10 Tips for Purchasing Software
How investing in construction accounting software is like buying a car
by Fred Ode

Purchasing your first construction accounting software program is a lot like buying your first car. It's a practical purchase, for sure. You need it. You know it will make your life—or in this case, business—run more smoothly. Just because it's a practical purchase does not mean it's a simple decision, though. The list of extra features can be huge and overwhelming. If you're not careful, it's easy to overspend on something your company may not need.

Below are several tips to help you transition into your first accounting software system so smoothly that you will feel like you're cruising at full speed.

1. Do the research

Purchasing an accounting system is a major investment, so don't speed through this first step. Search for quality vendors. Gather information. Interview personnel in your company that will directly use or require reports from the system. Start with everyone in your company who enters, processes or analyzes accounting data. What do they need? Why do they need it? What parts of your current system work? What doesn't? Be sure to talk to employees both in the office and in the field. Their needs may be totally different, but you'll need buy-in from both groups once you purchase a system. It's also important to create two detailed lists: one with critical system features and a wish list. Talk directly with vendors.

2. Set up a test drive

Online demos are wonderful tools to use during the information gathering stage, but nothing beats seeing the system work in person. Getting acquainted with the look and feel of a system will tell you about its ease of use and how technologically current it is.

Set up live demonstrations with each vendor you're interested in. Be sure to include key members of your team so that everyone can see the software packages in action.

3. Ask the sales representative

Don't be afraid to interrupt the demo to ask questions. It should be more of a conversation than a presentation. Make them show you the processes involved in creating that report, reversing an invoice or posting payroll. Do they ask questions about your company's software needs?

4. Check user references

Vendors should willingly supply you with the names and phone numbers of several clients you can contact that are currently using their accounting system. When calling references, be prepared with a list of questions to ask the clients. It is advisable to call a minimum of three references to get an accurate picture of how users truly feel about the software.

5. Check professional references

Ask for a list of professionals with whom the vendor works, such as CPA firms with a strong construction focus. They will be able to give you advice from a different perspective.

6. Be wary of vendors who trash talk

Friendly competition is to be expected between vendors. However, persistent bashing and bad-mouthing should signal a red flag. Be wary of any vendor that uses unscrupulous methods to get your business.

7. Use reviews with caution

There are several trade publication reviews and guides available for purchase that critique accounting software. Although these can be helpful as a research starting point, the information found in many reviews are supplied by the vendors themselves with little-to-no verification of accuracy. Don't base your buying decision solely on a review.

8. Check out support services

The perfect software won't help your business at all if your staff isn't properly trained and supported. Analyze each vendor's training program and support department. Do they provide toll-free, unlimited support? How many representatives are on staff? What training options are available? Is training included in the price? How quickly are support calls returned? Ask for reports on their support statistics.

9. Don't just go with the big name brand

Just because you may know several contractors that use a certain well-known package doesn't mean that it will necessarily work for your business. Buying a system on name alone doesn't guarantee its success. Your company is unique. Find the choice that is right for you, be it a big player or a small startup.

10. Get it in writing

If you are asking for a unique feature or service, make certain to get in writing the details of what you are purchasing. A verbal mention or promise of your special request will mean nothing after the sale is final.

Keep these 10 tips in mind to ensure that you get the software program that is right for your company. Doing the research before you purchase will also cement that you're going to get everything you want from the software, right now and in the future.

Just like your car—if you continue to take care of your software properly, it will be able to drive your office for years to come.