Trades business of the future


7th August, 2019

Tools for tradies: Building the trades business of the future

The trades and construction businesses of today have a greater need to use a mixture of physical and digital tools to remain competitive. In this article, we look at what tomorrow may bring.

For the most part, today’s trades and construction businesses at the SME end of the spectrum operate in much the same way as they have for the past 20 years.

That is, the business owner develops their client list and manages a regular working rhythm to make sure cash flow is maintained. Communications are managed by phone or email, quotes and invoices remain largely manual and business activities are recording and processed by a bookkeeper either within the business or engaged externally.

But this state of affairs won’t last much longer.

Looking at other key industries, as competition among businesses rises and new, digital tools become available, the shift towards automating business administration, marketing and sales increases.

Now that we’ve witnessed a slowdown in the local housing market and a general drop in trades and construction activity, the conditions are ripe for SME owners in this space to begin considering how to carve out a competitive advantage.

Now is the time for tradies to go techie.

Australia’s trades businesses lack digital capabilities

Recent reporting from MYOB’s Business Monitor, which compiles survey data from 1,000 local businesses, reveals how trades and construction operators are lagging when it comes to tech.

When asked which activities are currently undertaken in the business for each area of tech, trades and construction business owners responded accordingly:

As you can see, email enjoys pride of place as the most widely used digital technology for tradies, following by online or mobile banking.

At the same time, trades and construction businesses quite clearly lag behind other businesses in other areas of business administration, marketing and sales.

But the data isn’t clear as to what’s causing trades businesses to hold off investing in tech solutions, with just 23 percent citing the costs of such platforms as a source of pressure. Instead, 41 percent say they’re more worried about late payments from clients – an issue that can only be improved by technological solutions.

Retooling as a competitive advantage

For tradies looking to weather the current poor economic outlook and grow their business, tweaking their business model for better business admin and automation may be the simplest solution.

Tradies are used to learning how to use new tools and techniques to get the job done, but this has traditionally been saved for work done ‘on the job’ rather than work done on the business.

Which is why, looking again at MYOB’s Business Monitor, only 16 percent of trades businesses are expecting to increase sales online and just 15 percent expect to increase investment in IT systems and processes over the next 12 months.

Partner manager for ServiceM8, Skye Taylor recently told The Pulse that these attitudes are set to change, and advanced technologies suitable for SME trades businesses exist today to help them grow.

“If I were starting a new field services business today, I’d be looking to get started with a number of solutions with the aim of streamlining jobs and automating business admin,” she said.

Kellar suggests the following ‘tech stack’ for trades and construction businesses:

  • Web domain, website and emails – “This can be done with options like Google Domains, G Suite and website builders like Wix. It’s a must to have both a modern and mobile-responsive website and a professional email address.”
  • High-quality hardware – “Consider late-model iPhones and iPads for field staff, and multi-screen workstations for any office staff. Running high-quality hardware makes a big difference in the effectiveness and experience of cloud-based software for field services – it’s all about having the right tools.”
  • Cloud-based job management and bookkeeping – “By moving to online solutions like MYOB and ServiceM8, field services businesses are able to quote, invoice and allocate jobs on the move. The key here is automation: if you’re able to reduce your business admin by an hour or two each week, the cost of these solutions is quickly paid off by benefits to productivity.”
  • Email marketing and database – “Create a Mailchimp account so you can sync client contacts from a platform like ServiceM8 and run point-in-time or automated email campaigns that generate work or promote your business.”

Beyond that, Kellar recommends trades business owners occasional assess their needs according to what’s revealed by the business’s workflows.

“I’d then check out Deputy if I needed more dedicated functionality for timesheets and rostering, Google Calendar to manage appointments that aren’t billable, and a web app integrator like Zapier if I needed to set up more connection and automation between software solutions,” she said.

Trades businesses of the future

Any SME trades business that implements the technologies listed above will already appear to be far in front of the industry average in terms of productivity and capability. But as tech continues to evolve, so will the potential of trades-based businesses to adopt and capitalise on them.

Kellar said that ServiceM8 has a specific vision for what the tradie of the future will look like, and it’s deceptively simple.

“The tradie of the future will only be doing the work that they’re being paid to do,” she said.

“Everything else is administration, and we’re not interested in making new ways of doing the same administration – we want to eliminate it.”

It may be that today’s trades and construction business owners already feel bogged down by the weight of business admin processes they’re expected to complete each week, each month and each year.

Perhaps the thought of having to purchase, learn and roll out new tech tools sounds too expensive or daunting to be a realistic goal.

RESOURCE: Your guide to cash flow management

But eventually there’s bound to be a tipping point where the only way to stay viable is to get techie and, as Kellar said, doing so will actually reduce the time investment currently spent on admin tasks.

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) tech will play a big role, advances in speech recognition will be very relevant, Augmented Reality (AR) tools like smart glasses could aid in providing hands-free and real-time info, and self-driving cars will make transfer times between jobs much more productive,” she said.

So, the only question left is, ‘What are you waiting for?’