17hats: All-in-One Business Management Software

In this monthly post, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to one of the many apps that we at Schulte and Schulte endorse and recommend to our customers.

As a firm of construction accounting specialists, we love to help companies in the construction industry with their books and finances, part of that help is finding different apps or software that can help our clients out.  During this monthly feature, we take a look at several apps that we love at Schulte and Schulte, LLC, and dig a little deeper into our favorites.

This month, we would like to introduce you to 17hats.

As a business owner, there are multiple “hats” that you will wear as you go about running your business.  By hats, we are talking about the different roles you will play on any given day, from accounting, marketing, client communication, lead development, etc.  17hats is a brilliant piece of software that is designed to integrate each of these different hats into an easy to use business management tool.  We could go into detail talking about each of the different tools that are built into 17hats, but for the sake of time we will highlight a couple of the features that we appreciate the most; specifically the Overview Page, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Workflow Management.

Overview Page
This dashboard is what you will see whenever you log into your 17hats account.  It has been designed to incorporate a 3-day calendar view of all events and to-do’s that you have set up.  Underneath the calendar is a list of all action items from every ongoing project that you have, as well as a list of client email correspondence that is needing your attention.  This dashboard is customizable to include this above information, as well as other options available for you.  It is a really handy tool to get a bird’s eye view of what needs your attention on any given day.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
A lot of effort has been put into developing this CRM tool to make it easy to use.  As the above video shows in its example of adding a new lead and the development of that lead into a client, 17hats utilizes its CRM to assist you in keeping your contact information and projects accessible. It also stores all email communication and documents sorted by client.  This means no more searching through your email account for that important message from a client’s project you are working on.

Workflow Management
The video above gives a snapshot of the process involved within 17hats’ Workflow Management.  You are able to create templates for almost everything you will end up passing onto a customer, from engagement/proposal questionnaires and feedback forms, quotes, invoices, and more.  It has e-signature technology built into the app to allow anything that needs a signature or feedback from a customer to be sent from the app, and also allows you to track what has been sent.  17hats has a one-way sync that will allow you to sync invoices into QuickBooks Online, which is music to our accounting ears.

We love 17hats, and would like the opportunity to share it with you.  If this sounds like an app that you would be interested in checking out, please let us know!

Physical Office Processes for Savvy Construction Contractors

Fitting together the pieces of organized office processes

When you think of office processes, what comes to mind?

  • Do you jump immediately to thoughts of your desk, your computer?
  • Are you concerned with “how things get done?”
  • Do you think of your vehicles?

Well, good physical office processes have to do with all of the above and a little bit more.

What is meant by “office processes”?

An easy way to understand office processes is to think of a simple mathematical equation.

Space Planning + Effective Utilization = Impressive Results

While you’re at it, think about this other mathematical equation.

Chaos Increasing + Inefficient Implementation = Profits Decreasing

The first equation works well because it has a place for everything, and everything in its place, plus a good system for all the functions encountered each day in your office.

Your office processes extend to all your office environments

Your construction contracting office is likely to spread across a few different environments. It could exist in a spare bedroom, at a local coffee house, at your work shop, or in a separate designated office space. And, there is a very good chance it exists in your vehicles as well. All the steps necessary to make your physical office processes work in one environment may be employed in all your environments. The good news is there are some basic tenants to hold on to while building or remodeling your processes.

Functions encountered in a construction contractor’s office

Perhaps you deal with only some of the following office functions, and it could well be you deal with other functions not listed. Yet, this is a starter list (in no particular order) to aid you in thinking about the variety of duties and activities accomplished on a regular basis within one or more of your office environments.

  • take care of customer service
  • deal with employee training
  • engage in data entry
  • complete payroll
  • complete and follow up on tax forms
  • process invoices
  • communicate with customers as well as subcontractors.
  • answer phones
  • set appointments
  • handle social media duties
  • prepare marketing materials (or work with your marketing guru)
  • work on office projects
  • work with subcontractors to ensure paperwork is in order including:
    • contracts
    • status with Registrar of Contractors
    • insurance certificates
    • lien releases
    • evaluate subcontractor bids
  • track and process invoices for subcontractors
  • track and process invoices for material providers
  • deal with change order requests
  • handle tracking logs (such as client materials selections)
  • coordinate with outsourced service providers
  • deal with insurance claims
  • track warranty and product information
    • for customers
    • for in-house equipment
  • research, select, bid, and/or order construction materials
  • deal with RFPs
  • assemble applications for subsidies (such as solar credits)
  • run subcontractor orientation sessions
  • maintain contact lists for subcontractors and material suppliers
  • copy, scan, fax and file documents
  • maintain office supplies
  • post and/or prepare required items for the jobsite
  • run errands
  • perform periodic website updates

Scale the processes

Step into, sit down in, or simply think about the space that makes up each of your offices.

