In the construction industry, cash flow is king! It is a daily responsibility for any contracting company. Profit margins are always razor-thin in this industry, which means you need to do everything you can to increase your production and maximize profits. That means projecting job costs, identifying problem areas before they arise, running labor analysis, and constantly measuring productivity. Here are a few tips that will help. Continue reading
Do you question whether the equipment in your construction fleet is profitable or if you should be renting equipment as needed instead? Do you have a piece of equipment that often sits idle for months and don’t know whether to sell it or hold onto it – just in case? Continue reading
To appreciate how construction firms can make a greater profit on projects, you first need to recognize that one of the most common way to lose money is with unproductive labor. Downtime, overtime and reworking a project will kill profits – and oftentimes, morale. Continue reading
Many contractors delay purchasing new construction accounting software because of the resulting growing pains, but successful software implementation is similar to a successful project: thoughtful planning coupled with skilled execution results in greater profitability for your company. Since you already know how to build profitable projects, applying basic construction logic to your software implementation lessens the pain so you can move forward with anticipation instead of dread. Keeping the construction process in mind, here are seven tips for a successful software implementation.
1. Define Success Up Front
The project estimate defines success by establishing a budget with an anticipated profit margin before the job contract is even won. Although defining success as it relates to your software implementation isn’t so straightforward, it’s still important to establish guidelines for measuring success. If you don’t define the meaning of success, how will you know if you’ve achieved it?
The easiest way to define a successful software implementation is to identify existing procedures that aren’t working and outline how you will improve them. For example, if you have a labor-intense, spreadsheet-based work-in-progress (WIP) reporting system, one of your definitions of success could be to replace it with an automated process that eliminates duplicate effort and takes only a few seconds to complete. In this case, success is easily measurable.
Invoice approval is another example. If you’re replacing manual invoice routing with an electronic invoice approval system, success might be defined as achieving approval 50 percent faster while eliminating lost or misplaced invoices. This same concept can be applied to all of your procedures, whether they are related to jobs, employees or equipment.
2. Spend Time Up Front Planning Your Coding Structure
Pre-planning is an important part of both a construction project and a software conversion. A new software implementation is the perfect time to establish a more logical and standardized coding structure for your jobs, general ledger, vendors and customers, especially if you are migrating from a legacy system with limited flexibility or a generic accounting program that offers little to no structure.
A standardized coding structure allows you to gain greater business insight through your software’s reporting system. For example, with a departmentalized general ledger structure, you can quickly access specific information on a single department, such as your service department. Standardized codes also let you compare data across all jobs, because account #100 will always signify the same thing, regardless of the project.
3. Clean Up Your Data
You wouldn’t start a new project with old information, so why would you start using new accounting software with old data? Before migrating existing data to your new system, take some time to clean it up by eliminating duplicate vendors, purging old information, evaluating outstanding payables and receivables and getting accurate inventory counts.
This step helps you start with a fresh and timely dataset in your new system. If you have receivables that are outstanding by 120 days or more, ask yourself why they’re present and what you can do to collect the money? If you have outstanding credits with little-used vendors, consider requesting refunds instead of carrying those credits forward. Perhaps it’s time to archive data for employees that haven’t worked for the company in years. For current employees, this allows you to identify whether you have current W-4 forms on file and if any critical licenses or certifications have expired.
4. Create a Schedule with Milestones
Treat your software implementation like a construction project by creating a schedule with specific milestones. Assign a project manager on your end and ask for a designated PM on your software vendor’s side.
To achieve software implementation success, you’re going to need some accountability for the things that must be done. Make the two PMs ultimately responsible for driving the project toward completion on time and within budget.
Let your company’s size and the complexity of your software system dictate the schedule, but try to set a firm go-live date. Like many construction projects, unforeseeable delays happen during software conversions. It’s okay to make adjustments to your schedule. But be aware that, if you keep pushing your deadline further into the future, you risk losing momentum and creating costly delays.
5. Implement Your New Software in Phases
Every construction project is completed in phases. Why should your software implementation be any different?
A phased implementation eases the adoption of new software by allowing your staff to become comfortable with the basics before you add more complex functionality.
Phase 1 builds the foundation. Implement basic functionality that replaces and improves upon the procedures you were doing before. The focus during Phase 1 should be on core accounting, including job cost and payroll.
Phase 2 adds the framework. Implement functionality that your company wasn’t utilizing before, but is vital for improving operations. Processes like inventory management, purchasing, equipment management and custom reporting fall into Phase 2.
Phase 3 adds custom finishes. This is your technology “wish list” that will revolutionize your operations. Electronic document management, remote timesheet entry and a field service system fit into this phase.
