Irrigation Business Software Buyer's Guide

Intro

For over 20 years, HindSite’s been developing, implementing, and supporting irrigation business software. During that time we’ve worked with thousands of irrigation businesses and seen it all. So we decided to put that experience to good use and create an irrigation business software buyer’s guide that cuts through the B.S.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Finding The Why 

Step 2: Determine The What

Step 3: Your Budget & The Value Of Software

Step 4: Evaluation

Step 5: Decision

Take The Guide With You

Download the complete interactive guide & use it as you please.

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Step 1: Finding The Why

Improve or Go Out of Business

How can you do better?

Why does your irrigation business need software? Sometimes it’s as simple as a general feeling that what you’re currently doing is holding back a greater level of success. Other times, there’s a very real and definitive issue holding you back that needs to be solved.

Using a hodge-podge of paper, spreadsheets, and miscellaneous apps don’t cut it. But don't waste your time and money. Figure out your why, and then get to work.

Take a Look at Your Business

It’s your business, so you likely have your own reasons for wanting to improve your operation. You’re constantly thinking about what’s working, what’s not working, and what direction is best. It’s what makes you a special breed. It’s also the first step in buying software. 

In this section, we’ll share some questions to ask yourself about your business. These are designed to help you connect your goals and priorities - and to help you evaluate areas where software can help you improve your performance.

Top Line: How Has The Last Year Been?

What’s working? What’s not working? These two questions may be broad but, with the right approach, they can produce specific answers and crucial insights into where you need support. 

So why not start by thinking about:

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What's Working

What's been most profitable
What activities or processes:
Increase Revenue?
Increase Margins/Profit?
Reduce Overhead?
Where are you meeting or exceeding your expectations?
What's smooth as silk?
Thumbs Down

What's Not Working

What consistently frustrates you?
What consistently frustrates your team?
Where are you leaving opportunity on the table?
What manual tasks are a pain in the ass?
What have you seen other contractors do in their businesses that you would like to adopt in your operations?
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What current systems, technology, and processes do you use to manage your business and its operations? Especially manual things like paper or spreadsheets?
What are we really asking?

Take a step back to really look at the core areas where you’ll get the most out of automation, without breaking the bank. Use the feedback from your team to dial in on the right areas, and get them engaged in the process. Their engagement means faster adoption and results. In the next section, we’ll be helping you go through your answers - pulling out the reasons why you need software and aligning them with what you should be looking for in your new software. 

Download The Interactive Assessment:
Rate Your Business & Find Opportunities
 
Note: If you choose to download the interactive questionnaire below you'll be asked to rank yourself, and use a simple formula to find weak points where software can help. Do you have to do this, to get value out of this guide? Nope. But do we recommend it, to help wrap your head around what a reasonable tool will do for your business? Most definitely. 
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Step 2: Determine The What

Great, now it’s time to do the math. By the end of this section, you’ll know which features and functionality align with your business needs, and what to look for in a software solution. 

Calculating The Why

Go ahead and add up the total for each section, as well as, a cumulative total for all of them.

 

Category Grades

Your category grades show the “burden” each area has on your business & what level of attention they’ll need during your buying process. If you’re replacing software that’s currently causing a certain department to perform well, then you’ll also want to find a platform that maintains or expands your current efficiencies. Low-scoring areas need software the most & as a result, could improve the most with more efficient processes & tasks automation.

Score: 4-9
 
Grade:
HELP!
 
Urgent Priority
Areas that are holding your business back & need to be improved with the right software.
Score: 10-14
 
Grade:
Needs Work
 
Get the right tools
Areas that are barely getting by & need software to eliminate their burden on your business
Score: 15-18
 
Grade:
Works Okay
 
Still room to improve
These areas aren’t the reason you’re in need of new software but can still improve with the right one.
Score: 19-20
 
Grade:
Going Well
 
Maintain/Automate
Look to automate where you can but make sure your new software doesn't these areas up.
Download The Interactive Worksheet:
Translating Business Burdens To Software Features
 
Now we need to translate these scores into something you can use:
If you choose to download the interactive worksheet below you'll be able to see which features are associated with the areas of your business that need improving (based on the scores you provided in the questionnaire download above). You'll know the specific features to look for that'll best fit your business and its characteristics.
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Note: Everything we’ve gone through in the first two sections (the Why & the What) is aimed at helping you understand what your business needs and what you should be focusing on as you begin the buying process. It’s an exercise, not scripture. Feel free to adjust. At the end of the day, you know your business better than anyone and what will drive its success.
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Step 3: Budget & The Software's Value

Now that you’ve determined what you need, and what falls into the “nice-to-have” category, you can sit down and determine your budget. There are lots of ways to do this, but here are two simple ones.

One: Evaluate your cash flow, and determine what percentage of your current cash flow you are willing to allocate to additional technology for your business. Essentially, what can you afford right out of the gate?

Two: In the process of determining what you need, you’ve also uncovered specific problems that this software solution will solve for you. What’s the value - in real dollars - of those problems? You should have specific scenarios, and for each one do the following.

