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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi everyone,

I did a lot of digging and it seems that, for contractor software that can do integrated Gantt schedules with budget tracking besed on estimates, least in the smallest end of the market, the top universally available products are Smart Contractor ($1188/yr) and BuildStar ($1319.8/yr).

Can anyone give me their thoughts on these two?

I already contacted both vendors and they seem very friendly. Dan from Smart Contractor was extremely generous with his time and I'd like to publicly thank him. (I noticed he is an advertiser here.)

Anyway, I'd just like to hear what people have to say - especially about BuildStar as there are not a lot of reviews of it out there.

If you're wondering, my needs are for software (SaaS, Mac compatible) on a monthly basis that I can discontinue at any time, but still be able to come back and review my files later. One critical feature I thought would be beneficial would be the ability to email all the subs /suppliers whenever a change was made to the schedule. (How nice is that?)

FYI:




I also looked through:
  • Integrated Scheduling and Costs w/ CRM:
  • Corecon (looks excellent w/ IPad / iPhone integration, $720/yr but + one time-setup / training ~$1500; looks very polished but the initial setup doesn't suit my situation.) Canadian Rep was very helpful. Probably worth looking into if you can see the benefits. (Honestly, a product that has such mobile integration impresses me in and of itself.)
  • I looked at ELMS but like CoreCon requires setup and customization to your needs (the vendor sounds helpful if you want a semi-custom setup.) An interview with the developer see bit.ly/fu11xN
  • Myonlinetoolbox.com (weak in scheduling / features, less polished - bare bones - but free (I don't think I would pay.) Seems more like a builder / co-marketing network for leads.
  • Plain CRM:
  • Zoho (terrible interface),
  • Basecamp (awesome project manager w/ Gantt scheduling, but isn't oriented to construction and doesn't track costs. Might be excellent if you already have many systems in place. Free version avail.)
  • Co-Construct (doesn't do the core competencies of the above - focuses on customer relationship - but looks well thought-out),
  • BuilderTREND (competes with Co-construct. see new post below.)
Some helpful research sites were:
findthebest.com
softwareadvice.com
and of course here on ContractorTalk ;)

Hope this research is of value to all.

Thanks!
Danny
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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How did you register when you reviewed our product

I did a database scan of all the permutations of your company name listed here, and could not find you in our user database. I will not comment, positive or negative on your comments about our product, mostly because it is really hard to tell if you are a strategic competitor just positioning for exposure or where really a company doing all this analysis. Feel free to send a private reply in order to follow the forum's rules if you are the former since I will just let the others take over on whether to continue or not here. But curios about how conslusions were drawn, especially about our product and would enjoy hearing the details. Thanks, Brian
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Just Looking For Answers

it is really hard to tell if you are a strategic competitor just positioning for exposure or where really a company doing all this analysis. But curios about how conslusions were drawn, especially about our product and would enjoy hearing the details. Thanks, Brian

Hi Brian,

No need for PMs. I'm new to the forum, but I'm not a competitor to you. The research was done in good faith over about 3 days of continuous internet searching and comparing the websites, and where possible, the actual products. I actually am ready to start paying for software, and if what you're offering is or becomes the best for my needs in the end, I'd be happy to pay. I'm not trying to disparage anyone, just trying to generate some discussion. I'd be happy to be proven wrong!

Before I talk specifically about MOTB, I will say I found two types of conctractor software: one variety which adds a few features to your existing systems (i.e. Co-Construct - just adds CRM.) The other kind is the "all encompassing" variety - which takes over everything except perhaps for the high-end accounting parts which are shuffled off to Quickbooks, etc.
(It appears to me that MOTB is trying to compete in the latter category.)

