Increase efficiency in your office or from the field

PHOTO COURTESY OF MORGUEFILES.COM.
Today’s technology helps increase productivity in the field.

Whether you’ve used computers in your office since the first PCs were born or you’re just investigating them, quality software is the key to maximizing the tasks that these machines can do for you. Today’s technology can wipe out the need for humans to perform routine chores. Efficiency, customer service, marketing, costs and bottom-line results can all be improved by sophisticated programs that track everything from employee records and estimates to marketing campaigns and profitability.

What can software do for you?

If you’re not using business software, you’re wasting considerable time and money, according to Pauline Glenn-Perry, company administrator at Preservation Tree Services (www.preservationtree.com) in Dallas, Texas. “You cannot efficiently track customer data and market information manually,” she says. Her firm’s investment in software saves each employee hundreds of hours annually and reduces the need for outside consultants. Many software applications can be run on laptops, pocket PCs and other portable equipment, increasing efficiency in the field.

Preservation Tree performs large portions of its accounting, personnel, customer service and inventory functions via computer. Glenn-Perry also hopes to invest in a program that is suitable for fleet management and is interested in paperless software products.

Tackling accounting

Accounting can be tricky for many tree service companies. In addition to the expertise needed to maintain accounts receivable and accounts payable, dedication to timely record keeping, invoicing and auditing is needed. These can be daunting tasks, especially for smaller operations.

PHOTO COURTESY OF PRESERVATION TREE SERVICES.
Preservation Tree Services’ administrator, Pauline Glenn-Perry, says the return on investment in business software is second to none.

Many arborists favor Quick-Books (www.quickbooks.com), an Intuit product, for this purpose. QuickBooks takes care of invoicing, payment and expense tracking. The company offers an online version at no cost and a free download of a program for simple financial record keeping.

Each of the several versions available for purchase offer such features as check writing, sales tax record keeping and creation and e-mailing of estimates and invoices. Some QuickBooks products can generate up to 150 reports, import data from other programs and track inventory, and the program can create business plans and purchase orders.

“It’s great for small to medium-sized business accounting, but it’s not necessarily sufficient for contact management, work order writing, marketing and billing,” says Glenn-Perry, who has used the program for more than a decade.

A pioneer in financial software, Intuit continues to upgrade its product. This year’s version offers a real-time overview with a quick look at outstanding invoices and important reminders. Its capability for downloading bank account and credit card transactions has been improved, and it comes with a faster search tool, automatically records credit card transactions and provides more assistance in processing those payments.

Costs range from about $35 per month for enhanced online versions to more than $3,000 for multiple users. Versions for desktop computers for one to five users range from $100 to $400.

Service industry management software

Several comprehensive management software programs for service industry businesses are available. Although they may not have functions specific to arboriculture, products such as ServiceCEO (www.insightdirect.com; 800-471-4200), Thoughtful Systems (www.thoughtfulsystems.com; 800-759-2532) and Smart Service (www.smartserviceinfo.com; 888-518-0818) can aid you in managing customers, jobs and marketing. In addition, most can tackle accounting and offer interfacing with QuickBooks.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MORGUEFILES.COM.

With these software products, you can maintain a database of clients and create and process mail and e-mail messages. Schedules, work order creation, dispatching and routing can be performed, and with additional mapping technology, you can move beyond gathering directions to routing available crews to the closest job, a benefit that could be advantageous during storm cleanup. These applications can maintain inventory and vender records, and ServiceCEO allows comparison of venders’ pricing. Reporting, calendar maintenance, equipment record keeping, telephone message management and data backup can also be delegated to these software applications.

The Thoughtful Systems software provides reminders for follow-up calls to customers and interfaces with HopStop, a program that alerts users to nearby public transportation. Its caller identification system allows users to immediately access customer records or to initiate records for new clients.

Smart Service offers commission tracking, facilitates text messages to clients and provides consolidated reporting for multiple locations. Expect to pay $1,000 to $2,000 for a single-user license for these products.

Arboriculture-specific software

There are at least two companies, ArborGold (www.treeman agement.net/agold.html; 800-933-1955) and ArborSoftWorx (www.arborsoftworx.com; 800-492-7267) that provide business software specifically designed for the industry. In addition to the functions offered by the generic software, these products help automate chores, such as tree inventories.

ArborGold allows for ease of use in the field, as its program can be used on mobile equipment. To update all computers on new estimates and orders, the field representative can connect to the network after returning to the office and activate the synchronization feature to keep everyone informed, without duplicate data entry. ArborGold can prepare reports on chemical use as required by your state, offers profit analysis reports, is compatible with QuickBooks and offers options for its use. The program can also prepare invoices and bank deposits with accounts receivable information to be posted to QuickBooks at the end of each day via a link between the two programs. Alternatively, ArborGold can generate an itemized invoice in QuickBooks, and payments entered in ArborGold can also be posted in the Intuit program. Training materials, initial no-cost and extended technical support and service plans are available. Cost for a server version ranges from $595 to $2,285, client [network] versions run between $395 and $495, and mobile applications range from $795 to $1,095.

Glenn-Perry has used ArborGold for four years, after working with ArborSoftWorx previously. “We changed programs because at the time, ArborGold seemed more a match for field use, ”she says.

She adds that ArborGold is easy to learn and use. The customer and job history, scheduling, mailing, reporting, accounts receivable tracking and ability to export data to other programs are among her favorite features. On the less positive side, the periodic upgrades can be disruptive, according to Glenn-Perry. Although the program is used in the field, it gets its greatest workout in the office.

ArborSoftWorx’s features include a robust inventory system that helps calculate tree needs and risks. ANSI A300 standards and an extensive woody plant and shrub listing, which can be customized, are preloaded, and extensive reporting, graphing and diagramming tools are included. This program includes a DOT-compatible vehicle inspection and maintenance record, as well as an accounting function, and it also can be used with QuickBooks.

The employee tracking feature meets the Tree Care Industry Association’s accreditation standard for logging training and provides a system for listing licenses and certifications. Optional features include a data synchronization system, landscape drawing tools, pesticide reporting and English-to-Spanish translation. Versions for commercial and municipal use are available.

Limited no-cost technical support is included, and additional support and service plans are available for purchase. A single-user version is priced at $1,000; optional services and network versions are available for additional fees.

Delegating your business management functions to a machine can be frightening; even a software upgrade can be challenging, but experienced users say the transition is well worth the effort. After all, if you’re stuck in the office preparing last month’s invoices, you can’t be in the field performing this month’s jobs and recruiting future business.

Based in Greensboro, N.C., the author writes articles about horticulture, landscaping, agriculture and travel. She has been a contributor to Moose River Media publications for three years.