Software. Probably not your favorite item to buy, nor is it your favorite project in which to invest your time. Over the past couple of decades, software has come and gone. Just a few years ago, this magazine had an article comparing the software that was available then. All have changed or died. With technology, its a matter of continually updating to stay ahead of the competition or face death.
Its also a matter of the end-user using it or falling hopelessly
behind to become stagnant and eventually to disappear. If you are
a small business and you still have to wear the technology hat,
i.e. you cant delegate it to someone else on payroll, then
pay attention! In the 21st century, technology is not a choice.
You have to learn about it. You have to start using it. You have
to keep it updated. Otherwise, your future success is in great jeopardy.
As I write this, I have just returned from the International Window
Coverings Expo in Baltimore (see page 26). I watched demonstrations
by five different vendors of software, and there were more than
that there! As I stood and watched, I could see where each had its
own little niche to make them stand out but, in several cases, the
end product would be the same or would accomplish the same purpose.
Its not just what you want that end product to be, but how
you get there that is important.
Before you look at any software, you must know what your needs are.
Technology was created to save time, so you must know where you
need to save it. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What takes you too much time to do? For instance, how long
does it take you to create an estimate?
What processes are you not good at or dont like? For
What do you not do but should be doing to stay on top of
your business? For instance, monthly or quarterly profit and loss
Do you need help to communicate better with the customer
and to close a sale faster? For instance, your customer cannot visualize
and must see the exact treatment to make a decision.
Do you need more professional paperwork to add to the perceived
value of your quality?
These are a few questions to get you started. Simply, do you need
help in selling, estimating yardage, estimating the selling price
and keeping on top of your business finances?
USER FRIENDLY OR NOT?
As I watched the software demonstrations, I did so trying to see
through the eyes of a purchaser. From my frequent conversations
with customers, I know that too many still have little to no software
experience. These new products must be user friendly, but everybody
thinks differently in how they process information in their minds.
Here are some questions and thoughts that you should consider before
investing in software.
How experienced are you with software? Is software easy to
understand for you? As I watched the demonstrations, I realized
in at least one case that some of the tools used were exactly like
what I am accustomed to using in graphics software. Because I already
have great experience there, I wondered how easy the process would
be for the novice.
Will it address your needs as discussed above?
Will it generate the forms, images or photographs and tools
that you envision would help you?
Would some of what it produces be nice bonuses?
Is the thought process used comfortable for you? If not,
is it because you are not used to any software or is it more due
to how you personally process your information?
I have no accounting background to speak of. When I invested in
QuickBooks Pro, I was totally lost. I just dont normally think
the way that software works. I paid a tutor. It was money well spent
because it has become an essential part of my business operation.
Thus, even if the software is difficult or costly to learn, it may
bring greater value to your business than the initial time and cost
spent. Use your comfort level to choose between software that does
essentially the same thing.
What is familiar about the processes that could make you
more comfortable in the learning process?
How much time will it take to input your information? Remember,
in order to make a program work well for you, you must invest your
time to learn it and to input the necessary information. How often
will the information have to be updated and will it take less time
than the initial entry process? For example, when you raise your
prices the next time, will it be an easy process to do in the program?
When you add a treatment, will it be easy to do?
Will you have to pay for updates to your program? Can you
skip an update and then still be able to update with the next version?
For years I used CorelDraw 3.0 and then my Windows 98 computer died.
I had to upgrade to CorelDraw 10.0 in order to have it run on Windows
XP. If I had waited for the soon-to-be-released Version 11.0, I
would not have been able to upgrade my old 3.0 version to it. I
would have had to buy it brand new.
Can it be customized? This is important whether you are dealing
with graphics or estimating yardage and pricing. Because we are
all creative, no one program can possibly have all your creations
in it. Is the customization process easy? If its not possible
to customize, will it handle the largest percentage of what you
do? That could still make it an invaluable program.
Can you import and export information with other software
like QuickBooks Pro or Microsoft Word or Excel? If not, is it still
usable and still a big timesaver anyway?