6. Establish New and Improved Procedures
Just like you implement new procedures for improving things like job site safety, you should use your software implementation as a way to establish new procedures that improve accounting processes.
Better processes make your accounting staff more efficient and keep important details from slipping through the cracks. Some examples include creating collection policies for past due invoices, scheduling payables to take advantage of vendor discounts and using triggers or alerts for insurance expiration dates or to flag missing employee information.
7. Set a Profitable Training Mindset
It takes time and money for an apprentice to become a journeyman. Likewise, it takes time and money to become proficient in your new software. Instead of viewing training as an expense, look at it as an investment and budget accordingly.
If you neglect training, your new software becomes a disposable tool. With proper training, however, your software becomes an investment that delivers a positive return over time. Achieving a successful accounting software implementation can take up to two full years. The first year is spent rolling out the system and the second year is spent fine-tuning your processes. It’s generally a good idea to allocate a portion of your budget for training at three, six, nine and 12-month intervals. Free resources offered by your vendor can help as well, including newsletters, e-mail updates, a knowledge base, online help, Webinars and conferences.
Mandating Change from the Top Down
Change is vital, but for most people, change isn’t easy. Because of this, the motivation to implement new software needs to come from the top of your organization. Set the expectation that your new tool will not only make your company more profitable, but will also increase efficiency and make your employees’ jobs easier. By being one part dictator and one part motivator – and by following the seven tips outlined above – your software implementation will be a successful endeavor that delivers a high ROI.
Most contractors start out having the owner act as the project manager on jobs, which makes it easy to oversee a job and make sure nothing is going terribly wrong. With success and growth, the “owner as PM” model starts to become unrealistic, and deadly mistakes start to crop up. Some problems are minor, but some are deadly to your bottom line. Here are the deadliest mistakes, and how to avoid them:
3. Using a Cost-to-Cost Method for Work-in-Progress Reports
If you’ve incurred $50,000 in costs on a $100,000 bid item, does that mean the item is 50% complete? Not necessarily. Yet many contractors make this mistaken assumption, leading bonding companies and bankers to be on the lookout for it. The amount of cost incurred often has nothing to do with how far along a job is. Sharp contractors know that unexpected costs arise, so measuring their percent complete by cost is probably the worst method.
Avoid this mistake by using units in place or an estimate of hours needed to complete, or anything other than cost when you’re drafting a work-in-progress report. Once you know the estimated percentage of completion, you can recalculated the estimate by adding actual costs to date to the projected cost derived by your informed estimate. With projected costs, you can know what your profit is likely to be when the job is complete.
2. Not Knowing Where You Stand on a Job
If you’re a project manager and you don’t know where you stand on a job, you may be under the false assumption that all is well, your job is on track, and you’re making money. Your estimator has a responsibility to give you a break down of the hours and units used in his estimate so that you can project the hours to complete. For example, if the estimate is to complete 1000 square feet in 500 hours and you’ve completed 500 square feet in 300 hours, you could be running 20% behind schedule and not even know it. If you use projected job cost calculations, you will know the status of your jobs before the end, when it would be too late to do anything about it.
1. Not Using Projected Job Cost Estimates
You’ve probably realized at this point that there’s a common thread in these deadly mistakes – job cost estimates. The importance of job cost estimates cannot be overstated. If you’re calculating your profit and loss without an accurate job cost estimate, your profit projection is just plain wrong. If you’re going to know anything about what your profits will be by the end of a job, you need to use projected job cost estimates.
To learn more about projected job costs and what other deadly mistakes you should avoid, check out 9 Deadly Job Cost Mistakes by Bob Mattlin, CPA, founder and owner of ComputerEase. You can request a free copy of the ebook on the ComputerEase website!
More and more contractors are recognizing the need for a fully integrated business management suite that allows for strong collaboration with owners, subs, suppliers, and field personnel. Without a constant link between your job sites and your office, data can get delayed or even lost in the shuffle. With that in mind, project management and accounting software companies are focusing heavily on providing cloud solutions for contractors. But with so many options, how do you determine what solution is best for your company? There are many factors to consider, but one feature is becoming increasingly important.
So far, most remote applications have relied on the “push-pull” method of synchronizing data. For example, a project manager will enter a change order in the field and the data will be sent back to the home office, where it needs to be manually entered or imported into the accounting system. This method has certainly been more convenient than a lengthy phone call or a trip back to the office, but new technology is beginning to make it obsolete. The future of field-to-office communication is real-time, live interaction.
This is one of the key factors you should look for. Your software provider should have plans to implement this technology in the near future if they haven’t already. If not, you may be using a package that has no motivation to improve in the future. If you want to stay competitive, your goal should be to find software that will evolve based on your needs. Be sure to ask your software provider about real-time collaboration.