What I meant about MOTB is that when I actually tried (the free version) of MOTB, I found that it:
-doesn't have Gantt chart scheduling with Critical Path and auto-bump when something goes wrong (i.e. one sub is late, so other later subs need to be informed)
--to me, this feels like scheduling isn't a critical part of your offering, and that seems like a weakness, at least against my needs. Customers are constantly complaining about contractors not being on schedule, so something that can help everyone stay on the same page seems like a game changer and a critical feature to me. (Not only do I need to be on schedule, but everyone I interact with needs to know the critical path and whenever their role in it changes.)
--Some products offer scheduling that is integrated with all the estimates and work orders, etc, so you don't actually have to update the schedule. Costs tracking, scheduling, and informing everyone is all completely integrated.
-when I said "less polished" it was not a rub. For example, when I tried to search the help files, I got a "Server Error in '/' Application." message and couldn't search the help files.
--Your "comparison" page says "there is no comparison to My Online Toolbox" but, for example, its competitors do offer exporting to accounting software. If MOTB has some more important features that its competitors notably exclude, why not just list them off and point them out as such?
-As far as CRM goes, I did notice that you do offer CRM in your paid version, so I stand corrected. (I'll fix that now in my original post.)
-I did notice that you have "Click to Share" technology which updates other members of MOTB, but does it send out emails to non-members? I couldn't find any info in the help files. Obviously this kind of updating is a crucial improvement over the old whiteboard or notebook calendar method - I consider this an essential technology and a game changer.
-Perhaps when I said "bare bones" it was an overstatement, but I was comparing to the products I was originally discussing and still want to hear comparisons to - Smart Contractor and BuildStar.

Once again Brian, I think this is a chance for you to say why your product is the best. Please go ahead! (If you can provide me a comparison against the two products I was originally asking about - MOTB & BuildStar - all the better.) I am simply trying to look at things as they are, but I don't claim to see everything. Obviously, for your many customers, they obviously have a reason to use your service - please help me understand what they see.

Cheers,
Danny
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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Thanks, not optimized for Canada yet

Appreciate the reply. First let me say that I now know why you may have obtained a few roadblocks in your analysis since we are not optimized for Canada yet. I can't get into the specifics since we protect how people may access our environment due to locations that we want to work with. Our Canada limitation is mostly because of address mapping and validation services that we did not turn on yet while our focus is to first grow throughout the US, then expand into the Canadian markets. You can still work around this by not validating addresses when entering a new one.

You did also bring up some valid questions but I prefer to not go on dialogue here since we have a rather target customer who either gets it, or doesn't.

And forgive me since I really do not know who you are and many people have been pulled in by others just to stimulate debate.

Also, I do not want to use your comments to pull me in to preceived marketing attempts. My instinct is that others may just do the same, especially how detailed you were on your first posts, which rarely happens by just a new contractor joining the forums.

Sort of like LinkedIn deciding whether to debate where they sit against FaceBook, and FaceBook deciding whether to debate where they sit against MySpace. It is too easy to into endless debate, positive and negative, and I prefer to just stay within our user community on them accepting what we have to offer, after trying it for Free, then deciding whether they also want to try the Premium feature.

Many contractors will not got into the form of analysis that you may want to do, not that there is anything wrong with your approach. We target a simpler company who just wants to move forward, who will just give something a try on their own and then let them make a decision. There are just way too many contractors who have very limited system automation and we look to move them forward. Perhaps not to the end game as one many fantasize about for the one-stop-shop-perfect-affordable-answer, but definetely a great step forward.

We look for customers who see what we have to offer, as well as those who can work around whatever perceived limitations there are, and then guide us to the next things that they can reasonable manage and afford. This was similar to how Twitter got going where there were a few basic items that worked well while there were things that they can always improve upon, and the user community moved the company in the right direction.

I wish you well on your analysis of others and even us, and good luck on whatever direction you decide. Brian
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Appreciate the reply. Brian [/FONT][/COLOR]
That was a great answer Brian. Thanks.

You're right - I think that a certain segment will "get" your product since it's easy to try and then get up and running if they like it.

Have a great day,
Danny
 

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Discussion Starter #6
BuilderTrend

I just got a message back from Clint at BuilderTrend and it made me realize I had not exactly understood BuilderTrend, as I had posted it in my original post.

