Snow and ice management is one of the riskiest business ventures contractors can sign up for. In recent years slip and fall claims and insurance costs have increased dramatically. In addition, customers have continued to demand more accountability and visibility to services being performed.
There is little doubt that the level of organization needed before, during and after a snow event is critical. At any point, a contractor might be dealing with everything from managing clients and subcontractors, documenting work, scheduling employees or subs, issuing invoices and much more. Every event is different and can cause host of headaches.
Relying on pen-and-paper or software that wasn’t purpose-built for your type of business such as Google docs and spreadsheets is no longer a viable way to run modern businesses, especially as you scale.
Snow removal businesses are complex, with multiple business functions and people to always manage. The right tool for the job will always improve business operations and ultimately lead to more profits.
“Investing in business management software allows snow management companies to effectively manage their operations profitably, consistently and efficiently while at the same time reducing liability,” says David Rempfer, BOSS implementation specialist.
The right software allows contractors to centralize estimating practices and help sales and production teams schedule and complete jobs consistently. Most also provide options to proactively assemble documentation to prevent slip and fall claims.
“A comprehensive business management system is the best way to do that across your entire business, and snow is no different,” says Jim Clayman, vice president of marketing for Aspire Products, ServiceTitan.
He cites a quote from Aspire customer Marty Grunder of Grunder Landscaping and The Grow Group “Good manager make good decisions with good information.” “A business management system like Aspire organizes data into actionable information that will help you run your business better and keep your customers happy. It’s as simple as that,” Clayman says.
“Without a sophisticated business management platform, you are very exposed and are risking your entire operation each time a crew goes out,” says Kevin Speilman, founder of Yeti Snow Management Software. “A platform that provides digital proof of service ensures that you maintain a great client relationship and grow year over year as your reputation as a reliable and trustworthy service provider grows.”
For snow removal contractors, management software provides that opportunity to relax during and after each storm, according to Ryan Pfeifer, CEO of Nektyd Sofware. “Snow is a stressful time for many teams. There are a lot of moving pieces for the entirety of the storm. The right software will reduce calls from clients, automatically document your workers times and jobs, and create the invoices for you,” he says.
Ensuring a software packages accomplishes all the goals you are seeking it to, is just the first step in the process. There are other considerations to be made.
“Making an investment in business management software is a long-term decision,” Clayman says. Ideally, it is a decision, your business only wants to make once.
“The features of the software are obviously a given,” Clayman says. “It needs to pay for itself in helping you streamline processes, eliminate frustrations, and increase your bottom line. And you need a software that is always looking ahead, adding new functionality and features on an ongoing basis, and not just resting on its laurels based on a past reputation, which can quickly become obsolete in today’s fast-moving software universe.”
However, he further notes that the best software in the world is of no use, if it is not being used properly.
“Snow and ice management is more like fighting fires than mowing lawns,” Speilman says. “Crews are under tremendous time constraints to get everything serviced during a snow event. There is no time for complicated workflows and apps.”
He says a good platform provides tools to plan the work including routing, assignments to internal teams and subcontractors, site maps, notes, messaging, and dispatch. “A great platform allows your team to adjust and go with the flow as an event unfolds,” Speilman says.
Most of software packages can be accessed via computers, tablets, or smartphones, allowing contractors to run day-to-day operations from the field while maximizing efficiencies and decreasing the chance of missing new business. In addition, jobs can be scheduled on the fly, client and job information can be accessed easily, and the time it takes for your crew to complete a job can also be tracked from the field.
“Modern businesses need access to their snow removal services at any moment, so it is important to have access to tools and options through a mobile app,” says Caleb Schaftlein, product marketing manager, Arborgold. “Phones and tablets are being used from home, the office, and even in transit to allow your customers to communicate with you, check billing and scheduling, and make requests when it is convenient for them.”
Being mobile and having GPS integration to doublecheck time on job and timestamp when a job is done serves as a proof of service to customers for any disputes.
“When you know where your team is, and who is available at moment’s notice, you can better service your commercial snow removal customers on those big snow removal jobs requiring multiple team members, or multiple visits in a day,” Schaftlein says.
Some of the available systems will clock crews in at arrival and out on departure from jobsites in the system. To further that aspect, Pfeifer says the option of an automatic client notification also can be beneficial. “This increases the transparency and trust between you and your client while reducing time spent answering the phone,” he says.
Billing is another hassle that is rarely stable for a snow removal business. With the right software, invoices can be automated to ensure clients are getting billed in a routine manner, cutting down on staff time on missed invoices. It is important to consider flexibility in billing methods within the program as well.
When selecting a business management software, snow removal professionals should ask prospective vendors questions about the features and advantages of their software.
Among the first things to consider is to confirm that the software was designed for the snow removal industry. There are multiple business management platforms out there, but not all are designed to manage a snow and ice removal business.
“Do they know snow?” Speilman says. “Is the snow aspect of their software core to their mission or just an add-on? If the snow side of the product is secondary you can be sure that any features that are missing will not be coming.”
Rempfer notes that the industry has seen a surge of deliberately industry-vague ‘service contractor’ solutions. “Behind the marketing hype they are often the same basic mow scheduling screens with frosted coloring that totally neglect the unique needs of live snow event management,” he says.
For example, Rempfer says to determine the software can adjust mid-storm, which can be crucial for a snow operations.
While general features are significant, the support and implementation of the software is also worth asking questions about when considering the investment. Your company will need a person to address any problems or questions that arise throughout the onboarding process.
“Company longevity and reviews are great to build trust, but who's going to answer your call at 3 a.m. when your worker can't login,” Ryan says.
Similarly, it is important to know how much time will be devoted to training your staff on the system. What is the cost for additional training?
Lastly, as a long-term investment, it is imperative that any management software be scalable, so that it can grow with your business, whether that means adding new users as your business grows, offering new services, or creating new business units and divisions.
“You want to make sure you won’t out-grow the software, so ask prospective vendors for referrals from equal or larger size companies both in total company revenue and in snow-specific revenue,” Rempfer says. “Select a software that is regularly releasing more new features, as an ever-evolving industry requires an ever-evolving partner.”
Here are a few questions snow removal contractors may want to ask business management software vendors when considering a purchase:
- Does this software help to improve my bottom line?
- Was your solution developed specifically for the snow management industry?
- What size company typically uses your software?
- Does your software integrate with other systems?
- How much time will be devoted to training our staff?
- What kind of support will be offered once the system is implemented?
- What is included in your monthly fees?
- Who else is using your system and what results are they achieving?
Ultimately, the ideal is to find a company that is interested in helping your business grow.
“I know it sounds corny, but it’s true, you need to find a software provider who really cares about your business, who’s as passionate about making you as success as they are for their own company,” Clayman says. “The word ‘partner’ can be thrown around casually these days, but that’s what you’re really looking for, a partner, not a vendor.”