10 Questions to Ask When Buying Sign Estimating Software

The right sign estimating software can make your life easier and your business more profitable. It will empower you to give accurate, competitive quotes in minutes instead of hours. And it should free your staff to focus on things other than chasing down details needed to quote a job.

Finding the right sign estimating software is not easy.  Some sign shops have wasted years setting up estimating systems that proved to be big disappointments. The software was too slow, too complicated, or just couldn’t keep pace with their evolving mix of services.

Here are 10 questions to ask when shopping for sign estimating software:

1. How much does the software developer know about the sign business?

A good developer of sign estimating software will understand that no two sign shops are alike. In addition to printing banners and signs, your shop may be involved with designing custom architectural signs, producing vehicle graphics, or managing complex installations. Or, your sign shop might also offer screen printing, short-run digital printing, custom apparel, or promotional products.

Some sign-estimating software has been adapted from software originally developed for printing, mailing, or manufacturing. Software developed specifically for budget-conscious sign shops integrates estimating with other time-saving tools for order management, proof approval, vehicle wrap projects, materials ordering, and shipping-label printing.

2. Who was the software designed for?

Was it designed for the business owner and accounting team or for shop employees? Good software will provide useful data for making smart business decisions. But the software must also be simple enough for your employees to use.

If your employees can’t easily use the software, you might not get complete and accurate data about the status of jobs in progress or how much time was actually spent on each job.

Your employees should also be able to quote simple jobs themselves — especially when you’re away from the office.

3. Can the software handle estimates for about 80 percent of the jobs your shop performs?

If your shop handles a high-volume mix of custom products and services, it’s impossible to find software that will automatically provide accurate estimates for everything you do.

But if your software can be set up and customized to handle quotes for about 80 percent of your everyday work, you can concentrate on developing accurate estimates for potentially lucrative one-of-a-kind projects or complex jobs.

4. Is it a cloud-based or self-hosted system?

A cloud-based system can be easily (and securely) accessed from the workstations, tablets, and smartphones of authorized employees. All the information you need to deliver a quote will be at your fingertips at all times — whether you are in your office or at a job site.

Cloud-based systems are run by IT professionals with expertise in security, customization, and module integration. The cloud software provider is responsible for keeping the system updated and running uninterrupted.

Upgrades are included in your monthly subscription and new users and modules can be added as your sign shop grows.

A self-hosted system takes longer to install and requires having IT professionals on site to keep it updated, secure, and operating trouble-free. You may need to invest in special servers or updated computers for each software user.

5. Can the software enable my customers to place orders online?

Enabling customers to place orders online can be a fantastic way to improve customer service and keep customers coming back for more. Most sign-estimating programs require you to buy a separate “web-to-print” system to make this possible. When your web-to-print software is different from the estimating software, issues inevitably arise when the online order data is fed into your estimating and order management system.

An optional module for Ordant estimating software enables you to set up online storefronts through which customers can place orders for banners, graphics, and simple signs online.  The data flows from the Ordant order-placement module directly into the Ordant order management system.

6. How fast is the software?

When you are quoting on a high volume of short-run jobs, every extra minute of processing time adds up. Some estimating software is slow and clunky because it has been upgraded to include lots of extra features for financial data analysts. You have to navigate through multiple screens to finish the estimate.

Before shopping for sign-estimating software, define what you would consider to be a typical quote. Ask vendors to show how long it would take to deliver an estimate based on your requirements. Pay close attention to how fast and effortless the job-estimating process looks.

7. How much training is required?

If employees must spend days learning how to use the software, it’s too complicated. And if it’s complicated, you will get pushback from employees who prefer the old system. When software is super-easy to use and has been tweaked to fit your existing workflow, your employees are less likely to curse the new system and more likely to thank you for making their jobs easier.

8. How long does it take to implement?

If you already have accurate, updated prices lists of commonly used materials and know how much your actual overhead costs are, then it should take just a few weeks to get the program up and running — especially if it’s a cloud-based system.

But the set-up phase can drag on for months if you don’t have good information already assembled or don’t make the cost-gathering process a priority. Some sign shops use the information-gathering stage of the implementation project as an opportunity to find more efficient ways to run their businesses.

9. What features can be customized?

Some software developers discourage customization. Ordant recognizes that a certain amount of customization is vital to your ability to quote a high percentage of your everyday jobs.

Some template-driven estimating programs make it difficult to add new services or use your own experience-driven formula for pricing with markups. A customizable program enables you to use your own pricing models. And it can be customized to produce estimates for routine services such as sign installations. Expenses related to sign installation might include site inspections, travel, permits, and type of lift used.

10. How difficult is it to keep it updated?

The sign business is all about creativity and diversification.  Your sign-estimating software should be able to grow along with your company. If your sign-estimating software doesn’t offer the flexibility and customization capabilities that you need, you may gradually find yourself back at square one—quoting jobs the old-fashioned way.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to estimating jobs, speed counts. Clients don’t want to wait long for anything, including a phone call or email telling them how much a sign project or graphics package will cost.

But accuracy is important too.  If your quoted prices don’t cover actual costs, you’ll be out of business in no time. The right sign-estimating program can help you increase speed, accuracy, and profitability.

If you are shopping for sign-estimating software, check out Ordant sign estimating and order management software. Our cloud-based software is easy-to-use, fast, flexible, customizable, and upgradable. Plus, it connects seamlessly with our own web-to-print software module. During your demo, ask how Ordant can help with order tracking, online proofing, purchase orders, vehicle wrap projects, customer relationship management, and invoicing. Visit https://ordant.com/sign-shop-software/ to learn more and request a demo.

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