How to find the best software solution for your growing print & embroidery shop

You’ve grown your custom apparel business from a one-person operation to a thriving small shop. You’ve expanded your client base, team, turnover, and premises.  You soon realize that you’ve even outgrown your old processes. It’s time to improve your workflow; to find ways to minimize errors and improve efficiency.  You want to keep growing, to process a higher volume of orders with a better profit margin and less stress for yourself and your crew.  Besides, who doesn’t want happier customers, a happier team and more money in the bank?

Business software is a great place to start. It’s devised to simplify our complex lives by allowing us to automate manual, error-prone tasks and save the valuable time of chasing information or correcting those errors.  Even so, finding the right software for your business can be overwhelming with so many factors to take into consideration.  This step-by-step guide aims to make the decision-making process that much easier for you.

1. Analyze

Take a good, hard look at your existing processes and workflow.  What tasks in your shop take the most time, create the most frustration, or regularly end in confusion?  What are the most common causes of errors on an order?  Question everything and consult with your team. Track the time it takes to do your most repetitive tasks, such as creating quotes, processing orders, creating mockups, purchasing garments, shipping out completed orders, taking payments from customers, etc.  Ask yourself what tasks could be automated, and what information could be better communicated or recorded?  This will bring to light areas that can benefit from support systems, staff additions, or better communication.  

From this research, make a list of desired traits for support tools in your critical roles and categorize these traits according to how vital they are to improving that workflow.  Know what tools are essential to improve running your shop, and think about the tools that would be ideal but that you may be willing to compromise. Make sure the software supports your decoration methods natively and has the ability to grow with your business.

2. Research

Compile a list of software providers that you think will meet your needs.  Though Google can be your friend at the beginning, seek recommendations from industry peers, partners, or suppliers.  Visit the websites, social media accounts, and blogs of the software providers whose products address the traits you’ve identified in your analysis.  Read reviews and customer testimonials from those that use the software daily.  Rate the options against your goals and ask yourself these important questions about the software solution and the company that offers it. Does the software company make regular improvements and add new features based on customer feedback?  What have users said about their experience with the software recently?

Make sure to look into the support resources and coaching offered to help you through the initial setup and the transition, so that you can make the most of the software.  The ecosystem surrounding the software is a big part of the value proposition of any suite.  Doing this research will avoid you investing time and money in software that isn’t the right fit.

Beware of features that are more about style than substance.  Improving your workflow with a robust software solution that matches your needs is crucial to finding a valuable, long-lasting solution. Once you check off as many of those necessary tools from your list as possible, refine your list down to your top 2 or 3 solutions.

3. Verify the value

Some software contracts can be painful to leave, particularly once you make an initial investment.  Lock-in contracts can trap you into software that may not deliver on its promises or doesn’t end up suiting your needs.  Compare the different plans and payment options.  Consider the costs, but remember how much money you could make or save with the efficiency gains. Tools that will help you grow and reach your goals may well be worth your investment, paying for themselves over time, while cheap tools that don’t adequately address your issues don’t provide solid value.

4. Testing, testing

Now that you have a shortlist of providers and questions, it’s time to see the software in action.   Ensure that cloud-based software works well on different device types, i.e. desktop, tablet, and mobile. Monitoring and running your business on the go shouldn’t require special equipment.  Make sure you check the reliability of the software to ensure that the platform runs smoothly, as downtimes can disrupt the running of your business at a crucial time.  Watch demo and how-to videos, but check whether there is a webinar scheduled soon or a demonstration at a local trade show or event; this kind of demo will give you a chance to ask pertinent questions for your particular workflow.   If you can’t attend a demo, make contact with your shortlist companies to see if they offer a personal demo tour where you can go over your queries.

5. Decision time

Evaluate the options and consider which one best meets your needs. With all of your lists considered, a solid demonstration of features and a complete calculation of the costs and values involved, it’s time to make a choice. If you’re still in doubt consult any key team members who will be using the software most. Involving them in the decision-making process will empower and motivate them to be more receptive to the change. 

When ready to proceed, contact your choice and make the purchase, making sure to schedule with them for any training sessions or check-ins that your selected provider offers. Take note of any support materials and documentation for your start-up that the company offers and leave yourself and staff time for training to make sure you have ample time before you plan to go live.

6. Initiate Implimintation

Communication with your team is key to the success of implementing the new software.  When letting your team know that you will be using new software to run your shop, respond directly to their feedback from the analysis phase and explain the coming improvements and the training schedule that the transition requires.  Make sure you’ve done your training to administer the system, and once you are ready, arrange all the appropriate training for each department, making sure everyone is confident with the basics they need to start using the system.  You may face some resistance as your team adapts to new ways of doing things, so stay positive by reminding them of the long-term benefits and how growing the business opens up new opportunities for everyone.

7. Seek Support

You will, no doubt, need help integrating the new software into your business.  A good software provider wants you to succeed and get the most from their product, so they will have resources available to ease you through the process.  If you can’t find the solution yourself, you will need to know how to ask for support as this could mean the difference between successfully implementing the new software and giving up prematurely.  

Ensure that your questions and concerns can be addressed; the best providers will have one or more of the following channels available for support

  • A help ticket system integrated into the software.
  • A live, local support team available via direct call or chat.
  • A community forum to search for posts that relate to your query, monitored by officials from the company.
  • How-to videos, guides, and help articles that demonstrate key processes and tasks.

8. Embrace change

To get the most out of your new business management tool, you’ll have to allow for some alteration from the way you have been doing business.  Rather than try to warp the system to make the system fit your original methods and structures, seek out the best methods to utilize the new tools and grow your business. Focus on the big picture and the long-term benefits as there will certainly be some short-term discomfort.  

You’ll be able to celebrate the wins once you compare the time it now takes to do a task that was slowing you down. There’s nothing wrong in justifying the value in your investment, but make sure you are giving yourself time to adjust. Keep in touch with the provider and your industry peers through forums or social media channels to exchange ideas, make suggestions and share your experiences with the community.

Success depends on using the software and making sure it’s fully implemented; follow through and keep at it. No tool is without a learning curve, but if you keep in touch with your provider and fellow users, you are much more likely to make a difference in your shop.

To learn more about DecoNetwork and what the right business productivity software can do for your business, visit www.deconetwork.com.

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