An auto shop management and invoicing software buying guide
Posted on Feb 17th 2020 in Best Practices
So you’ve made the decision to start shopping for a new auto shop management and invoicing software for your auto repair shop or garage. Whether you’ve never used auto shop management software before or you’re simply unhappy with your current software solution and are looking to make a change, here is a list of factors that you’ll want to keep in mind when shopping around.
Edit: We've since released two additional resources to help automotive businesses better understand the auto shop software industry. After reading this article, check out our free guide to auto shop invoice software and our ultimate guide to auto repair shop management software.
1. Make sure your auto shop management software integrates customer data with your invoices
Any auto repair software worth considering will have an invoice builder with basic invoicing and billing functionality. After all, the ability to build invoices and charge customers for bills is a crucial part of running a successful auto repair business. However, what makes invoice building software just okay vs. exceptional? One such distinction are features that help you save time when repeatedly building invoices.
Let’s say you have a number of regular or repeat customers that come into your auto shop frequently. The first time a customer comes to your shop, you will inevitably need to enter in the customer’s name, email, phone, vehicle information, etc. into your software’s customer database in order to build an invoice and send them a bill. However, ideally you would only need to enter this information once into your software. After the initial visit, future visits should be much faster since you should be able to re-use the previously entered customer data in any new invoices.
To put it another way, many software vendors require auto shop users put in the same amount of work when building an invoice for a customer’s first visit as they do for any subsequent visits. This is a waste of time for you and your auto shop employees. Instead, invest in software that allows you to save any past customer’s information to re-use again and again for future visits.
Over the course of months and years, this will end up saving you and your auto shop many hours of productivity and saved time. So be sure to prioritize these types of time-saving features as you do your research into different automotive software vendors.
2. Weigh the pros and cons of cloud vs hosted software
When deciding on an auto shop management and invoicing software, know that there are 2 main types of software to choose from: software hosted on your auto shop’s computers and software hosted in the cloud.
Hosted software is software that you download and save to your computer’s hard drive. The software is downloaded separately to each computer on which you’d like to use the software. After the software is downloaded, any customer or invoice data you enter into your software program is saved directly to your computer’s hard drive as well. It does not require an internet connection to use hosted software.
On the other hand, cloud based software is hosted by the software vendor’s servers. To access and use the software, you would just need an internet-connected device. Since the software is hosted in the cloud and not on your computer’s personal hard drives, you do not need to download or periodically update your software. Instead, you’d need to use a username and password to access your software through your web browser.
Characteristics of hosted software:
- Downloaded on to your computer’s hard drive
- Installed for each device with which you’d like to use your software
- Usually requires a lump sum payment upfront and periodic upgrade or licensing fees paid monthly or yearly
- Doesn’t require internet connection
- Customer or invoice data on one device not connected to other devices that use the same software
- Backups require an external hard drive or memory card
- Requires you be in the same location as your saved data
Here are some of the characteristics of cloud-based software:
- Requires internet-connected device to access software
- Accessible from a variety of devices, browsers, and operating systems (ex: Mac and PC)
- Most vendors require smaller monthly payment rather than large upfront fee.
- Data saved to the cloud, rather than to computer hard drives
- Usually your software vendor has online backup of data
Related reading: So your auto repair shop management software is in the cloud.
3. Find a billing and payment plan makes sense for your business
Auto repair software vendors offer a variety and billing payment plans. For example, many software vendors require a large upfront fee to “buy” their software whereas others require a set monthly or yearly fee. When shopping around these software vendors, be sure to read the fine print for any future licensing or upgrade fees. The reality of many software businesses is that it is far more sustainable to have some type of recurring revenue in order to maintain a consistent cash flow. While there are some software vendors that have a one-time fee model, these are becoming less and less common in favor of charging a smaller periodic fee.
Additionally, be sure to research any cancellation fees and look for any caveats when it comes to migrating from your current auto shop management software provider (if you have one) to the new vendor. Most ethical auto shop software businesses should provide you with a copy of your data as auto repair shops are legally entitled to their own data. However, other businesses may require you to jump through hoops or have an extended delay to retrieve your data in order to impede you from migrating to a competitor.
4. Always try a free trial of your software first
When assessing different software options, it’s easy to get caught up by the persuasive arguments of a software salesperson or convincing marketing materials and online reviews. However, there is ultimately no substitute for trying a software on a trial basis before committing to purchase the software. Youtube videos, online training documents, and online reviews will not provide you with an accurate representation of a software product. That’s why you need to get hands on with your potential software as soon as possible.
Today, most online, cloud-based auto repair software should have free trials available within a few minutes of simple setup steps. If you’re shopping hosted software, then you may need to download a sample software package and then install it on your computer.
Once you’ve accessed your trial account of a given software, walk through the normal steps you’d take in a given day within your auto shop. For example, type in a fake customer’s data and build a new test invoice. Once your invoice is built, try sending it to yourself online. Try this a few times to get a sense of how long this would take per customer. After you’ve had some practice, envision yourself doing this multiple times a day over the course of a year. Be sure to weigh any first impressions you have with the thought that you’ll most likely need some practice and training to get proficient at using your software. Most software will require some lead time to use quickly and to its fullest extent.
5. Think about ease of use and software training
How easy is it to learn your new software? If needed, could you explain the step easily to a new auto shop employee? Is there anything particularly confusing or unintuitive about the software you're using?
All of these are great questions to ask when you’re first getting started shopping around. Specifically with auto shop invoicing software, you’ll be building many invoices over the course of a day, week, month, and year. So if you have any particular recurring pain points, imagine that this will become multiplied over time. That’s why it’s important to identify any potential issues from the very beginning.
Many software vendors have a blog or knowledge base that provides instructions on how to use specific features of their software. Today, you’ll also see a number of software vendors building in training steps directly into the software itself, so you never need to leave a page. As a live example, here’s a recently-built new user walkthrough that prompts new users on how to build an invoice.
Related reading: New user walkthrough tutorial
6. Customer service and support for your software investment
It’s one of the realities of any kind of software: eventually you’ll uncover some type of unexpected behavior or functionality that is less than pleasing. When this happens, you’ll want to be assured that you’re in the best hands possible, and that any bugs or issues are resolved quickly. That’s why as you shop your auto shop management and invoicing software, be sure to shop for more than just the shiny new features.
Customer service and support are paramount for ensuring that your car repair business can continue operating in spite of any bugs or issues that arise. Most software vendors offer email support at a minimum, while others offer chat and phone support too. The most important thing to consider is responsiveness and helpfulness. Ultimately, you may find that some auto shop management software vendors can be responsive, but not helpful. For example, let’s say you discover a bug with the invoice builder for a given software. If you write in to the support team and they respond by saying they won’t fix the issue, then that won’t help your business’s bottom line. Ultimately, you’ll want to research online reviews and ask the vendor directly about their support response times.
7. Find an auto shop management software company you trust
Finally, be sure to research any potential software vendors for any recent security breaches and app downtimes. Online forums and online reviews are helpful in this regard. In the past, some of our customers have mentioned learning about software vendors that have sold their customers’ data to third-parties. This is definitely a red-flag.
At the end of the day, your auto shop management software is an investment of which you’re placing your trust in the software vendor’s hands. Be sure to do your research, and if your intuition says that a potential software vendor will be neglectful, is only seeking after your money, and won’t have your business’s best interests at heart, then simply move on to another one. The best auto repair software companies will work hard to build your trust before ever asking for a dollar.