One other point of clarification - CRM is Customer relationship management. To me this usually means web based interaction with homeowners about the project.

Here's the list of features he sent me:

BuilderTREND. "We are not a CRM program"​
(I'm not sure if he meant this statement the same way I was using the term.)

There are several modules of the program, plus always keep in mind as administrator of the program you can pick and choose what info you want to share with employees, customers, and subs/vendors.

Web Based Calendar/Scheduling
Web Based Document Management
Web Based Photo Management
Web Based Change Order Management
Web Based Options/Selections Management
Web Based Warranty Management
Web Based Sub Access
Web Based Homeowner Access​

Hope that clarification helps everyone. I'm going to keep researching and delving.

Oh Brian I just thought of something else. The reason why I am doing this is exactly because few others would take the time to do it. :)

Cheers,
Danny
 

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I'm on a boat!
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I've been using Buildertrend for a few months now. It's fine for what it is - online scheduling and client collaboration.

I used smart contractor for a year. As you mentioned, Dan is a stand up individual and I had much email contact with him throughout my year of use. The premise of smart contractor is right on, however, it is a very complicated system to learn/continue to operate. I found that the system was very glitchy and that I had to learn quite a few work arounds to get what I wanted done. I never synced SC to quickbooks as it was a 2 way sync, not an import into QB, which means all of my vendors (including anywhere I've used my debit card) would have been imported into SC. With a bit of refining, SC can be a powerful tool but unfortunately, after spending many, many hours getting it fully set up, I learned it wasn't for me.

I am currently searching for a database to use to perform similar functions as smart contractor but with a much simpler and more intuitive UI. Simple is beautiful.
 

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I could not have said it better myself (referring to Smart Contractor). You have experienced the exact problem I am having. I am struggling with the decision to keep plodding on or give it up. The problem is I have already spent the money for the system.
 

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Scriptures4life,

It seems you've experienced the full gamut of the construction software realm. It's a terribly cluttered and confusing sector, partially thanks to the housing boom which flooded the market with technology solutions that aren't receiving the same attention/funding post-boom.

You correctly identified the two types of software out there: company/project management and customer development/communication. One is a central data hub with standard CRUD (create,read,update,delete) options and the other is a marketing tool.

I'd encourage you to keep exploring solutions. There are new entrants in the market who have struck a balance between prohibitively complicated yet powerful systems versus easy/affordable but not useful systems.

I noticed that all of the solutions you listed, with the exception of SmartContractor, are web-based. Want to comment on what you see as the pros/cons of online tools vs offline tools?
 

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Management Software

I thought I'd weigh in on this discussion. I did a lot of searching around for a technology solution for managing my construction and maintenance company. For starters, I was unable to find a solution that I thought could do everything I wanted it to do and be cost effective and be easy to use. I decided to go with Myonlinetoolbox and have been using it for a couple of months. It's not perfect by any means but here's my thoughts on some of the pluses and minuses.
Pluses
1. Very easy to learn and use. Even my "non-technology savvy" managers can use it easily. This is a HUGE plus.
2. Quick response to questions from support.
3. Easy to create the basic functional elements of a company (jobs, estimates, work orders and invoices).
4. The template functions are nice time savers when generating similar estimates and work orders.
5. The importing function also saves time when generating work orders from accepted estimates.
6. All my customers and vendors are stored in one place.
7. My field guys can access it easily from the road because it is web-based.
8. Easy to distribute and send estimates, work orders and invoices with the collaboration features.
9. Not very expensive for the paid version.
10. Functional report capabilities.

