Embracing technology after Covid
September 14, 2020
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September 14, 2020
Many trade businesses have embraced technology in recent years to help with their paperwork. But many have not. Ben Dyer of Powered Now ask whether Covid-19 has changed the balance.
For those of us that have been around for a while, things have radically changed over time. Buying the 29-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica (with an extra two volumes for the index) and using up half a room in the house now sounds ridiculous. Most people have a smartphone more powerful than the biggest computer in the world from a few years ago. It has access to much more information than that old encyclopaedia. The car that I drive is faster, costs less in real terms and is more economical than an equivalent from 20 years ago.
If we don’t all choose to drive 20-year-old cars, why do we reject progress when it comes to computerising our business and paperwork? And why can’t we see smartphone apps as just another useful tool in the box?
It’s important to point out that coronavirus has already had an impact. A lot of older people that didn’t like technology have become prolific Zoom users since it became the only way to see their grandchildren. Online shopping has seen nearly ten years’ worth of normal growth in three months, with 30% of all UK retail sales now going across the web. This has all come from the crisis.
It’s another illustration of the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. And being forced into using technology hasn’t proved as difficult as a lot of people thought.
As we look at the post-Covid business landscape, it’s worth asking whether, when the dust has settled, there will be more or less work around? If there’s any risk that things will get tougher, it’s important to get the business as efficient and streamlined as possible now. One of the ways to do that is to take the maximum possible advantage of technology both to run the business and to generate new leads.
In this context, it’s important to note that as the general use of computers has risen the importance of online reviews has too. As a result, Checkatrade and other services have become more important influencers on new business as time has passed.
Over the last twenty years, people running trade businesses have been some of the slowest adopters of computer technology. This is partly because the systems that were available weren’t much help to small trade businesses. There were several reasons for this. A major one was that PC based systems were ultra-clunky and hard to use. As well as that, they were unsuitable for someone who was always out and about on the road.
That has now all changed. Smartphones have much more power than a traditional computer and are usually connected when they are on the move. In addition, there’s been a revolution in ease of use. It means that pretty much everyone can use a smartphone easily.
The adoption of Zoom and other technologies during the coronavirus lockdown shows not only how easy things are but also how quickly technology can be picked up. But it’s all about motivation.
Anyone who uses a pen and paper might feel that using a system to run their business would be more difficult. And anyone that uses Word or Excel to produce their invoices might think that they won’t get much benefit from a trade-specific system.
However, in our experience, trade-focused systems will usually surprise on the upside with their power and flexibility. They provide loads of benefits from a whole raft of features. They also have tricks to minimise the amount you need to type.
The first is voice-to-text. All modern smartphones provide this feature. If your app has been built properly, you can dictate notes when you are pricing up a job, and they are stored against the customer. It’s much faster than using pen and paper.
A good app will also copy customer information from your smartphone’s contacts. No rekeying information there. And entering the postcode will allow the full address to be looked up and selected with a click. It will also use other tricks to keep those keystrokes down.
It should be possible to price jobs by clicking on items from your supplier’s catalogue in the app. That can be a real time saver. You should be able to choose how much detail about materials are shown in your quote while keeping the full details available to you.
After a quote is accepted, you should be able to create the purchase order for the materials and send it to the supplier with one click. Then the supplier invoice should be created equally easily so that it is ready for your accounts.
The sales invoice should also be raised from the quote with a single click. And when the customer opens a quote or invoice, you should be notified. The customer should be able to confirm online that they have accepted a quote. At each of these steps, you should be informed instantaneously. It all replaces paper, stamps, post and hassle.
Of course, a system should also know exactly who owes you money and help to chase it automatically.
Your system should be able to automatically send reminders out to customers if another landlord safety certificate is required, a gutter clean might be due, or something similar is needed. A service might be due to maintain warranty coverage.
This all means that the system can be generating new work while you sleep. That’s got to be an attractive proposition.
There is nothing wrong in being cynical about claims that a system can generate more business. And it’s certainly true that results will vary. However, it’s easy to make a case for how you can potentially win more work and raise more invoices:
In a broad survey, users of my company’s system, Powered Now, reported an average of 5 hours saved a week using the app. I’m sure that competitors get similar results. It means that you may spend around half a day a week less on your least favourite task, paperwork. That time could be used much more usefully. It might be more hours at home with the family or more hours on the job.
The benefit of reducing risk may be slightly harder to see. It is that your information is much more secure if you use an app. This is because it should be automatically backed up to “the cloud”. It means that if any device is lost, stolen or broken, all of the information is still available.
This contrasts with relying on a black book, which represents a genuine business risk. A lost black book when your van or tools are stolen can cost the business more than the tools and damage caused. Although most people running a trade business won’t have the experience, the risk is real and needs to be managed.
You might think that the risk would be even greater using an app. Smartphones are notorious for being lost, broken or stolen. As mentioned before, “the cloud” fixes this. When you get a new tablet or smartphone, all of the information can be immediately retrieved in full, and you can always get to it from a desktop or laptop computer.
In the same way, when a client reappears months after you sent them a quote, you can always find the paperwork. In fact, having all the paperwork in one place is a major advantage of a modern app designed for the trade.
It gets harder to embrace new ways of working as we get older. However, the Coronavirus pandemic has shown how quickly new techniques can be picked up when there is enough of a motivating reason. Already, most of us have got to grips with smartphones and don’t find them difficult. Given the uncertain future, it seems like common sense to invest some effort (and it does take effort) to use a system to become more efficient by using a smartphone app. Why not risk it and have a go?
Benjamin Dyer is CEO and co-founder of Powered Now. Powered Now’s mobile app aims to take the pain out of paperwork for small and medium sized trade businesses.
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