Playing Like One of the Big Boys Just Got Easier (3 Apps to Choose From)

Demo versions of Knowify, Contractor Tools and Bolt apps for contractors

Demo versions of Knowify, Contractor Tools and Bolt apps for contractorsAs the world moves forward with technology, a new and unique opportunity is opening up for small contracting businesses. We like to say that we at Schulte and Schulte “help small businesses ‘play like one of the big boys.’” Meaning that, utilizing the increasingly large number of options available in the technological arena, your small contracting business can operate like a large construction corporation.

You can utilize the same powerful tools and resources at a decent price. This is because, thanks to the advent of cloud technology, many tech companies are moving to the subscription based model rather than selling individual pieces of software.

The advantages for small businesses are tremendous. The old methods of software development made it much harder to scale a piece of software for various sized businesses and needs. So, many of the more powerful software choices were economically out of reach of smaller businesses.

Thankfully that is no longer the case. Additionally, the advent of smartphones and tablets is a boon for contractors who need to be able to do a significant portion of their business out in the field.

When I first began working in the construction industry some ahem-ahem many years ago, cell phones were not even prevalent. Job supervisors in the field had to carry massive paper plans with them in their work trucks, make change orders on the job site and hope that the proper person that needed to sign off on them was there. He or she then went on to write take off lists on their ever-present yellow legal pads and try to remember which jobsite that particular takeoff was for and then take photos with their film cameras to be developed at some later date.

Now, every one of those tasks has been automated and shrunk to less than an 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper. By carrying your tablet or smartphone with you onto the job you can do all of those tasks and keep every bit of them in one spot, making decisions on the jobsite much easier and leading to a significant savings in time and amazing increase in productivity – meaning you can take on more work and get it done more quickly!

Let’s take a look at three options available for contractors which can be utilized on mobile devices all of which integrate with QuickBooks Online for seamless accounting information transfer.

 

Contractor Tools

Contractor Tools is a relatively new player in the apps market, but they are growing quickly and have some really excellent features along with some limitations that are worth noting. The developers (makers of the Smart Contractor software) entered the app market with their original offering for iOS (works on iPad, iPhone and iPod) called Construction Cost Estimator. This handy tool brought the hefty Craftsman Costbooks to a portable app that could be accessed from anywhere and searched easily. It also enabled contractors to create estimates on site and get signatures on them right in the app. Building off that idea, Contractor Tools takes things a step further and includes not just the option to subscribe to the costbooks and do estimating, but also the ability to set up multiple customers and jobs for job tracking and costing, set up custom job templates to shorten the time required for putting together estimates, and even keep track of basic information on employees. It has a QuickBooks sync feature and can sync quite a bit of data with QuickBooks Online including:

  • Customer information
  • Job and job estimate information
  • Customer invoices
  • Customer payments

What we like:

  1. The easy to use, straightforward app interface
  2. The link to the Craftsman Costbooks and ability to create custom costbooks
  3. The job costing features (QuickBooks Online’s job costing features are greatly diminished, so this fills the void.)

What we’d like to see improved:

  1. Time tracking – they are developing this and we’re excited to see where they take it
  2. More operating systems supported – also in development currently with a Mac app to come out sometime this fall
  3. Improved dashboard – more job costing information would be a good start here.

What it costs:

Contractor’s Tools offers Basic, Essentials and Pro packages starting at $9.99 for one user and only one invoice per job. Other options are offered at slightly higher price points.

Where you can find out more:

Take a look at Contractor’s Tools website for more information on the app, pricing and to see some tutorials. You can also download the app and try it free for 30 days.

 

Bolt

Much like Contractor Tools, Bolt was created by contractors for contractors. Bolt is a more robust tool which includes everything from the ability to upload plan documents and draw on them in the field to scheduling, time tracking and reporting. Bolt is a web-based app that can also sync with native apps on your mobile device (for now they only have iOS, but Android and Windows apps are in development, with the Android app set to appear within a month of this writing.) So with Bolt you can create scheduling of materials and people in the office and then supervisors and field personnel can confirm that those schedules have been carried out correctly right from the jobsite. Supervisors can also look at an overall list of work orders and prioritize their day accordingly. The QuickBooks sync syncs both your items list in QuickBooks Online along with invoicing, so that everything can be invoiced in Bolt and then QuickBooks can be utilized for all of the back end reconciliations and financial reporting. Again, Bolt fills in the gap for project costing that QuickBooks Online simply cannot do.

What we like:

  1. The scheduling capabilities are fantastic – including drag and drop ease of use
  2. The ability to mark up drawings in the field is a significant benefit
  3. The fact that the main app is cloud based and accessible from any device with an internet browser.

What we’d like to see improved:

  1. While we do love that drag and drop feature, the layout can be a tad confusing. We’d like to see maybe some icons or colors to distinguish different areas of the screens
  2. The live demo is helpful, but we’d love to see a free trial download or at least demo version to click around in before buying – around here we learn best by doing
  3. More clear information up front about exactly how the app integrates with QuickBooks so that the contractor and the bookkeeper can be sure to be on the same page

What it costs:

Bolt works with clients to design a program and price that works well for them. They offer 1 month free implementation and training so that your setup is customized to your specific business and your employees are equipped to manage it from the beginning.

Where you can find out more:

Take a look at Bolt’s website for more information about Bolt, their story, and to schedule your own live demo.

 

Knowify

Knowify is another cloud-based solution. It is a very robust solution created specifically for sub-contractors and small home remodelers that offers seamless integration of all parts of the project. You can create estimates for fixed price, time and material or AIA-type commercial projects. It has some really powerful dashboard features, including a separate, easy to read dashboard for each individual job. It also has some great time tracking and dispatch management features as well as the ability to customize user privileges. Like Bolt, you can personalize the app to fit your specific business and you can use it everywhere – from the office, to the home office, to the field – everyone in the company can collaborate on the projects together in the same system. There is an Accountant’s View and also a two-way sync with QuickBooks so that the entire company can be working on the projects together, but only those with a need to know are touching the financials. One of the most impressive features of their job costing setup is the ability to not just track budgeted vs. actuals on labor and material COSTS, but to also track expected hours to be worked against actual hours worked and also budgeted materials needed for the job vs materials ordered. While traditional job costing methods can be aggravating to try and understand when overtime hours and material orders are not easily understood using only dollar figures, Knowify’s job costing can help you really see the overall picture and make up for any estimating or scheduling deficiencies in the real world. This app can not only fill in that great job costing deficiency within QuickBooks Online, but it can help you look good while doing it!

What we like:

  1. The billing features including the ability to produce AIA-type invoices with schedules of value
  2. The overall appeal of Knowify’s look and feel including the ease of navigation and simple to read dashboards
  3. The ability to receive email notifications and alerts to help you stay on top of project needs

What we’d like to see improved:

  1. With all these great features, it would be great to add a built-in CRM tool for keeping up with leads in addition to current estimates and projects.
  2. Like other cloud-based options, the information can only be accessed if you are able to be online. In a state like Arizona where contracts and/or service calls might be performed outside of mobile networking, it would be nice to have the native app available and be able to upload and sync data after returning to mobile network or wi-fi access.
  3. We’d like to see the ability to draw on plans or photos right in the app.

What it costs:

Knowify offers simple pricing based on the size of the company starting at $68 per month for 1-5 employees and include about an hour of free setup and training for one of your employees.

Where you can find out more:

Take a look at Knowify’s website for more information about the app, see a customized video demo and to start a free 14 day trial.