Minuses
1. You can't really do much customization. It is what it is. For example, I can't add a signature line to work orders or add new units of measure or control the way lists are ordered. I get the sense they are working on adding some of this.
2. While I'll stop short of calling it "buggy" it does have occasional issues while navigating and you have to start over trying to get to certain screens. There are a few minor bugs I know they are working on.
3. It's not really a marketing tool. While all my customers are stored there there's no features to allow me to communicate with them in mass.
4. The scheduling function is not very powerful. It has some basic scheduling elements but I have not found them useful for my needs.
5. It is NOT a substitute for an accounting program and maybe I shouldn't suggest that is a minus, but I want to be clear you still have to have a program like QuickBooks and you will have to do some double-data-entry. They do not interface.

Overall though, it's working for me and I would consider myself a small contractor. As I grow and get to the point of processing hundreds of work orders a week, it might fall short of what I'll need at that point. But I have found it to be a pretty darn solid program for new or small to medium contractors looking for a solution to help organize their company, their customers, their vendors and their paper trail. And it's easy to use. I'm not sure there's a be-all, end-all program that does everything everybody could want, but MOTB is currently doing the job for me.
 

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Toolbox reply to the minuses

Minuses
1. You can't really do much customization. It is what it is. For example, I can't add a signature line to work orders or add new units of measure or control the way lists are ordered. I get the sense they are working on adding some of this.
2. While I'll stop short of calling it "buggy" it does have occasional issues while navigating and you have to start over trying to get to certain screens. There are a few minor bugs I know they are working on.
3. It's not really a marketing tool. While all my customers are stored there there's no features to allow me to communicate with them in mass.
4. The scheduling function is not very powerful. It has some basic scheduling elements but I have not found them useful for my needs.
5. It is NOT a substitute for an accounting program and maybe I shouldn't suggest that is a minus, but I want to be clear you still have to have a program like QuickBooks and you will have to do some double-data-entry. They do not interface.
Your comments, both the positives and minuses are reasonable and I would like to offer a short reply to the minuses.
1) You are correct that you can not do much customization, and that is intentional in order for us to keep the price low. User generated customizations always increases support topics and subsequently then increases the costs. We have decided, at least for today's current economic uncertain times to allow extremely limited user customizations. The signature line you mentioned really isn't a customization, it is a good idea to have in general and has been added to our development list.
2) I wish I could tell you MyOnlineToolbox is bug free, but it is not. It seems that we just can never plan and test great enough to cover every user sequence of typing possible. But what we do like is that based on how we deploy the product over the Internet, all we need to do is find a problem and fix it once, and it automatically impacts all the other customers who may not even be aware that the bug existed in the first place.
3) Very good point and this is something that is on our mind as I type this reply. Feel free to send a support ticket inside the platform in order to obtain more specifics since I prefer to not publicly state exactly what we are doing for competitive reasons, but will be more than happy to share with existing users.
4) You are right in your larger situation, but keep in mind that the scheduling system is currently designed to mimic having a company calendar at the front door for the average small business, and having the calendar easily accessed and updated by other users regardless of where they are. But your comment is a fair comment for anyone that is a larger company managing many subcontractors and employees.
5) This is correct and we plan to incorporate at a later time as more customers demand it. My current preference would be to focus on a lead generating marketing tool then an online payment tool and then a backend efficiency gain. This would be based mostly off of current customer preferences to first focus on the front end of the business. Sometimes I do not really know which is more correct, but we tend to decide simply on current customer demand as opposed to my own business focus perspectives. Really no right or wrong, just the way it is with our customers wants and desires.

I do not mind the minuses being publicly stated since we are still an early stage company that is going as fast as we can as more tech savvy contractors embrace our platform. Thanks again for including your perceptions of negatives along with positives.

Brian
 

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Buildstar Experience

Hi there,

I've been using Buildstar for the last 6 months as an admin for a residential contractor. I absolutely love it. We haven't even begun to utilize all the features that are available, scheduling/tracking/timecard entry/assigning tasks.

The estimating is fairly straightforward - there are preloaded templates, and the ability to create your own. You can enter expenses, PO's, etc. You can also sync it with quickbooks, send out/receive/approve vendor bids.