  1. How long has the scenario been a problem?
  2. What are you spending currently to try to solve it (or have you given up)?
  3. What will the savings be from the combination of a) resolving the issue, and b) reducing other costs around it?

For Example: you know that your margin on irrigation service is somewhere between 20% and 30%. You believe that by leveraging software to track their time & materials more accurately you can bill for more of it. And by more effectively scheduling them, you can reduce windshield time (saving on fuel costs and getting an extra job or two done each day). If you were able to be 20% more efficient in using a tech’s time and converting it to billable hours, your revenue per tech goes up 20%. So if you increase revenue by 20%, then your profit increased by 25% (the margin) of those revenues.

That means a company that bills $200,000 per tech annually, now bills $240,000 per tech annually. And the annual profit gain would be 25% of $40,000 or $10,000 per tech. Now, if the software costs the same as the net gain, it’s not doing its job correctly. Identify what % of that you’re willing to spend.

As a point of reference, most contractors -in fact, most small to medium businesses (SMB) - spend between $10,000 and $49,000 a year on technology. The same study that provided that number also identified that 22% feel they spend too much, and 52% feel they spend too little. So, don’t go crazy, but don’t go too cheap. We have it on good authority that a contractor with 5 trucks can get excellent software at about $5,000 annually.

Just don’t forget, your business management software (which should cover sales through billing) is only one of several tools. Make sure you don’t lose sight of the total suite of software:

  • Business Operations / Field Service Management, with integrated communication tools
  • Accounting (e.g. QuickBooks) with integrated Payroll
  • Marketing Tools and Website
  • Irrigation Design Software
  • Miscellaneous other productivity, communication, or industry-specific tools

The Real Price Of Software

OK, you have a budget in mind and something that can scale based on the value the software provides. Now it’s time to assess the true cost of software. It’s never the top line price.
 
Here’s the punch list of things to consider:
 
The Cost of a Contract:
  • What’s the cost of exiting if the software doesn’t work for you? 
  • Does the cost stay the same over time, or are there built-in price increases? 
The Cost of Implementation:
  • How much does training cost?
  • How much of your precious time does it take?
  • How much of your customer data and work history can be imported, and what is the cost of not having that when it comes to customer service?
The Cost of Hardware:
  • Do you need updated or new office hardware (laptops or desktops, internet connection speed upgrades)? Note: it’s far less likely, given cloud computing and software-as-a-service (“SaaS”), that you’ll need additional or updated hardware for an office, but make sure you ask.
  • Do you need updated or new mobile technology (phones, tablets)?
  • Do you need devices for additional services (GPS)? 
The Cost of Add-On Services:
  • What’s the combined cost of all additional services, to whom are you paying that, and who is providing support for all of that?
  • Examples include: Collecting Payments, Emailing / Texting, GPS Integration, Advanced Reporting, or other “upgraded” services
No BS Alert:
You need to expect that the first few weeks (or perhaps even months, depending on complexity) of using the new software will make you less efficient at first. The better the tool, the faster you'll see the gains. Plan for this, & have a frank conversation with both your team, & the sales team, about the learning curve & factor it in.

Finally, something to consider: Changing software is hard, so start small. Yes, your organization needs to be “whole hog” committed, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat it all in one sitting. Add services, users, and other costs over time. Make sure you’re getting the value for what you’re spending.

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Step 4: Evaluation

Finding Solutions

Now you know the Why. You’ve outlined the What. You have a rough budget number in mind. Now start finding software options. There are plenty of tools available, from G2 to SoftwareAdvice.

However many of these include paid sponsorships. Where the more the sponsoring software company pays, the higher they rank. Frankly, Google will work just as well. And include your specific industry (e.g. “irrigation business software.”) in your search. Right away you’ll have a page’s worth of options to start evaluating.

 

Research Fit & Price
Consider a scaled approach to various alternatives
 

Websites don’t always tell you what you want to know, but they’ll at least give you the message of the company behind the product. Who are they, what do they prioritize, and does the software provide the core must-have features you identified?

And of course, look for transparent pricing. Often, there are add-ons, extra services, or contracts with special terms to consider. How much is available on their website?

 

Reviews Are Important.
Peer Discussion Even More So.
 

Once you have a list, start looking around at what people are saying about it. Again, you can look at G2, Capterra, and SoftwareAdvice, but as we’ve talked about, be aware of their pay-to-play element.

Google Reviews are always helpful, but really you just need to talk to others in the industry. Seek out owners and managers of companies similar to yours. You want advice that matches your operations and how you seek to grow. Ask your peers about what’s being used, and - most importantly - what experience they had, both with the product and the company itself. And, ask how old that experience is. Things change fast in this industry.

 

Demo
 

Finally, sign up for a demo of the software. Have your list of questions ready to go, so that you can check the boxes on your must-have items.

Things to consider:

Features and Workflows: Does it have the core functionality you need? Does it solve the business need, but perhaps in a different way? Be open minded, often the software is based on feedback from a range of clients and can (should!) help you enforce a “best practice.” Just make sure that the industry best practices are actually from your industry.

