- THE MAGAZINE
If there’s one thing you can saw about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in one place for very long. Continual updates, leaps from v.1.2 to v.5.0 before you can finish your first tutorial require diligence on the part of the carpet cleaner to stay abreast with what’s happening, and follow-through from the manufacturer to provide whatever support may be needed.
Recently, we asked Principal Focus CEO Joe Kowalski to give us an overview on software specifically designed for the carpet cleaning professional: what’s important, what’s not, what features and options exist out there, and where things will go from here.
ICS Cleaning Specialist: Let’s start with the basics: software designed specifically for the carpet cleaner? Really? Doesn’t something like QuickBooks pretty much do it all?
Joe Kowalski: If you’re using software of any kind, you’re already winning. QuickBooks can help you with company finances but can’t reasonably be expected to manage specific industry needs for millions of users. A program built specifically for cleaners has real advantages. Cleaning software will be much better at managing clients, scheduling, and marketing. Those features are unique to our industry.
We all know there is a big difference between a Rug Doctor and a quality truckmount. While QuickBooks is a much-improved Rug Doctor, carpet cleaning software is more like the “truckmount” with attachments. Beware of software vendors who built their “truckmounts“ in the garage. They have a tendency to blow-up.
ICS: As far as software goes, can you compare where things are today with where they were 10 years ago and, if so, what’s it done for the industry?
JK: I think the biggest change has been the mindset of the user; the acceptance of online information. The last ten years has been slow compared to the next five in terms of available technologies. The iPhone was just another well designed smart phone, yet it crushed Microsoft and BlackBerry in phone sales mostly because the user community was ready for it.
When we started eight years ago, putting your business data online was only done by technically advanced companies with a development budget. We had major problems convincing small business owners that online programs are more secure and insanely less expensive. That conversation has changed. Now users want to know how to run the program on the device that came out yesterday.
Most people now understand that having remote access to your data is a huge money and time saver. Ten years ago you had to figure it out on your own. Now software vendors with online programs provide remote access with reduced costs. You don’t need a server, or a backup solution, or an IT pro to make it work.
People finally got it. The iPhone came out at exactly the right time and a new generation of technology has been born. The next 5 years should be remarkable.
ICS: A lot of carpet cleaning companies have been paper-based for years; why go digital now, if it’s worked as well as it has to this point?
JK: If you’re totally satisfied with your profits; you might not need software. If you do a good job of marketing to your current clients; you might not need software. If you can actually calculate your real repeat rate and it’s over 65%; you might not need software. I have talked with very few people who are in that position. It’s never too soon or too late to start. Software will not only earn you more money, it will save you time and money as well.
Most of the people we have talked to who are still paper based say they feel intimidated. Some aren’t that comfortable using a computer. However, after finally making the plunge, most wish they started sooner. A well established product backed by great customer support will make the transition and training much easier.
It’s extremely difficult to measure your important business data if you’re not collecting it. Lord Kelvin (Sir William Thomson) said, “If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” The right software will automatically improve your business if you take the time to adopt it. Software will help you increase leads, convert more leads into sales, and increase the cost effectiveness of your business.
Paper-based cleaners have a tough time with client retention marketing. It would be unusual for a paper-based cleaner to market to their current clients at all. At best you could stay in contact with the entire list. If you wanted to target your campaigns (like send out a 9 month reminder), you would need to keep a manual ledger or go back to the filing cabinet. That’s assuming you filed the invoices by date and not by name, if you kept records at all. Once you have identified the clients for the campaign, then the real fun begins. You need to hand write each envelope, card, or letter. With carpet cleaning software, its clickety-click and you’re done. A well thought-out client retention program can earn you a steady 800% return.
There are big returns for moving off of paper no matter what the size of your business. Take your business to the next level by finding the right software for your business and take the time to learn it.
ICS: Technology changes on what seems to be an almost daily basis. Sifting through all the bells and whistles, what’s necessary and what’s not?
JK: Let’s start with identifying the available technologies. In the next ten years there will be four separate hardware devices we use in our daily lives; smart phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations. Each has its own purpose.
There are currently three main platforms for these devices: Windows (Microsoft), Mac (Apple), and Android (Google). Windows and Android are built with open coding standards. Apple has opened development on desktops and laptops but remains firm on closing development on the iPhone and iPad systems. This means that many more products will be available for Windows and Android.
From business software point of view, you need to make sure the vendor you choose can take advantage of the “next generation” of technology. There will always be a “next generation” so look at their history. If the product is new or has barely changed in the last 5 years, it’s unlikely they will keep making changes. Pick the right software company for your business first, then have them help you move forward with hardware.
ICS: A year from now, five years, 10 years: what’s do you see on the horizon, what’s going to be the standard in software for the carpet cleaning industry, and how’s it going to improve operations?
JK: The best way to answer that question is with a story. Mike and his wife Jane are carpet cleaning business owners in the year 2020. Mike grabs his tablet and smart phone while heading out to his first job of the day. Before starting his truck – don’t text and drive kids – he logs into his program on his tablet. He clicks on the first job and instantly gets GPS directions. After completing the job he uses his tablet in the client’s home to complete the invoice, process her payment, and obtain her email address. Now he can instantly email her the invoice and even email market to her later.
Before the next job he receives an email on his smart phone from the system. His wife has just rescheduled his next appointment. He takes the extra time to follow up on the leads he received through his website. His software is able to talk with his website and create prospect records in his software. While on the phone he uses his tablet to create and schedule new jobs. At the same time his wife is approving the automated marketing reminders the system has generated. Their vendor offers reminder fulfillment and all Jane has to do is click a few buttons. She then sends billing emails to all of their commercial clients with outstanding balances.
After the last job has been completed, Mike is able to park his truck and be done. No more after hours bookkeeping. No more guilty feelings about bad marketing practices. No more missed sales opportunities and most importantly, no more missed family time. Mike could even run his entire business all by himself and still be done at the end of the day. The funny thing is, nearly this entire story is available now.