When shopping for software to run your company, don't let price be the main or determining factor in your decision. As in any business, price can be deceiving. The pleasure of a bargain is long forgotten, once you discover that you are left with "bargain basement" service and quality.

There are many ways to buy software, just as there are many ways to climatize a large building.

We all know that buying window air conditioners, for every room in the house, would not be cost efficient or effective - but you might get the job done. Software is no different. Buying pieces of software and trying to develop office procedures around them, will cause many wasted hours in repetitive entry. Integrated software will usually cost more than "canned" generic packages, but in the long run (and short run), your office management procedures will be simpler and your reporting will be much more accurate.

Today's volatile market conditions with ever changing marketing strategies and growing government regulations lay a heavy burden on the contractor. In order to survive, let alone excel, in today's market, it is necessary to constantly improve the following:

All levels of customer service

Market strategies of selling to your existing customer base

Profit margins

Procedures for identifying and cultivating new business opportunities

Offerings of the latest industry technology

Technologies for office procedures

Overall management reporting

How can all these things get done without adding a full new staff of people? The answer lies in your computer system.

The true cost of a new software system can best be measured by the results it produces. Of course, there is no way to know the results until after the fact - unless you really do your homework first.

Find industry specific software: Does the software vendor seem to really know about your industry? If not, find one that does.

Check references: References provide a window into how the software is working for other companies. Are they really getting the results that you want?

Consider only software with integrated management tools: Be certain that the software package can do exactly what you need it to do without duplicate entry. Interfaced software is different from integrated software because interfaced software is not single entry. Generic accounting packages are usually interfaced.

E-commerce and web-enabled capabilities must be a part of the package: Just imagine the timesavings and accuracy, if your customers could ask your firm for information, request a quote, or simply provide you with input on your company's service. (Oh, yes you may be able to get this information if you are one of the progressive companies with a Web Site, but does your web site integrate to your office software without having to re-enter information?) Recently, our company implemented "Inter-Call" which allows our customers to give us service calls and suggestions that automatically appear on our scheduling board. Customers may check the status of their request at any time.

The fax machine affected the efficiency of communication in the 80's.

E-mail affected the efficiency of communication of the 90's.

Direct Web integration has affected all types of communication for the 2000's.

If you stop and think about office and field procedures required to produce the management reports to run your business, you will find a gold mine of personnel hours devoted to keeping your business running. When I take the time to look at our own operation, I quickly see all the benefits of running a company with outstanding information. In less than 30 minutes, I completed a lead analysis report that showed the marketing department:

The source of our leads

Closing ratios

Comparison figures between this year and last year

The results clearly indicated that the Internet is playing a new part in doing business today. With reports such as these at my fingertips, I can quickly find the answers I need to make informed management decisions for tomorrow.

You may wish to start your search today to take advantage of tomorrow's doors of opportunity.

(For further information contact Yvonne Tuttle, Team Management Systems, Inc., (800) 299-7351 or visit our web site at www.teamservice.com TMS develops and implements leading edge, industry specific software for HVACR, Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors with e-business integration.)