you can’t find your ideal business software, so you’ve decided to have your own written and you find a programmer who says they can do the job cheaply.
If you want to buy a car with specific features, you wouldn’t just go out and have a new car designed and built, just to provide one or two new features, without realizing there would be big expenses. Furthermore, you will need people around to service the new vehicle and its special features. The same applies to software. We have seen several situations where people have had custom software designed. Generally, there comes a point where the software does not work for the company any longer, the programmer moved to another country, the programmer died or for some other reason isn’t available any longer or simply isn’t interested in modifying the software.
Modifications and updates are necessary from time to time. For example, a new operating system is introduced and the original software is not compatible with the new operating system. Or, you need new features incorporated in the software to address new or revised business processes.
For these reasons, you need to be very cautious about getting your own software written. Include in your cost estimates, not just the cost of designing and writing the original software, but also the ongoing costs and potential pain involved in maintaining and modifying the software over time.
3. Consider the history of the company you will be partnering with. As stated above, you will at some point need updates and/or modifications to your software. There can be no guarantee any particular company will still be in business in 10 years time, but you can judge the stability of the service business software company you’re interested in working with by determining how long they’ve been in business.
In the years I have been in the software development business, I have seen hundreds of companies come and go – small companies and big ones. There are companies such as Ashton Tate and ?, which were big names in the pre-Windows days, no one hears of any longer. There are also many companies claiming they have the greatest software since sliced bread for the service industry, who simply disappear a few years later for any number of reasons.
4. Make a detailed list of the service business software features you will need to more effectively run your operation. Feel free to be as expansive as you wish. Put that in a spreadsheet, so you can use it as a check-list as you analyze the different software companies you research.
5. What about price? Of course, price is an important aspect of any purchase. Remember you are purchasing software for your service business that will become an important and invaluable management tool. You wouldn’t go out and purchase a cheap vacuum cleaner for your cleaning business on the basis that you simply want to save money. You need to think about the following factors and features:
• you’ll need something powerful, to reduce the amount of time it takes to clean a given area
• something not too heavy – you’re going to have to carry the equipment around from job to job
• something that is well made and reliable – you don’t want to have to be taking the vacuum cleaner in for repairs frequently.
So you will most likely look to purchase a professional machine, which may not be the cheapest in the market, but in the long run, will work dependably and save you money.
Similarly with software, you should think about the long term when you start out as it will invariably save you money and make your business run more efficiently and profitably.
Buying service business software with the lowest sticker price may very well not be the best investment you can make in the long-term in this business software management tool, which will become a key component of your business. Generally, a less expensive program is cheaper for a reason – it doesn’t offer the same features, or the support and training available is limited, for example.
We at Thoughtful Systems can always show a prospective purchase how they will save money using our software. Also, how they can make additional sales through use of the built-in marketing tools in our software.
6. What special hardware or software, if any, will be required? Perhaps you will need some additional special hardware items for particular functions – e.g. a caller ID box for activation of the Automatic Caller ID functions, or separate server to host the new application (required by some very large applications, designed to host fifty or more users.)
7. A computer system consists of hardware plus the software. Ultimately, the software is the most important thing for you to consider. Once you have chosen your software, then purchase appropriate hardware. We have encountered several people who have started with buying hardware and having it installed, at some expense, and then going out to search for software. For example, one client received a grant from a government agency to start her business. She proceeded to purchase Apple Macs for everyone in the office and then went out searching for software. She was surprised to find out no appropriate business software she could use was able to run on a Mac. She eventually purchased our job scheduling software, but had to purchase Parallels (virtual desktop software) so she could run a Windows program on her newly purchased Macs!
8. Ask for references. Has the company worked with others in your particular industry? Read the reference material available, and try to speak to one or two current users of the software you are thinking of purchasing.
9. Does the service business software company have plans for future upgrades, enhancements, new releases, and so on? Do they have software that runs on the latest Windows operating system? Do they have a mobile app? And, if so, is it a true mobile app? Some companies say they have a mobile app, but in essence, what they offer is a web-based application that will run on a smartphone. This can cause significant problems. With such a web-based app, you will be lost if you’re in an area where there’s no wireless or cellular service. Also, connection costs can be significant if your employees are going to need to be online all the time.
Does the company offer software on only one platform, or do they have the flexibility to be able to offer a desktop (installed) version, a web based version, a mobile version, etc.?
10. Last but by no manes not least: Ask about support and training options. Is support included in the initial purchase? If so, how much? If you are paying monthly for the software, support may be included in that monthly cost. But remember to ask about the availability, quality and cost of those services. Be wary of claims that seem too good to be true. For example, some companies have been known to say “unlimited support and training is available” – but after you purchase you find out that only the first hour or two of support services (which includes questions about how to use the software) is included at no additional charge.
Ask all the relevant questions about support:
a) How much support is include initially, as part of the purchase price?
b) Will I get a smart, live person who understands the software, and is capable of understanding my business, to answer my questions and give ne guidance on how to make the best use of my investment in the software.? Or, will I have to speak to someone in an off-shore Call Center, who reads answer form a pre-packaged list of questions that she or he looks up on their computer screen?
c) What training is provided? Is training provided by a live person or persons? Or will my staff and I be required to attend group online sessions offered only at specific hours of the day, on specific days of the week? That can make things difficult – if you miss a session you might have to wait a week or more to hear that module e again. Some companies, such as Thoughtful Systems, offer live one-on-one training by knowledgeable, friendly consultants who help guide you in the most effective use of the software for your particular business. Each different service industry has special needs and considerations, and different software tools to address them. A carpet cleaning company has very different needs than a residential cleaning business, which in turn differs in many ways from a home health care business, a fire extinguisher maintenance business, or a HVAC maintenance business.
d) What is the cost of annual support? Find out, so that you can estimate total costs for your software investment. All software requires updates and/or patches from time to time – for example, when Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, will the software continue to run effectively? We started producing a DOS-based software program, which was later ported to Windows. As each new version of Windows has been released, we have ensured that the software ran well on each new version. Although we still have some people using our software that they purchased ten or more years ago, without upgrades, we recommend that people upgrade to the latest version, to take advantage of the latest features available in the operating system, as well as in companion software programs.
Be cautious of companies that claim to offer free lifetime support. These days, no company can afford to offer that and still stay in business for very long. WordPerfect was one of the last software companies that I know of to offer free support for many years. They managed to build up a huge user base because of the free support, but eventually they weren’t able to offer that any longer, and still be competitive in the marketplace. Hardly anyone uses WordPerfect these days.
As for free, lifetime support: try calling one of these companies after you purchase their software: do you even get through to a support person? What is the quality of support? And think about it: as they sell more and more packages, they’ll have a greater and greater liability to offer support, with no funds coming in to pay for the personnel to provide it. That just doesn’t add up!