Portable Sanitation Requires more than QuickBooks® Offers – Here’s Why

When it comes to computer automation within your portable sanitation business, it is so appealing to follow the Siren call: “Just get QuickBooks.” Your neighbors say it, and your accountant may say it. But if you plan to grow your business, there are serious limitations you need to be aware of and overcome, sooner rather than later.

As your business grows and you cross the 100-unit boundary, and certainly the closer you get to 300 units, the more you need industry-specific systems in place to address the unique challenges facing this business.

Challenge #1: Billing

The main reason customers leave is that they can’t understand your billing. So you better get it right! Even so, this is not a single challenge; there are multiple challenges wrapped up in the single heading “billing”. When using QuickBooks (which we will refer to as “QB” for simplicity), you may have to manually compute the following and touch each account that you are billing each month:
• Billing dates (“from” and “to”)
• Pro-ration amounts (for delivery or pickup)
• Additional charges, such as damage waivers, mileage or fuel, disposal or environmental, etc.
• Minimums
• Credits back for early pickup (previous advanced billing)
• Billing cycle dates

The last we looked, QB does not automatically roll the “from” and “to” dates for your “memorized” transactions. In any case, 28-day billing (very common now) may not fit their mold. QB cannot handle various billing methods, such as 28-day, monthly, per occurrence, weekly, quarterly, etc. That leaves you checking your calendar and changing the dates on every invoice before you can bill.

Most portable sanitation companies pro-rate deliveries and/or pickups. For example, if your normal billing is March 1 through March 28, delivery on March 15 would only bill for 14 days from delivery to the end of the period (inclusive). Are you going to manually calculate the amounts? QB won’t. That leaves some in the industry pro-rating according to weeks, since the calculations are simpler, but then you are left with the potential argument with your customer: is 15 days 2 weeks or 3 weeks?

Further, if you bill some of the additional charges listed, they may pro-rate the same as rental items, or they may be a percentage of invoice total. That again leaves you figuring out billing for each job site each month. Aggravations like these may lead you to restrictive policies, such as disallowing pro-rations altogether. Unfortunately, that opens the door for those with more customer-friendly policies to capture your customers and shrink your business.

The same applies to the other points listed. Bottom line: To retain your customers, you have to present reasonable charges, clearly explained, and this leads to getting paid on time from happier customers.

Challenge #2: Routing

QB does not do routing…Period! Google® maps let you route 25 stops…Period!
With 40 stops for typical portable restroom routes, you will need special tools to “connect the dots” in the most efficient manner possible. Why is this important?

Consider the cost of your truck. Now consider the cost of labor. Driving more miles, taking more time, and leaving the sequence of service stops to the convenience of your technicians will not (in almost all cases) lead to the most profitable route arrangements possible. Inefficiency costs you money!

Unfortunately, QB is silent on this issue.

Challenge #3: Inventory Control

QB is built upon the distribution or sales model. There is no rental inventory tracking, so you need to manage that yourself. What is projected available for July 4? Who last had unit #123? QB won’t tell you.

Challenge #4: Scheduling

QB has no scheduling capabilities. (Add-ons may be available from other parties.) Although akin to Routing, scheduling in this sense means planned deliveries, pickups, or special event services that have to be tracked to ensure they are performed as required. To miss any of these field actions would cause serious repercussions from your customers, and that can damage your reputation and impact future business in an unquantifiable manner. You won’t even know the revenue you missed since those customers went elsewhere.

In Summary

If you plan to grow your business, you need to think smart from the beginning. Some tools, such as QuickBooks, may get you going, but you have to plan for addressing the limitations and how your business will manage to seamlessly grow beyond those limits.

The gap can be bridged by retaining QB for your “back office” expense accounting and financial reporting, while obtaining industry-specific software for your “front office” customer and operations management functions. Rather than trying to keep “two sets of books”, you let each system specialize where they excel and have your “sales” system post its revenue into your “financial” system.

Planning ahead can save many growing pains while keeping your company profitable and customer-responsive.

Mark Billings is Senior Engineer at Ritam Technologies, LLC, with 38 years of industry experience providing software and support. He can be reached at mark@ritam.com

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