How to Choose the Right Business Management Software (Ultimate Guide)

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Integrating business management software is key to running a successful business.  With this software, you can streamline processes and eliminate needless tasks in seconds that would otherwise add days to your workload. Using this software reduces your labor costs and increases the efficiency of your workforce. Overall, you can make better business decisions with the important data that the business management software automatically tracks.

What is Business Management Software?

The term “Business Management Software” is not an official category of software. The term has been widely used to describe a category of software that has the features and capabilities needed to manage most aspects of a company. These software programs attempted to be an all-in-one solution. These software programs include capabilities such as marketing, sales lead management, customer relationship management (CRM), purchasing, sales, estimating, payroll, inventory tracking, custom reporting, and more. 

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For years, business management software was built with generic features and capabilities that might appeal to the widest range of companies. Businesses began to demand more specialized software to meet their individual business needs. What was good for a plumbing company, was not always good for petroleum equipment services business. Electrical contractors may have their own unique requirements. Companies began to demand more specialized business management software systems. 

Specialized Business Management Software

Software companies began to modify their software or build new software programs to meet the needs of specific industries. Software companies began to build software programs designed for specific industries such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and other similar businesses.  

Some software programs are not only built for a certain industry but also a sub-set to that industry. One example is “HVAC Field Service”, where the HVAC company focuses on providing services in the field, that have a relatively short time frame. This can include demand service, maintenance, and equipment replacements. Another subset is “HVAC Construction”. These jobs might sell for millions of dollars, require crews of skilled technicians, and last for months. There are software programs that are more geared towards contracting companies that perform mostly commercial work while others are built more for residential services. 

How Do You Know When You Need Business Management Software?

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There are several signs to look out for. If one or more of these apply to your company, you may need more specialized business management software. 

  1. Your company depends on a lot of spreadsheets, PDFs, and other software programs to fill in the missing gaps of your current software.  
  2. It is hard to get information you need for planning, forecasting, decision making, or to prepare for management meetings. 
  3. You cannot tell which departments are making money. You cannot easily evaluate the performance of your technicians, installers, and other billable personnel. 
  4. Your financial reports, job costing reports, and other reports do not seem accurate, or they don’t contain enough information about your company and its activities.

What are the Benefits of Business Management Software?

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Save Time and Money

When a business management software program is built just for your business segment, it will help you do things far more efficiently and accurate. You will save time by eliminating double entry of information. Your company will be able to find vital information faster through simple searches and queries. You will be able to reduce or eliminate documents and other paperwork. That information will be retrieved electronically, saving you time, money, and space. 

Get Hyper Organized with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) 

When you invest in excellent business management software built for your industry, numerous best practices and SOPs are built in. Specialized software will make it easier for your employees to perform bookkeeping and other tasks according to known best practices for your industry. Reports will be far more meaningful and easier to produce. 

Manage Your Company by the Numbers

Take the guesswork out of financial decision making and reduce the risk of failure. Questions like how much should we charge for products or service, how much can we afford to pay, are we on budget, will we run out of money soon, and other important questions can be answered in seconds. Excellent business management software, built for your industry, will quickly tell your where you are making money and where you are losing money. You will have financial reports for each department, and you will be able to hold your employees accountable with clear objective information. 

Important Features to Consider in Business Management Software

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Accounting and Payroll Must Be Built-in

This recommendation is our most important one. We highly recommend avoiding business management software that requires you to buy a completely separate software program for accounting and payroll. The accounting engine is the basis of all financial related reports. Full enterprise level accounting must be built into the software and not an add-on. 

Labor control is the most important element to profitability. If your business management software cannot directly process payroll, you will have largest hole in your job costing and other financial reporting. Only consider business management software that has heavy accounting and complete payroll completely built into it. Be on the lookout for unscrupulous companies calling their software “all-in-one”. 

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Core Accounting

Your software should have accounting functions built for an enterprise level business. These features are broadly known as accounts receivable, accounts payable, banking, estimating, purchasing, inventory, fixed assets, payroll, collections, budgeting, general ledger, and reporting. 

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Specialized Payroll and Time Tracking

If there is anything you will want your software to do properly, it is pay your employees. Payroll systems need to be able to handle the way you pay and incentivize your employees, especially the high performing ones. Select a business and field service management software program that offers performance-based compensation, sales commissions, spiffs, and incentives. You may also need prevailing wage and certified payroll features.  

It should be easy to time in and out of jobs or clock in and out when coming to work. Integrated time tracking features reduce the time associated with hourly-based paychecks. 

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Financial Reporting by Division and Department

Your company likely has multiple departments that drive revenue (AKA: Profit Centers). You should only consider investing in business management software that offers complete departmentalized financial reporting. You need to know where you are making and or losing money, and you need to know this ASAP. Insist on having financial reports for each division, department, and profit center. 