While your first thought may be to organize the physical spaces, it is better to think in terms of situating your spaces to accommodate the processes. Identify the purpose of each space by thinking categorically. What gets done here? What work zone is this? Perhaps it will be better to move some office furniture or supplies to a different location in order to allow “next step” actions to take place from left to right, or vice versa, or from a central location to each spoke of what process happens next. Your space will be more accommodating to one set-up or another. Look it over and see what will work best.

The 9 steps to organize by process

  1. Think
  2. Plan
  3. Group like things with like things
  4. Place items most used in most accessible places
  5. Be consistently consistent
  6. Label everything
  7. Simplify every chance you get
  8. Avoid the words “for now…”
  9. Leave yourself some breathing space

Take your time with the plan before going out to buy new office supplies, equipment, or storage solutions.

7 things to consider concerning office organization and set-up

  1. Furniture
  2. Fixtures
  3. Equipment
  4. Lighting
  5. Cable management
  6. Shared spaces (employees and customers)
  7. Storage

When you begin to use the work zones you’ve set up you may find the actual flow needs tweaking. That’s fine. Be open to the idea of moving containers or changing your zones to best fit your needs, while keeping in mind the principles of organization. Think in terms of giving yourself permission to change the system, while being organized about the change itself. If a process is not working, try to determine if it is being handled in the wrong processing zone. Perhaps a change of location is all that is needed.

Using whatever horizontal space is available (for instance, a kitchen table or a rickety old desk) is fine to get started. But making your office space as ergonomically satisfying, as conducive to work, and as handsome as possible as soon as possible is a big step to scaling both your office processes as well as your overall operation.

Lastly, a few things for the cab

To give you a little icing for the cake of your organized office spaces I thought I would mention these handy organizing tools for use in your vehicles. Duluth Trading has a couple of office-cab organizers found here and here. Plus you may want to stop by Mobilegear to see this nice organizing solution.

Today: Jot down some ideas concerning how you can begin making your physical office processes work more systematically.

Tomorrow: Start putting the pieces of your office processes puzzle together. Keep adding pieces daily until you have a stunning, new picture to look at.  

*****

This is the last in a series of articles discussing ways of organizing your construction contracting office, shop, vehicle, and day. You can look through the list of all these articles right here.

Store Smart, Hunt Less: The Best Ways to Organize Your Construction Contractor Shop

When you or your workers waste time looking for material, tools, or equipment, dollars are flying out the door

If you’re organized, even a small shop can be a comfortable size. If you’re not, well, then a shop of any size will get crowded.

Have you been in your shop and heard, or said things like this?

  • Has anybody seen the box of washers?
  • Do you know where the shop-vac is?
  • What happened to the long, flat-head screw driver? I was just using it.

If you have, stay tuned, I’ve got some ways to help you move from the contractor’s dreaded “treasure hunt” to an efficient and serviceable shop even Ben Franklin would approve of. Because you know . . . when you or your workers waste time looking for material, tools, or equipment, dollars are flying out the door.

Organized + Systemized  

Whether your construction contracting shop is used for storage only or also includes some amount of fabrication it makes sense to have all the items in it organized in a handy and useable way.

Here are three goals to keep in mind as you go about the task of organizing your shop

  1. Providing a safe environment
  2. Managing inventory
  3. Being able to find what you need when you need it AND seeing to it your workers can find what they need – without needing you.

Buy In to tackle the organized shop project

If you’re a one-man operation, then the only person you need to get to Buy In is you. And that may be a bit tricky. Remind yourself of the outcome before and during the process. You may even decide to reward yourself with a new tool or some other desired item when the shop is all organized and living in all its glory.

And, if you see you’re going to need some help with this organize-the-shop project, you’ll need to see to it the others working with you understand why this change and the labor involved will make a difference not only for your company but also for them. You might start by reminding them of the third goal as mentioned above, “Being able to find what you need when you need it AND seeing to it your workers can find what they need – without needing you.” You may also consider a small bonus, or a gift card for dinner out, or a shop-wide we-did-it party at the completion of the organizing venture.

Need more info? Check out this article from Entrepreneur about getting employee buy in.

Depending on the size of your shop and the number of items in it, this project may take only a long Saturday, or a few work days. It may also be such a big project it will need to be divided into several parts and completed in stages. This is where you’ll find the next step to be vital to conquering the messy shop blues.

