Chris Lehmann has run Brisbane electrical services company Tradesmen on Time since 2010 and offers electrical and data services to the light commercial and domestic extension and renovation markets.

Chris moved his entire administration structure to cloud-based system i-man and says businesses that are slow to adopt digital management tools will not survive in today’s competitive environment.

“I don’t think people can go back,” he says.

“If you don’t have some type of digital or cloud component in your admin structure, you’re going to be competing against people who can operate from anywhere.

“And given today’s focus on speed and service, that’s an advantage that just can’t be overcome.”

Since the digital switch, Chris has been able to manage jobs from his laptop while on camping trips well off the beaten track, even from a houseboat on the McArthur River in the Northern Territory.

“I was on a fishing trip and at the end of each day we’d get back into service range and a flood of messages would come in and I’d work through them,” he says.

“I was dealing with tradies back in Queensland while a 5m saltwater croc swam around catching scraps off the boat.”

As well as flexibility in job management, the switch to i-man has delivered a much smoother administration workflow, says Chris.

When paper-based, Tradesmen on Time worked out of three overstuffed filing cabinets. Today, they need just two drawers of a single cabinet for hard copy employee documentation and licenses.

“The only thing we’ve got left in paper are my notes from our toolbox talks – which we later digitise anyway – and some employee files,” says Chris.

“You don’t need a big admin backend, once you’re comfortable with the software you can systemise so that most of your admin functions can just happen.”

Chris says Tradesmen on Time’s digital migration has also made them a more nimble operation, better able to manage costs and spend for greater impact.

The business minimised their commercial real estate footprint and got rid of its parts storage shed, instead used i-man’s digital stock control tools to buy parts and consumables on an as-needed basis.

Chris says the savings have gone into a better online brand and web presence, new uniforms and better-presented vehicles.

“Working in the cloud and working on your brand and marketing means you can compete with larger operations,” he says.

“That better presentation of our vehicles and uniforms has made a huge difference to our perception.

“It’s a reflection of what the market expects – the days of a tradie showing up in an old ute and wearing a grubby flannel are long gone.”

In mid-2014, Tradesmen on Time added Xero connectivity to their i-man setup, which allows for near real-time reporting of the business’s current financials.

Chris’s BAS statements are also automated through the connected system, freeing him from the time-consuming process of transposing his hard copy triplicate booklets and notes stapled to job sheets.

“It used to take me half a day but it’s all automated now,” he says. “Plus I’m much less likely to make a mistake and the system generates meaningful reports.”

Jobs and hours are also logged instantly in Xero, with each job’s i-man job number used as the purchase order for corresponding parts.

“As soon as I enter parts and labour into i-man, it goes into Xero, then I open two screens – one for Xero and one for i-man – to get a snapshot of my current financials,” says Chris.

“Not having that timely financial data – whether you’re a sole trader or you’ve got 70 employees – means things can go pear-shaped really quickly.

“Today we’re all facing more competition and tighter margins and so saving money on admin and overheads is vitally important.

“You’re going to adopt or you’re going out of business.”

Find out more about Tradesmen on Time via their website.

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