If you or your people are buying materials willy-nilly and have no system of tracking who buys what, how much is being spent, where goods are being bought and so on then you are leaking profits guaranteed.
Keeping control of material costs is primary to making a realistic profit on any project. Some might say this is probably the easiest element to control, right? Yes I’d agree but only if you have a system of ordering & tracking materials that works, if you don’t then you need to get one.
I’ve a very simple & cheap solution (and I mean simple & cheap) that works once you are disciplined enough to manage it properly, which basically means doing what I outline below on a consistent and regimental basis. This means caring about making money as much as you do about doing the job. It will mean taking the time on a regular basis to do some numbers and paperwork which I know you all love. I’m not talking a whole day a week, I’m talking about an hour or two on a Friday or Monday morning, or if you don’t want to do the numbers bit your self then give it to someone like a book keeper to do for you.
I’m not going in to an elaborate system of project costing here, if you have software that tracks your projects and the staff who know how to use it and do so accurately then great, but most smaller contractors and installers don’t have the size and structure to warrant the cost of such systems.
So here’s the answer;
Assign Job References & Purchase Orders to all your purchases
That might seem obvious to many of you, but for many small operators organising their purchases is a lot of hassle and for one major reason or another they think it’s complicated, they need someone to administer it, they need software to generate the references or some other reason they feel it’s not worth doing. Some may realise they need a system but are too busy to begin looking at how.
You can assign Job References & Purchase Orders to all your purchases easily, it will cost you pennies assuming you have a computer running Office Excel or Open Office, and you can roll out in 15 minutes. Here’s what you’ll need to get started…
- A Laptop
- Microsoft Excel
- An iPhone or other smart phone
- Docs To Go iPhone App
Here’s the process…
Set up your Excel file with your current jobs. Here’s a template (Purchase Order Sheet Sample) that you can use and customise to your own needs. For example, at the bottom of the sheet I have the tabs set out for months, you can change this to weeks if you think it might be easier to keep track that way.
The real beauty of this sheet comes from the simple but very effective use of the “Data Filter” function (See Fig 1.1 below). Highlight the line of data you want to filter by and click the “filter button” in the “data” tab on the top of the sheet. This allows you to see data for any particular column of data selected i.e.
- View orders for a particular day
- View orders for a particular client
- View orders for any Supplier etc etc.
Go to DataViz and download Docs To Go for your Windows or Mac machine.
Purchase the Docs To Go App on your mobile device. Or you can get the free version but the paid version has the benefit of allowing sync with your cloud applications such as Dropbox, iCloud, Box and others. This is better because you will not have to manually sync your files, it will be done automatically.
Set up you file sync once you have these applications installed. This is really simple so you should have no trouble with the set up. If you have any trouble consult the user guide.
At the end of the week, month or job, total the costs of materials for that particular project and compare this with what you estimated you would spend. If you are proficient with Excel you can set up auto total and all sorts of nice functionality in your spreadsheet. You can manage whole projects within Excel and have the sheet spit out the bottom line on labour costs and a whole host of other results. As well as allowing you to keep track of costs. This very simple system encourages your people to keep conscious of what they are buying and allows you see who’s buying what.
N.B. You must get this bit right
With Docs To Go open on your mobile device you can go to the sync folder, open the spreadsheet and issue POs on the road as you need. Or if you have someone office based full time then they could take responsibility for this function, however make sure one person owns this function. Do not have different people responsible on different days or you will get duplication for sure.
Another point to note is that if you are using the free version of Docs To Go with a folder on your PC or Mac then you will need to sync manually when you are back in front of the computer. If you don’t remember to sync then you will get duplication of data which can cause you problems. When you use with Dropbox for example you will not need to worry about duplication as Dropbox will take care of the sync for you automatically.
This system is very simple and more functionality is possible with Excel if you have the ability and time to organise it. But time is short and this method is easy enough to roll out in a few minutes. At least with this system you can get going in the right direction and in time move to a more elaborate method of managing your processes as you grow.
I use Dropbox and Docs To Go all the time and find them both very useful for access to office documents such as accounts documents, quotations, supplier spec sheets and pricing. Give it a shot and see how you go.