The quick and dirty guide to choosing shop management software

February 28th, 2017

For years, I helped manage a growing shop (1m revenue) that sold a ton of different products. We did screen-printed t-shirts and embroidery, signs and large format printing, and offset/digital paper printing. Screen printing and embroidery were about 35% of sales. We were operating on 100% paper handwritten job tickets before implementing any management software. When we started down this road, we identified the list below as the main set of features we wanted.

What I wanted in shop management software

A better system for pricing our work

  • Ability to estimate all of the products in the same system

    • Signs and Banners

    • Screen Printed Shirts

    • Embroidery

    • Promotional Products (subcontracted)

  • Needed to be easy enough that any employee could create a quote

One place to track the production of all our orders

  • What jobs we had, and what stage were they at

  • Tracking time and cost associated with each job

  • Associating artwork with a particular order

  • Needed to be easy to use for our other employees

Ability to sync with Quickbooks

  • We used QuickBooks for accounting for over 15 years, so making the switch to a different accounting system was not an option.

  • Ability to import invoices and payments into Quickbooks automatically

Proofing portal for client artwork

  • Somehow we would lose track of proofs at times between emails or customers coming in - proofs would be out a lot longer than they should have been

  • The ability to upload a proof and automatically be notified when a customer approves or rejects it

  • Trying to find a piece of software to manage all those was a nightmare. Let me know if this rings bells for you.

  • I researched a ton of solutions (100s of hours).

  • I demoed at least 20 different solutions.

  • And I actually purchased 2 before finding the current solution.

Some things to consider when shopping for this type of software

  • Your Size? There are a ton of different solutions in this industry. Some are better for smaller shops, others for larger shops.

  • Your Growth? Does the software have the ability to expand as you grow your business, or are you stuck with the same features?

  • Your Budget? How much can you actually afford to spend? Is the software priced per module (estimation, management, etc.), or is it all in one?

  • Needs vs. Wants? Figure out what your actual needs are right now. If you're like me, at some point, you'll get enticed by awesome features that, in reality, you'll very rarely use.

  • Focus on the core part of the solution you're considering. You'll be spending a lot of time with this software in the future, so it's good to have something you enjoy working with.

  • Pricing Model? What pricing model is best for your business? Monthly subscription vs. upfront charge and support fee. Contracts? Do you have to sign a support contract?

  • Implementation? How long does it really take to get the software set up for your shop and your model? Do they provide assistance during setup? What does the training consist of?

  • Ongoing support? I think support is the number one issue in software. How much support is provided? What is additional? How do you get in touch with support? How long does it take them to respond?

Here’s a step-by-step checklist

  1. Develop a list of your needs - what features you have to have and others that would be beneficial.

  2. Gather a list of the possible solutions that fit your needs

  3. Study their websites, pricing models, features, etc

  4. Create your short list of 4-5 solutions

  5. Take a webinar, free trial, or demo with all of those solutions

  6. Ask to speak to some of their customers who actually use the software - or better yet, find someone on your own who uses it and get their feedback

  7. Wait a day or two - let the initial excitement of the software fade before making a decision

  8. Then make your decision and jump full-steam ahead - commit to it 100% - the software is no good to you if your whole team is not using it

What to watch out for - errors I made in the process

I rushed into our first purchase of shop management software.

Do not do this. We were growing at a good clip month over month, so tracking jobs was a huge issue when we looked at the software for the first time. We got caught up dreaming about how nice it would be if our issues were solved instead of focusing on the actual merits/implementation of the software. This mistake cost us over $3k.

I didn’t consider the time and cost of implementation.

No matter which software you select, you will have to do some leg work. You will have to spend some serious time setting any software up and getting it tuned to your shop. It helps to figure out things like your shop rate, overhead burden, labor costs, etc. With the last purchase we made, we actually planned it out to implement in our slowest month of the year. That way, we had some more time to devote to getting set up and our team trained.

I overlooked the importance of having your whole team involved.

The first and second times around, we made the mistake of conducting the process without including our whole team. We chose software based on what we wanted instead of what was good for the whole team. We wanted two different things. We wanted accurate data and control over the whole shop. They wanted something simple - easy to use. Something that allowed them to do their jobs better and made them more enjoyable. Make sure your people are involved in the process from the start. Get them to buy in and take ownership of the project.

You need some help

I've been where you're at.If you've read this far, then you've probably already spent a lot of time researching this problem.

If you want some help or real advice on the software you're considering for your shop, join a webinar with our team.

Our sales team is full of straight shooters who have a real sign and print industry experience. All of them got their start in a shop just like yours. They won’t bullshit you - if shopVOX is not a good fit for your business - they’ll tell you.