Use the latest business and design software to gain a leg up on the competition
The tools of the landscape trade have changed dramatically during the past 10 years. While you likely have a favorite digging tool, hand pruner or brand of leaf blower, these days you should also take advantage of software programs that can dramatically improve your efficiency. Whether it’s tracking your company vehicles, maintaining your financial books, generating bids or creating designs that sell, here are some sharp software programs you might want to stock in your tool shed.
Better by Design
Drafix Software just released Version 17 of PRO Landscape (shown left) and now claims the largest image library of any landscape software, boasting more than 9,000 items. “PRO Landscape is created specifically for use by landscape designers, contractors and architects. It contains realistic photo imaging, CAD and estimating all in the same package,” says David Sloan, director of marketing for Drafix Software/PRO Landscape.
When Drafix noticed the sluggish economy forcing more landscape professionals to expand into areas such as holiday and night lighting, the company adapted its software to include more lighting tools to demonstrate realistic lighting effects to clients. Drafix also noted an increase in landscape renovation projects, so they responded with improved cloning tools to facilitate removing elements such as overgrown shrubs from an image. “This is a key improvement as many designers are doing more renovation work as money-conscious customers try to save what they can,” Sloan says.
The photo imaging feature is a big advantage for the landscape designer working with a client who may lack the ability to mentally transpose two dimensional plans into a finished landscape. “You can sit with the homeowners and create the design right there with them,” he says. “You get the homeowners involved in the design process and a better feel of what they prefer. When the design is complete, they will be able to see the proposed design created that includes their property and home as the backdrop.
“The bottom line is photo imaging designs sell.”
“Especially in these tough economic times, PRO Landscape is the best tool in my arsenal,” says Chris Walter, landscape contractor and owner of Computerized Landscape Design in Liberty, Missouri. “Calls for landscaping have dwindled. So instead of looking for new homes, which are practically non-existent, I take pictures of houses needing better curb appeal, then use the program to remove the old, overgrown shrubs and put new shrubs in front of the house. I drop a printout at their doors, and I have been doing well closing these deals.”
PRO Landscape also has its own estimating component that allows you to create the quote, cover page, materials list, project detail reports and detailed plant information. Estimates can be exported to QuickBooks making invoicing a breeze.
Pro Landscape Version 17: $1,395. Current users can upgrade to the new version starting at $295. (drafix.com)
Time Is Money
Landscape professionals searching for ways to cut down on office hours should check out the latest version of QuickBooks financial software from Intuit. QuickBooks 2011 includes several new features to help small business owners find data quickly, perform everyday tasks more efficiently and access essential business information remotely.
“The bottom line is photo imaging designs sell.”
“For every small business owner, time is money. They want to focus on their business – their passion – not on their books,” says Dan Wernikoff, vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Financial Management Solutions division.
QuickBooks Pro and Premier 2011 build on prior versions by streamlining important accounting tasks such as invoicing and collecting payments. The new Customer Snapshot offers a consolidated view of a customer’s purchase history, average days to pay and outstanding balance. Customer and Vendor History features provide at-a-glance views of important details such as estimates and past orders on a single screen.
You may have to run your business on the go as you meet clients, check on crews, shop for materials and complete other errands that keep their operation moving forward.
Now you can take advantage of the convenience of QuickBooks Connect, a new service that lets you access key data remotely via the Internet or a mobile device.
Collecting payments can be time-intensive, costly and awkward. A Intuit survey found small businesses leave an average of $1,500 per month on the table from overdue payments, which prompted Intuit to add new features to increase net payments.
Batch Invoicing creates one template invoice for multiple customers using the same type service. Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail Integration allows businesses to easily send invoices, estimates and other e-mails directly from QuickBooks. Collections Center helps users quickly identify overdue and almost-due invoices and e-mail collection notices.
TLC Landscaper of the Year Finalist, Matt Esch, owner of Esch Landscaping in Pigeon, Michigan says he’s used QuickBooks since 1999 to track his three divisions — landscape design/build, landscape maintenance and asphalt paving. “We also have subcategories within those divisions. Within landscape we have hardscape, softscape, irrigation, hydroseeding and so forth, and I like to see the incomes from each of those,” he says. Esch also uses Quickbooks to track his payroll. “We have job codes on the tasks our crews are performing, and we can see what we’re paying out for each of those three divisions,” he says. “We have codes for areas like design time, sales and even down time, and that goes right into payroll and is taken care of at different rates. It’s also good to know where the money is going within those subcategories. We’re getting more and more detailed with it as we go. It’s a really good program for small businesses.”
QuickBooks 2011: Pro: $183.95; Premier: $319.95 (quickbooks.intuit.com)
One of the best ways to make money is by not wasting it. When it comes to fleet management systems, more vehicles may translate to more potential savings. But small companies with just a few vehicles stand to lose the most on their bottom line from poor equipment maintenance, thieves or a few inefficient, absent-minded or downright shady operators. By using fleet management software such as Teletrac’s Fleet Director (shown left), landscape companies can save in several areas.
Teletrac surveyed its customers and found fuel savings of up to 30 percent across fleets of all sizes, driver overtime reduced an average of 15 percent, unauthorized vehicle use reduced by 12 percent and productivity went up 12 percent. Smart routing integrated with live traffic data ensures tighter control of overtime costs, reduced fuel consumption and more on-time service leading to improved customer satisfaction. The engine-on/engine-off records also are used to document equipment job cost factors. You can collect accurate information on total job site activities such as equipment assigned to each job, hours on the project and total fleet miles logged to support a job. This information becomes a valuable tool when estimating future work.
“Teletrac GPS-based technology–with an array of integrated intelligence features such as crew on-site verification, custom productivity reports, fuel consumption data and analysis, automated fuel tax reporting and both real-time and historical vehicle location — result in trimming costs, better equipment utilization and improved vehicle diagnostics,” says Drew Hamilton, executive vice president of Teletrac.
Customers pay only a monthly fee for ongoing service. (teletrac.net)
Modern Measuring Wheel
Go iLawn online software (shown below) allows contractors to prospect, measure and bid properties from the comfort of any computer with an Internet connection. Type in an address or search by intersection or business name, and view aerial images of the property with highlighted property lines. When you use the tool to trace features, Go iLawn automatically calculates measurements such as linear distance, height, slope percentages and square footage. The program lists measurements on the screen, which can be exported into an Excel file. The photos can be saved to a job file and used to make site maps for their crews, as well.
The program also features property information reports and neighborhood reports that allows you to gather info such as owner name and property value. “I use Go iLawn primarily for measuring turf and parking lots,” says Todd Clark, field service manager for Environmental Management, based in Plain City, Ohio. “We are a full line landscape company including snow removal. By using Go iLawn, I’m able to be incredibly accurate on my turf measurements and can do them much faster than using a conventional measuring wheel. With the square feet of all our properties, we are able to pre-order lawn chemicals much more accurately. As for the parking lots, using a combination of my Go iLawn measurements and formulas from SIMA allows me to set the pricing for our snow removal contracts.”
Go iLawn offers various plans, such as pay as you go, pre-pay and unlimited. Property
reports are $1 per report. (goilawn.com)
By Glenn R. Dinella