Organize an organizing plan

Unless you’re ready to add more space to your shop by adding on or moving to a larger facility you need to deal with the square footage you already have.

Start by looking at the layout. Do you have a blueprint or schematic of your shop you can check out? If not, grab your tape measure and get busy.

Having a plan or even a prioritized list saves you the effort of stopping, deciding what’s the next thing to do, and then rebuilding momentum each time you move on to a new task.

Determine the necessary components

Begin with or establish new places for your stationary tools

Then consider all your options in these areas

  • Go vertical with a multitude of shelving and rack options
  • Think of using overhead ceiling racks
  • Determine your need for specialized holders (such as a wire spool holder)
  • Bring in component drawer sets or toolboxes

If you set up your storage system with some empty cubbies, empty drawers, and empty shelf space, you’ll be buying yourself some time before having to re-reorganize.

The principle organizing principles to consider

  • Know the difference between a want and a need (You know what I mean.)
  • Sort by category (the category that makes the most sense to you, for example by job type or by tool type)
  • Store like items in the same area or space (for example, all fasteners in one storage area)
  • Keep larger and heavier items low (and on wheels when that is an option)
  • Make it easy to get to (only one barrier layer – no drawers inside closed cabinets, for instance)
  • Store items closest to where they will be used (get multiples of the exact same tool, if it will be used in several different places during any given day)
  • Keep frequently used items most easily accessible (Think “coffee cup” and you’ll know what I mean.)
  • Consider developing “ready to go” boxes for items you will transport frequently
  • Remember – getting rid of something makes room for the future

Now get to it

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could push the do-over button? Well, depending on the size of your shop you may actually be able to do something pretty close to that. If your shop is small the first step may very well be akin to pushing the do-over button because you can take advantage of the option by moving everything out of the shop space. Ah, now you can do-over by following the steps below before moving items back in.

If your shop is larger or if you need to organize in stages because of time limitations, you can still use the same formula

Set aside the time necessary

  • Put it on the calendar
  • Remind others involved
  • Stick to it

Clean out the entire shop or a designated space in the shop

  • Sweep and clean
  • Make any facility repairs necessary (including painting if you choose)

Sort

  • Group like items together
  • Arrange items by function or frequency of use
  • Label what goes where (Skip this step at your own peril.)

Get rid of the junk

  • Toss it
  • Donate it
  • Sell it
  • Notice how much more space you have (and smile)

Put your material, tools, and equipment in the “smart” places they belong

  • You probably won’t get everything perfectly right the first time
  • Tweek it in about a week after you’ve discovered the weak spots

Finally

Rinse and repeat until you have all spaces and areas clean, organized, and functioning well

This is one in a series of articles concerning pieces of the organizing puzzle for your construction contracting business. You can go here to find more.

That’s My Story, And I’m Sticking to It.

A carpenter, a stacker, and a few ducks

My dad was a master carpenter who moved up the ranks, retiring as a construction superintendent with many awesome builds under his belt. My mom was counted among the last of the American generations of women who stayed at home taking care of the home front. (The photo accompanying this article is my Mom and Dad’s wedding picture.)

The difference in how they saw the job of “being organized” was immense. Mom was a perpetual and ardent “stacker.” Her piles of magazines, bills, linens, and anything else which could be piled one on another were scattered throughout the house. Dad, on the other hand, used markers to outline around the tools which hung precisely on his shop walls. He labeled and knew where each type of screw was stored, where the touch-up paint was located and how long it had been there.

From that background came little ole’ me. What developed was a semi-stacker who knows that efficiency, therefore productivity, are increased when everything has a place and everything is in its place, yet still must work the process on occasion in order to be sure the ducks are indeed in a row.

Therefore, I’ve had to learn a few tricks of the trade

I was blessed to have studied under Barbara Hemphill of Taming the Paper Tiger fame. She is a well-versed business woman, a fantastic master of organizing solutions, and a mentor certainly worth heeding.

I’ve given you all this background in order to let you know the upcoming series of posts we have in store for you concerning pieces of the organizing puzzle for your construction contracting business come from a mixture of research, previous knowledge, acquired skills, and a desire to make it easier for our clients to build their building businesses.

Some of the goodies we have planned for you are:

In the office:

In the field:

I hope you’ll come along for the ride, find useful tips for improving your construction contracting business, and let me know if you have specific organizing headaches you would like to see addressed.

BTW if you are not already a client of ours, if you happened upon this page through a google search or some other means I need to let you know Schulte and Schulte is a bookkeeping and accounting firm specializing in working with Construction Contractors and Subcontractors who are ready to scale.

Want to know more? Give us a call 480-442-4032. We’ll be happy to discuss the possibilities with you.