Integrations: What integrations are available? Does the software try to be everything to everyone, or do they integrate with other great solutions? How much can this irrigation business software act as a central point of information across the many services and tools available?

Scalability: The whole point of irrigation business software is to help your irrigation business thrive. Will this software help you do that, and what can they do for you when you’ve grown?

Roadmaps: What’s next? The magic of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and cloud technology is that new things are always happening. You should be buying as much for what they do today, as for what they are going to do tomorrow.

Usability: Ask the people who will be using it every day to sit in on the demo, and have them think through their daily tasks - especially the ones they do over and over - and make sure they feel this is easy to use. Remember, automation and increasing the speed of daily tasks is a key element of your success.

Security & Data Management: Your data and its safety are important, so make sure you ask about what security features and policies are in place.

 

The Company Itself
 

Who are they? Where did they come from? Are they passionate about the irrigation industry or are they all things to all people? You’re not an “outdoor plumber” - does your partner know that? What’s their stated mission?

How do they talk about training and support? Do they charge extra for it? Do they provide a real person that you can talk to? What about self-guided? You need to decide the importance of each element for yourself, but at least be aware of the answers.

How do they see your data? If you leave them, what happens to the data (i.e. make damn sure you can take it with you!).

How do they get ideas on what to build next? Does your feedback matter to them?

How are they funded? Are they privately held, or public? Are they backed by venture capital (VC)? If they’re VC, is there any discussion of flipping the company or going public? We’re all for capitalism, but the goals of “running up a share price” are very different from those of “building a large, passionate, loyal user base”.

 

Pricing
 

Subscription vs. Contract

There’s nothing wrong with a contract. As long as it’s simple. Keep It Stupidly Simple (our take). Month-to-month may mean higher prices, but it’s a great way to get started.

If they require a contract, make sure you understand all terms & charges by asking:
  • How long is the contract?
  • Does the price change year-over-year without notification?
  • How hard is it to change things (add users, licenses, etc.)?
  • What happens if you decide to cancel?
  • And make sure you have a trial period in which you can bail if you need to. Nothing worse than getting into a multi-year contract, and realizing that the tool isn’t right for your business.

And regardless of monthly or contract, make sure you ask about other fees that might pop up. No one likes surprises.

 

Value of What You Get
[Back to Budgeting]
 

There’s an array of software out there (apps, services, solutions, yadda yadda yadda). Take a minute to think about Value, not just Price, and not just Features. How well will the tool fit in your business? What value does it provide?

There are tools that literally try to provide everything in one system. Super neat. Super expensive. Is that really what your business needs? Remember, you created your Must Have and Nice-to-Have list for a reason.

You can, and should, change that list as you go, but don’t get too distracted by bells and whistles. You’re running a business, margins matter, keep it focused. Save the extra money for your people. (They’re more important than software any day).

 

Implementation & Adoption
Positive change comes with effort. You’ll need to rally your team.
 

If you tell people to “just play around with it” they’ll never do it, and you’ll never see the results. It doesn’t mean be an asshole about it, but you’re running a business, not a commune, so be clear on the expectations.

That said, get people excited about it. Maybe you noticed, but we’ve told you to do a few things, with this in mind:
  • Give them a voice in defining the “Why” (what do they say they need, vs. what you think they need). 
  • Include them in the demos, get their feedback on what they see and what they think it can do for them 
  • Talk to them about the overall business goals, and how their work and this software will, together, get them there.

 

Implementation Effort
It’s called “Effort” for a reason… it takes some. You know all too well, time is money, and labor is expensive.
 
So, make sure you ask these questions:
  • How long will the implementation take, both in duration and estimated hours?
  • Should you form a team or task force to keep things organized and on-track?
  • What steps/activities happen during setup? Importing, configuring, creating new stuff, or modifying old stuff… again, what’s this really going to take?
  • What kind of skill set does it take to do this right (e.g. do you need a spreadsheet wizard? Or will they help you with that?)
  • If your business is highly seasonal (e.g. you live where it freezes), is there a better/worse time to take action?
  • Is there an extra cost for the provider to help you with everything, be it data imports or training and setup?
  • Are there other technologies you need to purchase? Do you need new field devices or other hardware for your office?
  • All of this adds up when it comes to understanding your “true cost of ownership” and what it takes to successfully get moving.

 

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Step 5: Decision

You’re a business owner. Decision-making is part of the job. It fills your daily life. Choosing what software is right for your business might have a bigger scope than your typical decisions but there’s no reason to put unnecessary pressure on it.

You’ve gone through the steps. You know why your business needs software and what features and functionality to look for. You have a budget and understand the real price of the software. You know what to expect and what questions to ask when evaluating your options. You’ve done the hard part.

Now’s the exciting part: Make the right decision for your business by choosing the software that unleashes its potential.

Request a Demo

Now that you know the buying process, sign-up for a demo today to learn why FieldCentral is the #1 Irrigation Business Software.