You have the ability to load updates, photos, change orders for the customer and/or vendors and subs to view and approve online. (getting the subs to actually enter their data into any computer program is another story!) if you have some hard-headed subs that just won't change their current format - they can attach their proposals to the bid.

The best feature that i've experienced with Buildstar is not the program, but their customer service. I call them when I don't know how to create or find something and receive a fast response. They are extremely responsive to change requests. If I feel there is an easier way to enter data I will let them know, and they are quick to create that new template/method.

I have no experience with the other programs - but thought I would add my 2c.
 

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Hello Community,

I am a large re-modeler employing over 50 people. As a power MS Office/VBA user, I have built my own database solution (over the past 15 years) because the out of the box stuff is very cumbersome, clunky, and poor at doing it all. If I want the database to do this I just program it exactly the way I want. How do I do it? Access, Excel, Outlook, Quickbooks all seamlessly talking to each other using VBA. As a large remodeler, the first thing you realize about software even if it can produce some semblance of a gantt chart, they all are terrible when it comes to twisting the 300 jobs on my schedule together. Who cares about a gantt chart for each job at a time. That is the simple stuff and is an afterthought. don't get me wrong we have it but it gets generated from the real schedule which visually friendly shows all jobs, customers, pm's, 25 crewleaders, work type, subs, all at once and then allows you to plot and plan. Nothing out there does this. Try getting 50 employees out each day productively, balance 20 subs, keep 1000's of customer happy and do this for every type of home remodeling service. Balance rain, call off's, change orders, t&m's, overage, etc. That is where scheduling becomes a real art and most brains and software can't keep up. we do.

What can I see because of my schedule? I know the projected profit of my company based on the scheduling of my employees which is fully scheduled for over 2 months. I know the projected profit taking into consideration productivity gains and losses compared to the estimates. I know this weekly, daily, qtrly, yearly, etc for the countless different metrics that I track and monitor daily. We are half way though August and I know the work we are doing in august is projected to run 4.96% under. I know the projection for September, October. I can project profit for every month till the end of the year along with the year. I do 5 Mill plus in sales. I can do this extremely accurately.

As for estimating, again the stuff I see is just not very good. For us, we use an access database to do all crm and back office accounting along with quickbooks and it is all seemless again, but as for the estimating, we have realized that report generated estimating is horrible. we made several in house before abandoning them and from what I see, the software out there runs into the same problems we did. ours worked and so do others but they are all cumbersome. so what do we do? we have developed our own excel-vba based estimate that we call the estimator that syncs with access for each job and the allows you to build the estimate, not create a report. It is a critical difference. You get all the benefits of excel which are very many. you can create the most custom estimates imaginable. all of the info gets published back into access so you can then run reports on everything. It handles, selections, allowances, materials, labor, subs, pictures, work orders for crew leaders, contracts for customers, room dimensions, travel time, line item pricing, grouped pricing, alternates, service type, factors, overrides, overhead, labor rates, goal seeking, legal wording, change orders, etc. I recreated track changes from word and that is helpful to show the customer the difference from the last estimate revision. allowance adjustments and contract adjustment reports that describe the changes to the customer. this then get's published in many different ways as a pdf and also as data going back into the database so we can aggregate all jobs together of which we do 1000 plus per year.

now as for the business planning stuff: you need to know cash flow, new leads, new sales, current and projected work being done, ar, wip, p&l, balance sheet. you need to know all this stuff on a daily, weekly, monthly, qtrly, yearly, decadely, level. just to get started understanding your company. all of that needs to be summarized into dashboards that can allow for daily monitoring and undertsanding which you should give 10-15 minutes a day thinking about where you are at today and comparing it to where you were at last time this year.

