How technology can help small contracting businesses evolve
Small businesses face unique challenges that require innovative solutions. While some challenges—like the current global pandemic and associated economic downturn—can seem insurmountable at times, many small businesses are using these periods of uncertainty to introduce technological solutions that will help them emerge from these crises stronger than ever.
Small contracting businesses face many challenges that are different than those faced by their larger counterparts in the construction industry.
The construction industry is often treated as a homogenous economic sector; however, small contracting businesses have unique realities that are important to understand before exploring potential technological solutions that could improve their operations.
Small contracting businesses typically have one or a few employees who are responsible for managing all aspects of their daily operations, including project management. Managing and overseeing multiple projects across worksites and locations can be especially difficult when operating a business with limited resources. Similarly, work at a given job site could be severely impeded in cases where workers don’t have access to a decision maker or to information they may need in real time—whether they need overall guidance on a project or specific safety information, timely access to information is crucial to ensuring that workers are able to complete their tasks properly. Ultimately, these inefficient processes can affect the quality of the work being completed and make it difficult to keep projects on budget and on schedule.
Due to their limited size and resources, small businesses are more likely to rely on low-tech, paper-based administrative processes—such as paper timesheets, estimates, and invoices. These low-tech solutions are initially preferred by many small businesses because they are perceived as low-cost and less complex; however, these outdated methods are inefficient and inaccurate, resulting in many hidden downstream costs that actually make them less desirable. For example, employees might have to track and record their own hours manually, which may or may not be accurate, then physically submit timesheets at the end of a pay period. The totals for the pay period must then be manually calculated and digitized to be used with accounting software before employees can be paid. Administrative errors can be introduced at each step of this process and can be costly to correct.
Small businesses rely on a handful of employees (at most) who often work together to complete a variety of tasks across multiple job sites. Good communication and connectivity among team members is important to ensure that projects are completed on time and on budget, and that all team members have access to the information and resources they need to complete their tasks efficiently. For example, some small businesses have a limited supply of specialized tools or equipment that must be shared across job sites, requiring constant coordination. Project managers need to know who is working, and where, to keep projects on budget and on schedule, and to ensure that tools/equipment are available at the appropriate times. This type of communication and coordination can be difficult without the use of technology.
Thankfully, there are many technological solutions available to help small contracting and trade businesses overcome their unique challenges.
To better understand the benefits of implementing some of these solutions, let’s take a closer look at some of the ways real-time business management apps for smartphones, such as Probuild*, can assist these businesses in managing their daily operations.
By centralizing project management in a single virtual platform, real-time business management apps allow supervisors/managers to remotely monitor and oversee their projects, without the need to physically visit multiple worksites. As such, these tools allow managers/supervisors to keep their projects on track and on budget, even when working remotely—a condition that is becoming increasingly desirable in today’s climate. The more advanced tools of this kind, such as Probuild, allow workers to access information even when offline, and while working in areas with limited connectivity. In addition to keeping projects on track and on budget, real-time business management apps allow supervisors/managers to more efficiently allocate scarce resources and personnel across projects. Finally, these apps can play an important role in ensuring that workers remain safe by providing a means to rapidly share critical information. Ultimately, these tools provide a centralized mechanism for managing all aspects of a company’s daily operations in real time from a remote location.
There are many technological solutions that can be used to improve the efficiency and accuracy of administrative processes used by small contracting businesses. The better business management apps on the market, such as Probuild, coordinate these functions in a single application, reducing the need to alternate between software solutions. For example, electronic time-tracking removes the need for paper timesheets by ensuring all employee timesheets are automatically generated using accurate data. The data can then be easily integrated into popular bookkeeping systems to ensure error-free accounting and timely payments. Centralized project management systems similarly remove the administrative bottlenecks that are common in small operations, ensuring that tasks are approved and completed in a timely manner. Finally, electronic estimates and invoices, which can be signed electronically and emailed directly to clients, can ensure transactions occur more quickly.
By centralizing communications, business management apps ensure that all team members have access to the information they need to complete their work. They allow employees to share photos, documents, and comments in real time. For example, supervisors/managers can share important safety information with their crews, or share significant changes to job specifications, without the need to physically visit a job site. Similarly, supervisors/managers can provide more timely guidance to their crews in the field—minimizing costly delays or errors—and leverage the knowledge and experience of the entire team to troubleshoot any problems that arise on a site. In addition to real-time communications, better business management apps like Probuild embed location tracking capabilities into their products, providing a real-time view of a crew’s location. Altogether, this type of information can help keep projects on track and improve overall efficiency—all without having to physically visit the job sites.
There is little doubt that technology will play a pivotal role in helping small construction, contracting, and trade businesses adapt to rapidly changing market conditions.
While there are countless companies offering technological solutions targeting the construction industry, many of these solutions are specific to large companies and work crews. As such, they may be inappropriate or too expensive for small contracting and trade businesses to consider. Luckily, there are solutions that, when appropriately deployed and suited for the unique conditions of a small business, can greatly improve their overall success and productivity. A specific example is Probuild, which combines cloud-based project and document management tools with administrative and communications tracking technology in a single smartphone application. The app—available for both Android and iOS devices—can also be conveniently accessed through workers’ existing smartphones and tablets, reducing the company’s need to invest in specialized equipment or training and allowing seamless integration into existing operations. As a result, there are few risks and costs to adopting this type of technology, which can greatly improve a business’s productivity and success.
*This article was written by Probuild staff. Probuild is a free, real-time business management app specifically designed for use by small contracting and trade businesses. Probuild provides all of the features needed to run a successful contracting business, including managing projects, estimates, invoices, timesheets and communications—all in one free app. You can download the app directly to your Android or iOS device.