When Brad Beldon needs to find a work order he doesn’t shuffle through papers or riffle through folders. Instead, he uses an online cloud storage system accessible via computer of mobile device that’s lets him find what he needs through a Google-like search whether he’s at the office, on the road or at home.

“We don’t worry about looking for a lost piece of paper,” said Beldon, CEO of the Beldon Group. “It’s always there, and it’s always searchable.”

Putting work documents in the cloud is just one example of how contractors can use technology to make workers more efficient and business more profitable, say experts. And they add, judicious use of technology can also boost credibility with customers.

“There’s a way you can use technology to really help your brand image,” said Dawn Cannon, executive vice president of bank operations for EnerBank USA who also handles IT operations.

Along with putting documents in the cloud, here are 5 more simple ways contractors can use technology to their advantage.

  1. Use and share online calendars. Beldon, who gives all employees tablets, also asks them to put their schedules on the calendar and share them with the company — including personal calendars. That way, everyone can see where conflicts exist and schedule around them accordingly. “Email and calendars are two huge things people take for granted,” he says. “But if you become proficient at them, it’s a huge help.” Most devices come with built in calendars already, so implementing this technology is simple and inexpensive.
  2. Introduce customers to existing technology. For example, Cannon says HVAC contractors can add a lot of value and credibility just by offering customers smart home technology such as the Nest thermostat. Nest, which is owned by Google, can be operated by an app and uses motion sensors and other technology to “learn” how people like to heat and cool their homes. It then provides a monthly summary of energy usage. “The homeowner feels like they’ve gotten a lot of value and the contractor has had to do virtually nothing to offer it,” Cannon said.
  3. Look for technology that’s tailored to the industry. When it comes to book keeping, many contractors simply use off the shelf software, such as QuickBooks, says John Mike, national marketing manager for Allied Building Products Corp. But there’s more specialized software specifically designed for contractors to help them better manage their profit and loss, material and labor costs and operational overhead. “So many guys never know where they really stand,” Mike said. “They can easily spend more than they have and overdraft their checking accounts.”
  4. Ask industry partners for solutions. Mike says many manufacturers and distributors offer tailor-made apps and programs to help contractors sell more efficiently. For example, his company offers roofers satellite imagery technology that can compute measurements and materials list without the contractor having to leave the office. It then produces a customized estimate complete with roof photos and dimensions contractors can give customers. Mike says many other programs exist for the taking, and encourages contractors to investigate the different offerings. “We’re used to customers shopping us for materials,” he said. “It’s no different with technology.”
  5. Remember, there’s an app for that. Beldon says contractors have a multitude of apps to choose from to streamline work and take advantage of mobile flexibility. He points to a $99 app he uses for workplace safety audits. Along with allowing mobile job site inspections, the app uploads data to a server where Beldon can track trends — and address issues before they become accidents. “The more data you have available to you at your fingertips, the better you can be at addressing issues in your company,” he said. “And by addressing those issues your customers ultimately get a better product.”

While technology shows a lot of promise, Beldon and others encourage contractors to adopt it slowly and with a fair amount of skepticism. The best advice, they say is to talk to other contractors about what’s working for them. Another approach is to use free solutions, such as Google Docs for putting documents in the cloud, before paying for more robust, specialized options.
But the biggest mistake most contractors are making today seems to be disregarding technology all together. As more and more customers and employees come to expect technology solutions, Mike says contractors must come on board.

“You can’t ignore this,” he said. “You’re either on the tech bus or you’re under it.”