ICS Magazine

Tapping the Power of Computers

December 10, 2002
If you are like the vast majority of cleaners, computers are still somewhat of a mystery to you. Maybe you have got some combination of programs doing a little bit of something for your business, but nothing that is producing spectacular results.

You are not a computer expert, but you know that the systems available today could really improve your business. The problem is, you don’t know how to make a change without a big hassle. Adhering to some simple and clear guidelines will help you enjoy a much more satisfying business and quality of life without demanding your becoming a computer whiz.

A computer system is made up of two major components, hardware and software. The hardware is the box, processors, drives, monitors, etc. that make up the physical equipment. The software is the set of largely intangible tools that tell the computer what to do. It is important to know that great software won’t work without the proper hardware, and vice-versa.

It is important to avoid the trap of buying one computer and/or program and holding on to it forever. That is false economy. Computers and software must be periodically upgraded or replaced to stay effective, right along with van tires, vacuum motors and other key cleaning equipment. Once you accept this, you can focus on the bigger picture of getting maximum return from your investments in advertising, equipment and labor.

Strive to computerize the key tasks and areas of your business operations, including customer base management, marketing and reminder mailings, scheduling and routing, invoicing and other accounting, and performance tracking, to name a few. As all areas of your operation are interrelated, having software that connects these areas well is important. If a different program is employed for each area, vital information will be missed that would otherwise help you get more from your business with less effort.

To narrow your list of software choices, simply ask around. See what is offered in industry magazines. Check with suppliers and other cleaners for recommendations. Try to get a consensus of the software choices that you hear about over and over, and limit your evaluation to the top programs mentioned. If you can get a trial period of those programs for a nominal fee, do it.

Once you request your trials, mark off some time to look at them promptly. Use any included overview or training aides, and avoid the urge to be too analytical; this can paralyze you. You should get an idea which programs interest you after only minutes in each trial; first impressions are probably best to further narrow your search.

Once your search is narrowed, look at the system requirements for each potential program. If you need more memory, a new operating system, or even a new computer, take the time to ask a knowledgeable computer expert how to get the best value (you won’t need top-of-the line), then buy it without flinching. Don’t procrastinate or over-agonize over this investment; remember, even the best software requires that you meet hardware system requirements for it to function properly.

Your goal in the trial process should not be to fully implement the program into your operation, although with some time dedicated to the task this is feasible in some cases. The program trial should demonstrate to you that it will handle the functions you want in a practical, understandable and effective way. The program or programs that perform those tasks the best should be the one(s) you invest in.

Remember that the cash-generating areas of operating and marketing your business are distinctly different than the record keeping and paperwork of accounting. Most cleaners find that they get the best results from a dedicated accounting program, such as Intuit’s QuickBooks or one of a number of programs from Peachtree, combined with a dedicated program for operations and marketing.

Once you’ve made your software decision, implement it in stages. This allows you to begin receiving benefits from the new system as quickly as possible. Staged implementation also prevents you from being overwhelmed, as well as allowing you to give the proper attention to each aspect of your business. Also, expect to change the way you do some things, because change is a necessary part of improvement. With the right system you will find many changes for the better that make your life much easier.

The rewards of properly implementing great hardware and software are substantial. Consider those individuals in the world who get around just fine on foot, but who have no idea of the travel possibilities with cars and airplanes. You need to discover just how much is possible with today’s system offerings, and how easy it can be for the average person to operate. For example, you can literally shave hours of labor time and expense off of each week! You can complete more important tasks in a given day. You can boost your average cleaning frequency and job averages while simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. You can use more report information to make smarter business decisions that yield better returns. You can banish sources of boredom, tedium and stress, like those long weekends of getting invoices out, from your life forever, at the same time putting more money in your pocket. Who wouldn’t want all that?

So get your free trials before another week goes by, check them out and select the best choice for you. Get your system up and working for you as soon as possible, because every day you wait is costing you the better business for which you have worked so hard.