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The Bee's Knees of Digital Setups for Field Service Technicians

Isaac Southwell, Director Coffee & Cloud, takes a look at the perfect digital set up for service technicians. If you’re a plumber, electrician, pest controller, carpet cleaner, home maintenance service, or any other trade handling multiple jobs in day, look no further than the ‘bee’s knees’ of digital setups for the field service industry.

Efficiency and productivity are a huge importance to trades and field service businesses. Without it, jobs get delayed, customer satisfaction declines, and profitability takes a hit. It still amazes me that over 75% of tradie businesses are still using manual paper-based business and job management systems that are heavy on administration and time. The benefits of a cloud-based system are still very much misunderstood or not known at all. Change in this area is often put in the “no time’ or ‘too expensive’ bucket whilst the business owner battles on with spreadsheets, filing systems, and a mountain of paper receipts.

Below I have broken down what I believe is the perfect digital business solution for trades providing field services. We look at the software/apps that will add huge value and efficiency to the way technicians work, and the cost of running such a system.

Xero – accounting and financial reporting

Xero as your accounting solution is the centrepiece of a cloud-based business system. Financial reporting whether it be GST or year end accounts is a mandatory requirement, so it is extremely important that good and accurate information is recorded in the system. Integrating with other business systems (as we will look at later below) and automating financial workflows will result in less manual input, human error, and the time required by your accountant to complete mandatory submissions. Save time, save money! What sets Xero apart form its competitors such as MYOB and Quick Books, is its huge App Marketplace. Here you will find thousands of apps and software that integrate seamlessly with Xero, ensuring quality data, real-time information, and automation of processes and workflows between the apps. So let’s take a look below at a few of the Marketplace solutions that can be utilised with Xero in creating the perfect cloud-based business system.

HubDoc – receipts collection & management

Let’s be honest, every one of us is guilty of at some stage (or regularly in some cases) making a business purchase and throwing the receipt into the glovebox or into the rubbish bin. Come month-end you’re either rumbling through a mountain of receipts in your vehicle or ringing your supplier requesting an invoice copy in order to make payment or reconcile your bank statement. Solution? HubDoc. Download the app on your phone, scan the receipt/invoice, throw the receipt away. It’s that easy! Once scanned, the receipt image will be sent to Xero where an accounting document will be automatically created. HubDoc also acts as a repository for your receipts so you can access and share all historic data from your mobile device or desktop computer. The great thing about HubDoc is that its a Xero product so if you have a Xero subscription, it’s absolutely free.

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ServiceM8 – job scheduling & management

When we talk about field service job management, it’s hard to look past ServiceM8. This cost-effective and reliable solution has absolutely everything including quotes & invoicing, on-site payments, asset maintenance, GPS, job images and videos, real-time information between the field and office, automated customer notifications, and so much more. Personally, I have either worked with or had oversight of a number of job management solutions and nothing comes close to the capabilities that ServiceM8 has to offer the trades and service industries. ServiceM8 has seamless Xero integration ensuring materials, invoices, contacts, and payments are automatically synced. In addition to its superb functionality, one thing I rate ServiceM8 highly for is its ability to be dynamic and its appetite for continuous improvement. We regularly see software updates and new features that continue to add value for its users, and without the sneaky price increase! 

Stripe – card payments processing

Managing cashflow is an extremely important aspect of any trades and services business. Unpaid invoices and aged debtors increase your exposure to bad debt and reduce the amount of cash available to you for business/operational expenditure. Having the ability to collect payments quickly and efficiently has huge benefits and is not something that should be overlooked. Additionally, customers expect convenience when it comes to paying for goods and services. Gone are the days of cash and cheques. It’s all about debit/credit cards, electronic transfers, and apple/google pay. As a business you need to respond to these customer expectations. Stripe is a payment gateway that allows you to collect card payments on-site using your mobile device, or by adding a ‘pay now’ button to your invoice. Stripe integrates with both Xero and ServiceM8, automatically recognising and recording the payment in both systems. Money’s in the bank, on to the next job!

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MailChimp – customer engagement and marketing

Regular engagement with customers is an area I often see neglected by trades and service businesses. You’ve secured the work through an advertising campaign, completed the job, received amazing feedback, accepted payment, and then that’s it! No further dialogue or communication planned with the customer. If the customer left positive feedback and was satisfied with your work, then surely they’ll be back right? Not always. Particularly given the fact you’re likely operating in a competitive industry in which others offering the same service are pushing out marketing and advertising campaigns left, right and centre. MailChimp is a simple to use marketing tool that allows you easily create professional looking newsletters/emails, and send to your defined audience/customers. MailChimp integrates with ServiceM8 and Xero, and automatically pulls in your client information ready to be used for marketing. Along with the likes of Facebook, Google My Business, and your website, MailChimp is a great tool in driving engagement and personalising your business/customer relationship.

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Business Website – online presence, be found, be seen!

So for a second now, put yourself in the shoes of a consumer requiring the services of an electrician. 90% of the time your first stop is going to be Google and you will search for something like “electrician near me”. You are then presented with pages and pages of results; all businesses with professionally looking websites. Let’s face it, if you don’t have a website then you don’t have the opportunity to showcase your business. In addition to telling customers everything about the services you offer, a well designed website will enable you to incorporate various other functionalities that create efficiency and enhance the customer experience. For example, if you are a ServiceM8 user you can embed a self booking form into your website allowing customers to view technician availability and schedule (and pay for) a service online. If you’re a MailChimp user you can embed newsletter signup forms that adds a contact (and prospective customer) to your marketing channels. In this digital world, everything integrates anything. A website these days is the bare minimum for a trades and services business with growth ambitions. It is also expected by those seeking and procuring your services.

Cost – what’s your time worth?

Without doubt there will always be a cost associated with running a cloud-based business system. This cost however is usually much lower than envisaged by business owners, particularly when you consider the amount of staff time required to complete a task that can otherwise be automated with the right software/apps and smart integration.

So let’s take a look at the monthly cost for each of the solutions we have looked at above. For the purpose of this estimate, I have used mid-tier subscriptions plans where applicable as these are likely suitable for 80-90% of trades & services businesses. 

* prices in $NZD excl. GST

Xero – $60 (mid-tier plan)

HubDoc – FREE with Xero subscription ($17 otherwise)

ServiceM8 – $79 (mid-tier plan)

Stripe – 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction (monthly average for current pest control client is $30 p/m)

MailChimp – FREE up to 2000 contacts

Website – $30 hosting and email service

There you have it! For approximately $199 per month you can have the power and efficiency of this perfect business system at your fingertips. Now I challenge you to think about how long you and your staff spend on administrative tasks each month, and to quantify this in monetary terms. What’s your time worth?

Coffee & Cloud is a small business advisory that specialises in digital technology for the trades and services industry. Our objective is to set businesses up with smart and efficient systems that solve problems and create real value. For a no-obligation chat about your digital ambitions, please get in touch at info@coffeeandcloud.co

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