As for my access CRM piece. Again I would really hate using what I see out there. First of all get yourself a large screen so you can see all info at once. I can see everything about my client all at once with a couple of tabs out of necessity because I just can't fit it all onto one screen. This allows a person with a brain to think about all variables at once which is necessary to make good decisions (can't piece it as its unusable his way). more importantly, if you can't easily see all the jobs the customer has done with you along with the amounts and an aggregation of all jobs so to know the value of this customer, then you should throw the software away. I can see all jobs and click them to see everything about them. who did the work, pm's sales, etc. pictures, are drag an drop and they show right in the database as you pull up jobs so to help remind the sales and pm's. But besides that we can can seemlessly exchange emails with customers from my database using vba and outlook. all emails are stored (linked) into the access database so that they can be seen by anyone thus keeping many employees and customers on the same page. all file attachments are drag and drop into the job like normal windows files. no upload to the web!!! that is just horrible! basically I empower my employees to know everything and this allows them to make good decisions.

we track all customer reviews, complaints, marketing, markets, services, estimators, crew leaders, pm's, workers, salesmen, etc.

that is the tip of the iceberg as far as what we have. So I am not saying I want to sell my solution to anyone but I do know that it is superior and essential in running a large business. The stuff I see out there does the simple stuff and it does so clunky and ineffeciently. Might work for a small guy who does not need what I need.

Have a great day!
 

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Hello Community,

I am a large re-modeler employing over 50 people. As a power MS Office/VBA user, I have built my own database solution (over the past 15 years) because the out of the box stuff is very cumbersome, clunky, and poor at doing it all. If I want the database to do this I just program it exactly the way I want. How do I do it? Access, Excel, Outlook, Quickbooks all seamlessly talking to each other using VBA. As a large remodeler, the first thing you realize about software even if it can produce some semblance of a gantt chart, they all are terrible when it comes to twisting the 300 jobs on my schedule together. Who cares about a gantt chart for each job at a time. That is the simple stuff and is an afterthought. don't get me wrong we have it but it gets generated from the real schedule which visually friendly shows all jobs, customers, pm's, 25 crewleaders, work type, subs, all at once and then allows you to plot and plan. Nothing out there does this. Try getting 50 employees out each day productively, balance 20 subs, keep 1000's of customer happy and do this for every type of home remodeling service. Balance rain, call off's, change orders, t&m's, overage, etc. That is where scheduling becomes a real art and most brains and software can't keep up. we do.

What can I see because of my schedule? I know the projected profit of my company based on the scheduling of my employees which is fully scheduled for over 2 months. I know the projected profit taking into consideration productivity gains and losses compared to the estimates. I know this weekly, daily, qtrly, yearly, etc for the countless different metrics that I track and monitor daily. We are half way though August and I know the work we are doing in august is projected to run 4.96% under. I know the projection for September, October. I can project profit for every month till the end of the year along with the year. I do 5 Mill plus in sales. I can do this extremely accurately.

As for estimating, again the stuff I see is just not very good. For us, we use an access database to do all crm and back office accounting along with quickbooks and it is all seemless again, but as for the estimating, we have realized that report generated estimating is horrible. we made several in house before abandoning them and from what I see, the software out there runs into the same problems we did. ours worked and so do others but they are all cumbersome. so what do we do? we have developed our own excel-vba based estimate that we call the estimator that syncs with access for each job and the allows you to build the estimate, not create a report. It is a critical difference. You get all the benefits of excel which are very many. you can create the most custom estimates imaginable. all of the info gets published back into access so you can then run reports on everything. It handles, selections, allowances, materials, labor, subs, pictures, work orders for crew leaders, contracts for customers, room dimensions, travel time, line item pricing, grouped pricing, alternates, service type, factors, overrides, overhead, labor rates, goal seeking, legal wording, change orders, etc. I recreated track changes from word and that is helpful to show the customer the difference from the last estimate revision. allowance adjustments and contract adjustment reports that describe the changes to the customer. this then get's published in many different ways as a pdf and also as data going back into the database so we can aggregate all jobs together of which we do 1000 plus per year.

now as for the business planning stuff: you need to know cash flow, new leads, new sales, current and projected work being done, ar, wip, p&l, balance sheet. you need to know all this stuff on a daily, weekly, monthly, qtrly, yearly, decadely, level. just to get started understanding your company. all of that needs to be summarized into dashboards that can allow for daily monitoring and undertsanding which you should give 10-15 minutes a day thinking about where you are at today and comparing it to where you were at last time this year.