Budgeting and Forecasting

Budgeting is a vital part of business planning and motivating staff members. With accounting built into your software, creating budgets should be fast and easy. That’s because they are built from prior financial data. 

Flat Rate Pricing

Many field service contracting companies use flat rate pricing in their demand service and other departments. Select a business management software system that includes a flat rate pricing system that you can maintain yourself. When your software includes full accounting, flat rate tasks are updated automatically, as your company performs regular bookkeeping tasks. 

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Human Resource Management (HRM)

HR management for many companies can be incorporated into their business management software program. Since the software has a payroll system, adding HR functionality makes a lot of sense for the software maker. Chose business management software that keeps track of employee reviews, emergency contacts, timesheets, history of raises, reprimands, and more. 

Advanced Inventory Management

This is another critical area for business management software, and it is possible when enterprise level accounting is built into it. There should be many advanced inventory features includes multi-warehouse, serialized item tracking, unit of measure, location and bins, automatic reordering & replenishment, item assembly, kits, grouping, history, and advanced reporting. Bar code scanning is common. Some software programs have the ability to scan existing bar codes, that are already on the package. You don’t need to print labels. It should also be easy to correct inventory numbers, batch update retail pricing, and import pricing from vendors.  

Fixed Asset Management

You will want the ability to track all your equipment, vehicles, machinery, tools, and other important fixed assets. A great business management software program will track all expenses incurred against your fixed assets. You will be able to calculate depreciation schedules, track maintenance reports, setup reminders, assign assets to employees, assign assets to jobs, schedule assets to be used on jobs, and more. 

Document and File Management

Get rid of file cabinets. They take up valuable space and finding information is inefficient. Find a business management software system that makes it easy to scan bills, receipts, and other paperwork for fast simple retrieval – in the office and in the field. 

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Custom Reporting and Using Excel Spreadsheets

Look for industry specific reports and key performance indicators (KPIs). No matter how many reports the software includes, you will want to create your own. You will also want to be able to quickly open reports and lists of information in Microsoft Excel®. 

Build PDFs That Work With Your Business Management Software

We know that many contractors use PDFs to collect information and manage their business. You don’t want to give up on using PDFs that are important to your company. There is no sense in entering information into a PDF if you must then reenter into your new business management software program. Find a software application that allows you to build PDFs that save the information within the database. You may then use that information for sales, marketing, and other analysis. Other software users will be able to open those PDFs as soon as another user saves one. 

Mobile Field Services App

Field service management is a vital part of many businesses. It is important that your business management software also include field service management capabilities. The app should have a real-time (live) connection to the same database that your office is connected to. The app should be easy to use and allow technicians to view work orders, customer history, order parts, create invoices, and process credit cards. Managers should be able to view employee stats, company KPIs, sales activity, order parts, check on the status of parts, lookup customer history, view equipment repair history, and many other vital activities. 

Robust User Audit Trail

A good enterprise level audit trail records user activity, from the time they log in until they log out. The audit trail should capture details about the device they connected with, forms that were accessed, and reports that were ran. Many audit trail systems neglect to record details about users importing or exporting data. If your custom list is exported, you will want to know who did it and from what computer or device. The audit trail should also note when users are backdating financial records, adjusting key security settings, editing other user’s payroll records, and other potentially dangerous activities. 

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Granular Security is Vital

Security is a core and crucial component to any good business management software program. It is important to be able to closely control what features and reports users can access. You will also want to be able to closely control how the software behaves depending on the user and their role in the company. Select a software program that offers view, edit, add, delete, inactivate, and void permissions by user for every single form and report.  

You may also with to have the ability for managers to approve certain purchase orders, estimates, invoices, and other important transitions. Keep this in mind when looking for your next business management software solution. 

Lock Down Financial Periods

Protect the past from the future. To prevent problems and accounting regularities, it is recommended that you lock down accounting periods as soon as bank and credit card accounts have been reconciled and the “books are closed”. However, authorized users should be able to easily correct bad information without affecting the financials. When a period is locked, it should never be rendered permanently non-editable. 

Extensive Preferences, Settings, and Defaults

A good business management software program will offer several hundred different preferences and system defaults. These fine-tune the software’s behavior and perfect the user’s experience. What is good for one user, may not be good for another. Ask your sales representative to show their preferences page to you. There should be hundreds of global and user preferences. If they fall short, that means their software cannot be tailored to individual needs. 

Open SQL Database

Avoid software that uses proprietary databases or databases that you cannot get direct access to. You may need to have an IT person get data from your dataset for various reasons. You may decide to switch software down the road. Many companies hold your data hostage. 

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Training, Migration and Support

We will finish our discussions of important features by covering these vital elements of your software investment.  

Software Training

Training is an essential process to your company’s successful onboarding. Ask about their software training programs. Be sure your staff takes training as seriously as they would an online college course. That means cell phones are off, doors are closed, and notes are being taken. Ask your staff what they learned and ask to see their notes. 

