An Office in the Clouds

Adding automated business software can make day-to-day duties smarter and faster.

By William Wagner

Water well contractors don’t tend to get into the business for a love of office work. Many view the administrative aspect as a necessary evil and think about it as little as possible.

Slowly—very slowly—but surely, however, drilling companies are finding real value in cloud-based administrative software. Those who have embraced it have reaped tangible benefits including scheduling efficiencies, an enhanced ability to track progress on jobsites, the ease of taking credit card payments onsite, and figuring out what’s working and what isn’t with their business model thanks to online feedback from customers.

“Especially this year with the strong demand we’ve seen across the groundwater market, drillers would probably rather spend their time putting new products in the ground than worrying about scheduling and following up on invoices and all the administration that comes with the business,” says McLean Karr of Franklin Electric in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“What’s so nice about these systems is they can automate a lot of the workflow. For instance, when it comes to following up with a client who hasn’t paid you yet, this software can schedule that follow-up or even send automated emails or text messages. It takes a lot off the well driller’s plate. There are a lot of contractors who’ve spent more time than they care to think about chasing down people to pay them.”

Despite the advantages of administrative software, adoption has been relatively slow; Karr estimates that only about 10% of well drillers have taken a deep dive into using it. Part of the reluctance comes down to the nature of the well drilling industry, and part of it is generational.

“In cities, where maybe there’s been a little more competition or the customer is expecting you to be a little more connected, there’s more pressure to adopt the new practices,” says Karr, who has conducted workshops on the benefits of utilizing administrative software, including a session during the virtual Groundwater Week in 2020. “In the more rural areas, where people are on home water wells, that pressure isn’t the same.

“Many of these (well drilling operations) are family-run businesses. If you’re planning to hand over the business to the next generation, it might be a good idea to get that next generation using this software. There’s a big opportunity for sons and daughters who are coming up to help their parents implement these systems. It’s something we’ve seen with a number of customers—the mom and dad kind of run things the way they’ve always run them. They might not even have a smartphone. And then they wind up saying, ‘I let Junior run this, and now he’s doing all these things that I don’t have to do, and it’s easier for me to step away and slow down.”

Before the era of administrative software, it was hard for a business owner to step away for even a brief period.

“A generation ago, everyone was pretty much tied to the business,” Karr says. “There wasn’t ever a good time to travel, unless the ground was completely frozen. Now being a little more connected with this technology, they can feel a little more comfortable about going on vacation because they’re still able to see what’s going on with their business (via online tools).”

A Variety of Options

A variety of software programs are out there—Jobber, Service Titan, QuickBooks Online, and many more. The National Ground Water Association has caught the technological wave, too, with its Drilling Cost Calculator App which recently debuted.

The app is very similar to NGWA’s original Drilling Cost Calculator which enables contractors to input all their costs for drilling a new water well and how much revenue they want to generate to determine how much to charge per foot to earn that revenue.

The original calculator used multiple Excel files which tied contractors to their desk and office, but with the mobile app, contractors can find out their true cost of doing business and set profit levels for their company needs anywhere.

Partridge Well Drilling Co. Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida, has used cloud-based computing for its company for several years. Its president, Merritt Partridge, even taught a session at Groundwater Week 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada, called “Useful Online Tools and Applications for Well Drilling Businesses.”

In it, Partridge, the president of NGWA’s Board of Directors, discussed how cloud-based business software can not only aid in scheduling, but quote requests, service notes, and storing jobsite photos and videos. He discussed the ease of making a change one time and having it recorded in multiple places by sharing an example of making a last-minute schedule change on his iPad at home and having it recorded and changed on all the company’s computers at the office for his team.

The right product or products for you will depend on the nature of your business. For example, Jobber is a good fit for smaller shops, maybe those with a dozen employees or less. Service Titan, meanwhile, is a viable option for larger companies that have several dozen employees. But either way, the advantages can be enormous.

“It’s good for just keeping track of your customers and getting away from a file cabinet,” Karr says. “You can look at a customer in your system and say, ‘This is what I installed. This is when I installed it. This is who on my crew installed it.’ It’s all right there—contact information, photos, special notes. Everything about a customer can be stored in one location. There are a lot of little things that you see folks writing on Post-It Notes and sticking somewhere in a file or on a wall. This type of organization saves a lot of time.”

And time, of course, is money. Cloud-based administrative software enables you to grow your business, or at least fully optimize it, in ways you might never have imagined. Karr cites an example:

“A lot of people will find not only value but also insights about how they’re running their business—where they’re making their money, what their best types of jobs are. They might even say, ‘Outside of this radius, I’m going to have to add an extra charge, because now I know how much fuel it takes to get out there.’”

Overcoming the Barriers

Some potential users of this technology are scared off by its complexity, which is a legitimate concern, especially for those who only dabble in computers. Karr points out, however, that each iteration of the software typically becomes a bit more user friendly and intuitive.

Another barrier has often been cost—the software programs aren’t free. But that, too, isn’t as big an issue as it might seem. Says Karr, “You have to pay for the software every year, but it does continually get updated, and it has other ways to unlock value (through everything it can do).”

In the long run, the research you’ll have to put into finding the right software and then the potential headaches and extra cash outlay involved in implementing and mastering it are worthwhile. It’s almost certain to pay for itself—and then some.

“A lot of people don’t want to spend their time doing the admin to keep the business running,” Karr says. “And that’s where you see the great gains with this.”

Thad Plumley contributed to this feature story

Drilling Cost Calculator App Is Now Available from NGWA
The Drilling Cost Calculator App is now available from the National Ground Water Association.

Created through Franklin Electric’s support of The Groundwater Foundation, it is truly an express version of a tool originally created by NGWA in 2007. It is intended for easy estimating of individual jobs or to capture monthly and quarterly profitability snapshots.

NGWA introduced the Drilling Cost Calculator in Excel format 14 years ago. Created through a group effort of professional contractors, it sought to capture every type of expense a business could incur as well as every cost any employee performing any specific job. It was intended to provide a business owner with a comprehensive tool to include every expenditure—and it was also designed so estimates and invoices could be generated.

It required considerable time to do the setup to achieve its purpose, as each user needed to enter their specific costs, but was an extremely effective tool. While not as comprehensive as the original, the App provides contractors with quick estimating capabilities, especially in a time of rapidly changing product prices.

Contractors must again enter their specific costs or estimates to determine profitability and can then use a slider to determine options for them to increase their profitability.

The Drilling Cost Calculator App can be downloaded in the Apple App Store and Google Play for Android devices.

Learn About the App at Groundwater Week 2021
Find out how NGWA’s Drilling Cost Calculator App can help your business at Groundwater Week 2021. On December 16, the App will be the subject of an Activity Area session in the Exhibit Hall. The session will take place from 12:30-1:30 p.m.

William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area, and can be reached at william.wagner7@gmail.com.