Are other software programs essential-to-use software? This
is an obstacle for many, especially the novice. Until you get and
try to use a program, you do not know how it will work and how easy
it will be for you to use. On the other hand, tried-and-true software
will not likely have bugs, which are likely in a totally new program.
If you are watching a demonstration, pay close attention
to how the product is being demonstrated. If the demonstrator is
doing all kinds of unrelated processes, then you have no real idea
of how long the total process for a real treatment would take.
It is a totally legitimate question to ask the demonstrator to start
from scratch and go through the whole process. In fact, take a real
example, including lots of frills with you to the next trade show.
Pay attention to how fast the demonstrator accomplishes the task.
He or she will have to work slower to accommodate the audience so
it will be more like the time it will take you when you start learning.
Also watch the process closely to determine if each process makes
sense to you. If it does, then your learning process will be easier.
Do not be afraid to ask to have a process repeated. Remember that
at a show, the demonstrator is going to be asked all kinds of questions
and will be prone to stray from the task at hand to show off all
the bells and whistles. Be patient and gently bring the demonstrator
back to your task.
As you are watching a demonstration or evaluating software
via Internet or a phone call, learn how many steps are required
to create the final project for presentation. The more steps, the
more time used. Also keep in mind that they may be easy, fast steps
that take only a nanosecond for you to do with experience.
Graphics software are the newest kids on the block. Here are some
things to consider:
Be sure the graphics can be done to scale.
Coloring is being done, so ask how fast it can be done. Do
you have to color each individual item separately even if they are
the same color, or can you select a group of objects to color in
one step? Is this group limited in what could be included? Suppose
you want the under draperies and the lining of the cascades and
jabots to be the same color. Can this be done in one step?
Can you import fabrics, and how easy is that to do? Where
do you get the fabrics? In other words, are they included in the
software, somewhere on the Internet or do you import them yourself?
Do you need a scanner? Will the fabrics import to scale?
Do you really need color/fabric/exact room settings to close
your sales? In other words, do you need all the extras offered by
one software over another?
Are you satisfied with how the drawings are rendered? Are
they organized the way you would find most helpful? Do you need
to see everything at one time or do you need them organized into
folders? Do you like to start with something already created and
then take away, or would you rather create from scratch yourself?
Does the software enable you to do both?
Is there a return policy on the software? Most non-industry
software is not returnable, but some of the vendors I saw, if not
all, were offering this option. Are you ready to commit your time
to make a conscience effort to learn the software in the time frame
Ask about customer support. How is it done? How fast is it?
Is there a charge? Is it convenient for you?
If at all possible, ask to look at the instructional material.
How is it presented? Is it a hard copy, the Help tool in the program,
or a CD? Start reading to understand. Can you understand the terminology
and what it is asking you to do? Can you get a tutorial and how
much is it? How does its presentation differ from what comes with
Is there a hard copy or book? When you are talking graphics
many, if not most, people want a printed book of all the possible
treatment options. If you have to print a hard copy yourself, will
it be easy or too time consuming?
As I watched the software demonstrations, I could see that each
had a different approach to some degree in how they operated. It
is up to you, the purchaser to understand your thought processes
and experience and match them as best you can with the appropriate
software. Accept that there will be a learning curve regardless
of how well suited the software may or may not be to your personality.
You also must invest time. Pretend you are taking formal classes
and set aside a regular specific time and day for your class, and
treat it as important as a customer appointment.
Software will save you time if it fills a need you have. Most of
you are so busy that any savings of time would be a benefit. To
paraphrase an old saying, It takes time to save time!
You may not be able to see a live demonstration, but you do have
some good questions to ask. Make your list of needs and start your
research on software. A good place to start is the Buyers
Guide & Directory on the D&WC Web site (www.DWConline.com).
That means turning the computer on and getting on the Internet!
Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 26-year veteran of the drapery
workroom industry. Having owned drapery workrooms
as one person and as a company of nine, she is now president of Workroom
Concepts a consulting firm offering educational resources to the
industry on its Web site (
www.workroomconcepts.com ). Her experience
in both the retail and wholesale window covering arenas has contributed
to her success as a business consultant. A professional speaker and
writer, she has authored several industry products including Order
in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications and Price
Your Work with Confidence, available