Editor’s note: Repairer Driven News regularly features pieces by prolific national columnist Gene Marks. While despite not being directly related to collision repair, they should still prove valuable to the small-business owners and employees which make up much of the industry. In this column, originally published in Inc. Magazine on July 13. Marks describes some tech options for small businesses which might help get repairers thinking about similar options available for auto body shops’ particular niche.
By Gene Marks
There are a few things guaranteed to happen in the next couple of years. We will have a new President in 2017. Darth Vader will be in the next “Star Wars” installment. Rick will not be the one killed when “The Walking Dead” returns in the fall. And there will be another recession. Absolutely, positively, guaranteed.
You can prepare for all of these. Study the candidates. Revisit “The Empire Strikes Back” (Vader was at his best there). Say goodbye to TV Guide’s predicted character. And keep your overhead low
Yes, keep your overhead low. That’s what smart business owners do. They grow while holding their costs down. They minimize additional expenses wherever possible and operate as efficiently as possible. They are committed to being nimble, lean and efficient. They know that when the next recession inevitably comes, the businesses that survive will have the lowest cost structure.
Smart business executives are thinking about the recession right now. They don’t know exactly when it will be. But it will come. They know that the economy has ups and downs, peaks and valleys, boom times and down times. Everything’s cyclical. So they’re investing in technology that will keep their overhead as low as possible in order to weather the upcoming storm.
What technology? Here are three specific ones that you can invest in right now that will have an immediate impact on your overhead.
Once upon a time, your vendors and suppliers would mail you an invoice.
Your accounting staff would open the envelope and put the invoice in a pile. They might match the invoice with a purchase order and seek additional approvals. Then they enter it into your accounting system. Then they print out checks for signature. Then they stuff the checks and each invoice into an envelope, put a stamp on it and mail it out. Then they file away a copy of the invoice.
That was once upon a time. Wait — you’re still doing this? That’s not efficient.
Instead, get payables automation. Check out Bill.com, Entryless or Receipt Bank. Instead of all that manual work, you will ask — wait — tell your suppliers to scan and email their invoices to an email address provided by one of these services. The data on this document will be automatically extracted and put into a format where you (or others with approval limits) can review and approve. The data is automatically brought into your accounting system. Your banking is integrated, and payment is automatically scheduled to be done electronically.
You’ve just significantly cut down on the time spent by your accounting staff. In fact, (and yes, this sounds harsh — but it’s a fact), you might be able to eliminate some of your accounting staff — or re-assign their duties to something more productive. You’ve just reduced your overhead.
You have a contract, a quote, a service agreement — anything that requires a signature.
Maybe you print it out and mail it to the recipient — a customer, a partner, a supplier — or bring it yourself to the next appointment. Or maybe you think you’re super-tech-savvy and send the recipient a PDF. Don’t be too proud of yourself.
You’re still leaving it up to the recipient to sign and then get it back to you. Once you give up possession you’re given up control of the process. What if you sent it to the wrong place? Or the recipient moved or left their job? What if the recipient doesn’t have a pen? Or “didn’t see” it. Every day of delay creates more overhead for you.
Fix this by getting a document management application. There are plenty out there, but I recommend you look at either DocuSign or Adobe Sign. Now you take your document, in any format, and upload it to the service.
You will indicate where signatures need to go. The service emails notifications to the recipient. And the recipient just electronically signs/initials the document. (Don’t worry — it’s legal just about everywhere.) The recipient can do this from any device too, and from wherever they are so you don’t have to hear the “Sorry, I was travelling” excuse. Reminders are automatically sent. And when the doc’s signed, you get notified and everything’s stored for both you and the recipient to access whenever.
You’ve significantly cut down the time it takes to get documents signed. You’ve eliminated administrative hours. You’re removing unneeded paperwork from your operations. You’re moving things along faster. You’ve just reduced your overhead again.
You’ve got a phone system in your office. There’s hardware. And phones. And software. You’ve paid for a tech firm to install it. You’re paying for maintenance and service. Your receptionist answers the phones and sends the calls to employees’ extensions. You call in to check your voicemail and makes notes. You tell your admin to contact a salesperson about an opportunity or your warehouse manager about a delayed shipment.
You’ll pay as little as $15 a month a user. Everyone gets a mailbox. Everyone administers their own phones. There’s no hardware, software, servers or phones. All calls come into an automated receptionist with a dial-by-name directory and then get automatically transferred to your employees’ cell phones (or office phone if you want to buy one). Messages are stored online forever and sent to the recipient via email and text. You’ll use your toll-free number and likely have thousands of minutes of phone time included with your plan. And, depending on your plan, your system may integrate with your customer relationship management software, like Salesforce.com.
You’ve just cut down on your phone expenses. You’ve eliminated or greatly reduced maintenance, services, support, hardware and software. You may have eliminated your receptionist too. You’ve reduced your overhead yet again.
Congratulations. You’re now operating more efficiently then you ever were. Your overhead is reduced. And you are that much more prepared for the next downturn. That doesn’t mean you’re completely prepared to watch a character die when the next season of “The Walking Dead” debuts.
This column originally appeared in Inc. Magazine.
Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small business owner. http://genemarks.com. Gene writes every day on business, politics and public policy for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur and the Huffington Post. Marks has written 5 books on business management, specifically geared towards small and medium-sized companies. His most recent is “The Manufacturer’s Book of Lists.” Nationally, Marks appears on Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC discussing matters affecting the business community. Through his keynotes and breakout sessions, Marks helps business owners, executives and managers understand the political, economic and technological trends that will affect their companies so they can make profitable decisions. Marks owns and operates the Marks Group PC, a highly successful 10-person firm that provides technology and consulting services to small and medium-sized businesses. Prior to starting the Marks Group PC, Marks, a Certified Public Accountant, spent nine years in the entrepreneurial services arm of the international consulting firm KPMG in Philadelphia, where he was a senior manager.
Gene Marks in Inc. Magazine, July 13, 2016
Technology can cut down small-business expenses. (zlomari/iStock)
Columnist Gene Marks. (Provided by the Marks Group)