Migrating Your Old System’s Data

The data migration can be one of the most important, and often overlooked “features” of your new business management software program. You will want a software company that has experience migrating data from your software program. Schedule a meeting with their migration supervisor to discuss your options. 

QuickBooks Data Migration

If you have been using QuickBooks®, you may wish to keep your accounting information, financial transactions, payroll, and other information. Ask your business management software provider if they can migrate your QuickBooks information, including complete financial records. Be wary of companies that claim to migrate financial transactions. They  are likely just enter beginning and ending balances. 

Technical Support

Once your staff has been trained, there will need basic technical support. Your software provider should provide their support agents with ongoing training. Ask to view their software product documentation. They should have an extensive collection of written materials and videos. 

Business Consulting

Any good software company should be able to provide training and support. Consulting is a whole different level. Once your company is using the software comfortably, it will be time to go to the next level of software mastery. Since your bought business management software to manage your entire business, you may wish to work with a software product expert who understands bookkeeping and accounting and how to apply those concepts to your company’s specific way of doing things. Unlike a trainer, a great consultant can show you better ways to operate your business and how to use the software for your specific requirements. Consultants can also design new software features and modifications for your company to consider investing in. Paid custom software programming is something your new software company should be willing to offer. 

business-consulting What to Look for in a Business Management Software Company 

Make sure they understand your business. That is the only way they will be able to build software that solves your business problems. They must know your industry if they are going to be able to understand what you are asking for and why. Find out who the owner is and investigate their background. Have they worked in an industry like yours? Google their name and find out. 

Someday you may need a feature or capability that is vital to your company. You are not going to want to switch software all over again. You should be able to speak with someone who has the authority to make changes to the software. The software company should offer paid custom programing to those who need it. They should also have a “feature request system” that is transparent and allows other users to vote and comment on ideas for software features. 

Some companies brag about being in business for a longtime. They don’t tell you that the company has been bought and sold numerous times and is now owned by investors trying to maximize value so they can sell out or go public. These companies are likely to change ownership. With each new owner, the software company loses is original purpose and focus. When a  software company loses their way, the customer suffers. 

choosing-the-right-software Determining Your Budget 

If you invest in the correct software, there will be some cost savings due to efficiency gains. That is a hard number to pinpoint, but you should keep that in mind when deciding how much you can afford. 

Remember this important point, and you likely say this to your own customers. It’s always more expensive if you must do it all over again. I know companies that are on their third or fourth software program. If they had selected the correct software the first time, they would have saved a lot of money. Be sure to buy software that can do the things it was bought to do. If you don’t. You will need to set aside more money so that you can afford to get the software that you really need. 

Software Shopping Tips 

Have a list of your company’s absolute must have features and capabilities. Make sure they demonstrate to you their software has those things. Have them use real-world scenarios when they demonstrate the software’s capabilities. 

Be careful about assuming the software does what it looks like it can do. Like a magician, salespeople will sometimes show you the end result, and not the steps it took to get there.  

Make certain that you have them put all their pricing, fees, and other expenses in writing. Know what the ongoing fees are and how often they can increase their pricing or change the terms of the sale. They will sometimes work to get your business so tightly wrapped into the web, that you can’t get out. That’s when you might see them raise prices and nickel and dime you to near death. 

Be wary of contracts that contain one-sided language designed to only protect their software company and limit your recourse. Look at their agreements before you get too far into the sales process. 

Ask your potential business management software company about their owner. Talk to the owner(s). Ask them what their plans are for the future of the business and the software. Interview them like you would an important long-term vendor or employee. 

Key Takeaways

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Only invest in a true all-in-one business management software that includes enterprise level accounting and industry specific payroll. Don’t get talked into buying a half-completed software program that requires you to purchase an accounting and payroll system. 

Make a list of “must have” and “like to have” features. Be sure the software company proves their software has the features you must have and has many of the features you want.  

A great software company will offer business consulting. Their consultant should be able to understand your business processes and show your staff how to use the software for your company’s specific way of doing things. 

The successful and complete migration of data from your current software to your new software is essential. Ask to meet with their migration specialist to go over your options. If you’re a QuickBooks owner, make sur they can migrate your QuickBooks financial data at an individual transaction level. 

Deal with a software company that understands your business and plans to be around for a long time. Be cautious of companies that are owned by investors whose only motivation is maximizing their ROI. Google the owner’s name and see if they are involved in your industry in a positive way. 

 

James R. Leichter is a longtime HVAC contractor, consultant, and public speaker. James is president and CEO at Aptora Corporation, a maker of contracting business management software. He is the editor of MrHVAC.com. James is a partner at RA Tax and Accounting, Inc. James is a founding faculty member at EGIA Contractor University.  

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