Whether you understand it or not, you are in the INFORMATION MANAGEMENT BUSINESS. I have spent 40 years working on pools, but at the end of the day, I spend 95% of my time managing information. Even if you are a single truck operation, you probably spend 20-30% of your time managing information in some form or fashion.
Our success in the pool business depends largely upon our ability to manage information. When you first start out with 40-50 clients, you can manage most of the information in your mind, but you still need some system to keep up with most basic information like phone numbers, combinations, etc.
There are at least three factors that multiply your data load:
1. Time – every month, every year your client history grows and you cannot keep all that information in your brain.
2. Customer Growth – as you add customers and grow your business, that grows your data load exponentially until you realize the scope of the struggle.
3. Employee Growth – as you add more employees, everyone needs access to all the information. If people have to go checking with everyone about a certain issue, then there will be a lot of wasted time and overhead expense.
As a business grows, information management will become your greatest challenge. To a certain extent, the size of the fishbowl determines the potential size of the fish. If you are unable to properly manage information, it will stunt your growth potential.
If your data management system is inadequate, your growth potential will be affected in two ways:
1. Your customers will realize that “the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing” and their satisfaction level will go down, because it makes it more of a hassle to do business with you.
2. You will spend a lot of time researching information or dealing with problems caused by bad information and this will leave less time for doing forward thinking things that will grow your business.
We started our current business rather unexpectedly (that’s another story) about 4 years ago. Very quickly we realized that our information management systems were going to limit our growth capacity if we did not up our game significantly.
Covering all your bases
If you take stock of your company, you will realize that there is a LOT of information to be managed. It is all a bit overwhelming and will leave you with an out-of-control feeling if you don’t have a handle on it.
Customer details – address, email address, phone, combination, etc
Accounting System – invoices, payments
Communication Channels – information comes in from calls, texts, social media, emails, web inquiries, and face to face conversations. Compounding this issue is the fact that texts often come to individuals cell phones that are isolated from the rest of the company.
Service Orders – every service order involves the initial request, then one or more site visits – each with multiple pieces of information.
New Leads – this requires some kind of system to keep them organized and make sure we are not losing out on potential business.
Finding Solutions – that don’t break the bank
As we searched for the best solutions, we had several criteria in mind:
Cost – there are some sophisticated solutions out there but they cost a lot to implement – often in excess of $100,000.00.
Accessibility – in this remote work era, we need for our employees to be able to access records in the field. We also give our subcontractors and others limited access to our data so they also know what is going on.
Adaptability – the problem with boxed solutions is that you can request modifications and features, but those are only suggestions and they may or many not happen.
While it would be great to have one system to take care of all our needs, we weren’t willing to pay that kind of money and we wanted a system that was tailored to our unique needs.
We ended up with three basic systems:
Communication – Dialpad VOIP
We have a system that our customers can call or text, and all calls and texts are automatically transcribed into a dashboard that is visible to all employees. This works with hard-wired deskphones (under $150) or cell phones. It takes a little time to set it up and get used to the peculiarities of it, but it is worth it.
Each of our management team members has a dashboard open on their computer showing all conversations and texts so they don’t have to go ask around to see if somebody talked to a particular customer.
Many customers prefer to text and we encourage them to text the main line instead of individual cell phones. When they do text an individual cell phone, we respond back on the main number so we have the information all in one place.
Service Database – AirTable
We built our own service program with an online database called AirTable. We started out with a simple database and it grew more complex as our company grew. We went through a few iterations and settled on the current one. All our leads, projects, tickets, tasks and more are in this system – over 250,000 bits of information and growing. Everything that we need to remember, is in a database.
Why a Database?
A database is a made up of tables (think excel spreadsheets) that talk to each other. Every app that you might buy for storing and processing information is really a database. Someone had just customized it for a specific purpose. The possibilities are endless. You can filter, sort and group your data as needed.
You can format and print reports or you can export the data to a spreadsheet. We also import all the trip data from our GPS units on our vehicles so we can match up each trip to a certain task in the service order database.
We currently use the Skimmer app to route our trucks, but eventually we will actually program this functionality into our AirTable service database. I am blessed that my oldest son is our business manager and he understands some of these advanced database functions and is patient enough to work with it.
Are Databases Hard?
If you have the ability to learn new things, then you can build a basic database and work from there. I built our first databases in a very simple fashion and it has evolved from there. If you do not have the time or computer ability, you can hire a programmer for low cost on Fiverr, a website that has thousands of gig workers around the globe who can work on your stuff. You give them the specs and they program it and they do not get paid until you are satisfied. I have used them before when I just did not have the time.
This is also information that you need to be able to put your fingers on. Employees get tired of having someone call them 8 times a day wondering where they are. This way you can just click on the map and see everyone’s position as well as how long they have been there, their travel routing, etc. It’s only $15.00 or less per vehicle per month and it pays for itself over and over again.
I am in the pool business, but the truth is I spend the vast majority of my time managing information, not working on pools. As your company grows, your ability to handle information will determine your success and the potential size of your business.
I am sure there is more we could add to this, such as inventory, payroll, fleet management, etc, but this is already long enough. Maybe another time 🙂
Call me if we can be of assistance.
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