Automating Your Business

Smart Contractor is an automated business management system. 

What does that mean? 

As a little background, I'd like to discuss the idea of a "systems" approach to doing work, as opposed to a "manual" approach. A "system" is a set of procedures you use when you do something repetitively. Using a system is a way to assure that the outcome is consistent and predictable. It also increases your efficiency because you don't have to do everything as though it's the first time you've done it.  

A "manual" approach is when you stop and think about how to do everything as though it's the first time you've done it. If you make a mistake, you have to do it again. And unless you make the same decision about the right way to do it each time, you'll end up doing it differently each time, so the outcome will not be consistent or predictable.

Construction is a good example of a process that benefits from applying systems. Every part of constructing of a building can be made more efficient, consistent, and predictable by applying systems. I probably don't need to go into detail or provide examples to explain what I mean here. 

Well, just as you can apply systems in constructing a building, you can also apply systems to the operation of a business. The only difference is that while a "construction system" consists of a set of procedures that is applied to tools and materials, a "business system" is a set of procedures that is applied to large amounts of information. 

Before computers, we implemented business systems by storing, transporting, and retrieving information on paper. But just because you use a computer to store information doesn't mean you have an automated  system. Computer programs come in a wide range of how much they do with the data you put into them. The simplest are "electronic typewriter" programs such as Microsoft Word. You type into it, and it formats and prints what you typed. One level up is Excel, where you can define formulas and enter numbers, and it will manipulate the numbers you entered, and print the output.

Programs like Word and Excel are useful, but in the end, the most they can do is assist you with a "manual system" of business operation. A manual system of operation has the following characteristics: 

  • The same information is entered and stored redundantly in a number of programs. Because of this...
  • There is ample opportunity for a lack of consistency between multiple instances of the same data.
  • Information entered in each program remains in the same form in that program, and does not flow from one program to another.
  • Significant human intervention is required to effect the flow of information - within a program, or from one program to another.
  • Information is stored in computers, but storing it in computers does not provide a significant gain in efficiency.

On the other end of the spectrum are computer programs that implement an "automated system". A system is "automated" when you use a computer to implement the set of procedures used in operating a business. An automated system has the following characteristics:

  • Information is only entered once - there is no redundancy of data entry anywhere within the company.
  • Information only exists in once instance - there is no possibility for inconsistency in multiple instances of the same data.
  • The single instance of information is available for use in all business functions and processes.
  • No human intervention is required to effect a flow, transformation, or manipulation of information within the system.
  • The automated system provides a significant increase in efficiency in multiple facets of the business operation.

The point of all of this is that Smart Contractor is an automated business system. In conjunction with QuickBooks, it does everything you need to organize, operate, manage, and account a construction business. But there's a catch. Since Smart Contractor is "a system", this means that you have to follow the system in order for it to work. The only time users have trouble using Smart Contractor, or don't enjoy significant increases in efficiency by using it, is when they attempt to use it to automate their previous manual procedures.

All you need to do in order to fully implement Smart Contractor is to start using it to do estimating. This means create estimates with some degree of detail. Once you have an estimate, you will be able to...

  • Calculate an estimate,
  • Generate a schedule,
  • Print proposals and contracts,
  • Submit quote requests,
  • Generate purchase orders,
  • Generate work orders,
  • Track actual costs against the estimate items,
  • Track change orders against the original estimate,
  • Generate invoices based on the estimated costs, or actual costs entered against the estimate line items, 
  • Provide a complete and accurate accounting of a job for the customer - during the process of the job, but especially when it is completed for final billing.
  • View or print a full suite of business management reports including estimated vs actual cost accounting, sales analysis, etc.

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