Five or ten years ago, only 25 percent of interior designers had a website. Many designers did not know how to “right click” on their mouse, they hadn’t heard of webinars, webcasts or teleseminars, and only a small percentage had an email address.
Today it is essential for you to be tech-savvy because your clients are, but if you’re similar to your colleagues, it can be overwhelming to keep up with technology tools. But don’t fall into the trap of trying each new technology tool – just decide what functionality you really need to run an efficient and effective business.
Let’s assume that you already have a laptop, a smart phone and a tablet (like an iPad). After that, there are thousands of software applications available at varying prices, I’ll break the options into categories and prioritize what you should consider.
Accounting and Project Management – #1 Priority
Since the business of interior design is complex, you need accounting software that mirrors the work that you do. Our recent Interior Design Fee & Salary Survey eBook showed that more than half of designers used QuickBooks™. Though QuickBooks™ does provide standard accounting capabilities, there are other options that you can and should consider.
As a design firm owner, I started with Quicken Home & Business™ ($159.99) when I was working alone and was new to the business. Once the firm started growing, I used QuickBooks™. QuickBooks did not work well for our firm because it wasn’t designed for our industry. Even today, there are different versions of QuickBooks including an online version, but they are missing several features that are crucial to a well-run business.
You can purchase a desktop version of QuickBooks Pro™ for $249.99, or you can use QuickBooks Online ™which is hosted in the cloud. The cost ranges from $12.95 to $78.95 per month. The higher end includes payroll capabilities, purchase orders, access for multiple users and many other important features like time tracking, expediting tracking and proposals that can be created with multiple components like fabric, trim, frames, etc.
After our firm used QuickBooks™ for a few years, we moved to Design Manager™. It was certainly better because it included more features that were relevant to our industry, like the ability to create proposals, purchase orders, expedite, track time and produce reports. Design Manager™ is available as a desktop product, or you can use the cloud version. Though Design Manager™ was significantly better than QuickBooks™ for our business, my designers found it hard to learn. It has been a number of years since I’ve used these products, so it is likely to be more user-friendly today.
We shopped for more options and chose StudioIT Studio Designer, which was easier for my team to learn. Today, the basic version of Studio IT is $500 for one work station, and the Professional Version is $2,750. Both versions charge $150 extra per additional user. If you have a team of designers and a bookkeeper or outside accountant, StudioIT can get expensive.
What I like about StudioIT is the reporting capability, and the fact that you enter information one time, and from that, you create your proposal, purchase order and invoice. The downside of purchasing a desktop software package is that future enhancements aren’t included in the software. You control your costs by paying up front, but future functionality may be sacrificed. The cloud version of StudioIT is Studio Webware, which is a great product, in my opinion. Many ASID members use Studio Webware and love it. The downside is that it is so feature-rich that it takes some time to learn how to fully utilize the product. The Professional version is $35 per user per month, and the Basic Version is $25 per user per month.
Additional features include project management in the Professional Version, and unlimited email support for the first year. Another great feature is Studio Project which allows you to collaborate and share information with your clients. This is a great feature that increases efficiency of communication. The software stores email threads related to particular products, which means that you have written documentation of approvals, conversations, etc.
Choosing the chassis for the infrastructure of your business is crucial. When you have a product that matches your processes, it may be difficult to learn in the beginning, but it will make your business run more smoothly in the long run — especially if you have a team. To paraphrase a great quote: “Do the hard things to make things easy, or the easy things to make things hard.”
A good rule of thumb for preparing for a software conversion is to budget five times the cost of the software for the costs of consulting, data entry and training. Allow at least 4 – 6 months to plan for the conversion, and save stress and time by hiring a consultant that knows the software you are planning to use. Your consultant should also understand the business of interior design. Plan to do a conversion at your fiscal year-end, or at least do it at the end of a month.
If you have an accountant or bookkeeper that prefers QuickBooks, it is likely you will be having an argument about switching to software that he or she does not know. Ultimately, however, it is crucial that you decide what is right for your business.
Gail Doby, ASID, is the CO-Founder and Chief Vision officer of Design Success University – your shortcut to a more profitable interior design business. Be sure to download your complimentary copy of the 2013 Interior Design Fee & Salary Survey eBook. ($179 Value)