As for my access CRM piece. Again I would really hate using what I see out there. First of all get yourself a large screen so you can see all info at once. I can see everything about my client all at once with a couple of tabs out of necessity because I just can't fit it all onto one screen. This allows a person with a brain to think about all variables at once which is necessary to make good decisions (can't piece it as its unusable his way). more importantly, if you can't easily see all the jobs the customer has done with you along with the amounts and an aggregation of all jobs so to know the value of this customer, then you should throw the software away. I can see all jobs and click them to see everything about them. who did the work, pm's sales, etc. pictures, are drag an drop and they show right in the database as you pull up jobs so to help remind the sales and pm's. But besides that we can can seemlessly exchange emails with customers from my database using vba and outlook. all emails are stored (linked) into the access database so that they can be seen by anyone thus keeping many employees and customers on the same page. all file attachments are drag and drop into the job like normal windows files. no upload to the web!!! that is just horrible! basically I empower my employees to know everything and this allows them to make good decisions.

we track all customer reviews, complaints, marketing, markets, services, estimators, crew leaders, pm's, workers, salesmen, etc.

that is the tip of the iceberg as far as what we have. So I am not saying I want to sell my solution to anyone but I do know that it is superior and essential in running a large business. The stuff I see out there does the simple stuff and it does so clunky and ineffeciently. Might work for a small guy who does not need what I need.

Have a great day!
Why don't you package what you have and sell it to others?
 

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General Contractor
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And......... Your point, dsob1?
 

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Hello Community,

I am a large re-modeler employing over 50 people. As a power MS Office/VBA user, I have built my own database solution (over the past 15 years) because the out of the box stuff is very cumbersome, clunky, and poor at doing it all. If I want the database to do this I just program it exactly the way I want. How do I do it? Access, Excel, Outlook, Quickbooks all seamlessly talking to each other using VBA. As a large remodeler, the first thing you realize about software even if it can produce some semblance of a gantt chart, they all are terrible when it comes to twisting the 300 jobs on my schedule together. Who cares about a gantt chart for each job at a time. That is the simple stuff and is an afterthought. don't get me wrong we have it but it gets generated from the real schedule which visually friendly shows all jobs, customers, pm's, 25 crewleaders, work type, subs, all at once and then allows you to plot and plan. Nothing out there does this. Try getting 50 employees out each day productively, balance 20 subs, keep 1000's of customer happy and do this for every type of home remodeling service. Balance rain, call off's, change orders, t&m's, overage, etc. That is where scheduling becomes a real art and most brains and software can't keep up. we do.

What can I see because of my schedule? I know the projected profit of my company based on the scheduling of my employees which is fully scheduled for over 2 months. I know the projected profit taking into consideration productivity gains and losses compared to the estimates. I know this weekly, daily, qtrly, yearly, etc for the countless different metrics that I track and monitor daily. We are half way though August and I know the work we are doing in august is projected to run 4.96% under. I know the projection for September, October. I can project profit for every month till the end of the year along with the year. I do 5 Mill plus in sales. I can do this extremely accurately.

As for estimating, again the stuff I see is just not very good. For us, we use an access database to do all crm and back office accounting along with quickbooks and it is all seemless again, but as for the estimating, we have realized that report generated estimating is horrible. we made several in house before abandoning them and from what I see, the software out there runs into the same problems we did. ours worked and so do others but they are all cumbersome. so what do we do? we have developed our own excel-vba based estimate that we call the estimator that syncs with access for each job and the allows you to build the estimate, not create a report. It is a critical difference. You get all the benefits of excel which are very many. you can create the most custom estimates imaginable. all of the info gets published back into access so you can then run reports on everything. It handles, selections, allowances, materials, labor, subs, pictures, work orders for crew leaders, contracts for customers, room dimensions, travel time, line item pricing, grouped pricing, alternates, service type, factors, overrides, overhead, labor rates, goal seeking, legal wording, change orders, etc. I recreated track changes from word and that is helpful to show the customer the difference from the last estimate revision. allowance adjustments and contract adjustment reports that describe the changes to the customer. this then get's published in many different ways as a pdf and also as data going back into the database so we can aggregate all jobs together of which we do 1000 plus per year.

now as for the business planning stuff: you need to know cash flow, new leads, new sales, current and projected work being done, ar, wip, p&l, balance sheet. you need to know all this stuff on a daily, weekly, monthly, qtrly, yearly, decadely, level. just to get started understanding your company. all of that needs to be summarized into dashboards that can allow for daily monitoring and undertsanding which you should give 10-15 minutes a day thinking about where you are at today and comparing it to where you were at last time this year.

As for my access CRM piece. Again I would really hate using what I see out there. First of all get yourself a large screen so you can see all info at once. I can see everything about my client all at once with a couple of tabs out of necessity because I just can't fit it all onto one screen. This allows a person with a brain to think about all variables at once which is necessary to make good decisions (can't piece it as its unusable his way). more importantly, if you can't easily see all the jobs the customer has done with you along with the amounts and an aggregation of all jobs so to know the value of this customer, then you should throw the software away. I can see all jobs and click them to see everything about them. who did the work, pm's sales, etc. pictures, are drag an drop and they show right in the database as you pull up jobs so to help remind the sales and pm's. But besides that we can can seemlessly exchange emails with customers from my database using vba and outlook. all emails are stored (linked) into the access database so that they can be seen by anyone thus keeping many employees and customers on the same page. all file attachments are drag and drop into the job like normal windows files. no upload to the web!!! that is just horrible! basically I empower my employees to know everything and this allows them to make good decisions.

we track all customer reviews, complaints, marketing, markets, services, estimators, crew leaders, pm's, workers, salesmen, etc.

that is the tip of the iceberg as far as what we have. So I am not saying I want to sell my solution to anyone but I do know that it is superior and essential in running a large business. The stuff I see out there does the simple stuff and it does so clunky and ineffeciently. Might work for a small guy who does not need what I need.

Have a great day!
 

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I have thought hard about packaging my software. I might someday. However I tend to enjoy and my company requires immense customization. It also pays me a lot of money as I own it. So yes I could approach it differently and make it more prepackaged but it would be difficult to pull off and keep the flexibility that I have created and what I enjoy doing. But maybe. The best part of what we have is the business logic so if I made it prepackaged, I would recreate what I have created on the web so it is more easily portable and easier to sell. Won't be better than what we have and we would have to sacrifice some customization capability but I could sell it to more people. But if there are any large shops out there who want what I have let me know. I would entertain it but it would need to be worth my time.

The point of why I wrote what I wrote is too let others know what is possible and what is essential to run a large company efficiently. Again its not about making a Gantt chart. That is simple. It's about twisting 300 jobs Gantt charts together to make a "Schedule". A software program that allows you to basically play chess and make moves. Create what if scenarios and allow you simulate ideas through to see if they improve your schedule. I have created this "Schedule" and I have not seen anything like it after an extensive search on the web. It's not a static report that doesn't allow you to see all of the cascading effects of resource and customer changes. It's not simply a super gigantic Gantt chart. I call it a "Reverse Gantt Chart" or the "Schedule". A Gantt chart by itself is kind of like "one issue man". One issue man can solve any issue by itself but doesn't realize that it affects 100 other issues. He is brilliant for that one issue (sarcastic tone).

In addition to scheduling read the other submission I wrote to see other things that I consider critical. I won't rehash it here.

To summarize: The stuff I see out there is all poorly designed to run large amounts of people and customers but could poorly work for very small shops. That's it. I felt to compelled to share.
 
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