After investing time and money into the development and construction of a new self-storage facility, owners are then faced with choosing the right management software to run their business. But all too often, they rush into the purchase without taking into account whether the software fits their needs.
Because the self-storage model is unique, with tasks and reporting unlike other businesses, its management software must be designed to meet a facility's specific needs. Determining which program will best suit your requirements today and tomorrow can be a challenge. Here are 10 mistakes owners should avoid when purchasing management software.
Mistake No. 1: Buying Software too Late
You should purchase management software at least six months before you open a new self-storage property. When establishing your business phone number, Yellow Pages listing and ad, company website and business bank/merchant account, you should already be gearing up to accept inquiries on rentals, take customer contact information and reserve units.
Also, research and determine your business rules, including the terms of your rental agreement, whether you’re required to charge tax on rent or merchandise, or when you’ll expect rent to be due.
Mistake No. 2: Confusion About Software Terms
If you don’t understand the terms PC-based, Web-enabled and Web-based, you’ll have a difficult time making an informed decision about which management software program is best for your business.
PC-based software (also called Web-enabled or desktop) installs directly on a computer and does not need to be connected to other computers unless you wish to share the information. With this software, all company information belongs to the owner of the software license and resides at his business’ location. A user does not have to log onto the Internet to access the software. There are no purchases other than the software license with this software except occasional updates or service programs.
Web-based software (also called subscription-based, software on demand, software as a service or online software) requires an ongoing fee rather than a software license purchase. The business owner pays a monthly subscription fee to access company information via the Internet. The self-storage property information resides on the Web, not on a computer at the facility. If the user can’t connect to the Internet for whatever reason, he can’t operate the software.
PC-based/Web-enabled and Web-based software all run in Microsoft Windows operating system environments.
Mistake No. 3: Purchasing Software From a Hardware Company
The primary product of hardware companies is access-control hardware. They do not devote time and resources to management software like they do to their hardware products. They tend to have more limited and rigid software products as a result. Although these companies typically advertise themselves as a “one-stop solution,” in reality, they package their management software with their hardware to feed the hardware business.
Mistake No. 4: Allowing Software to Dictate Business Operations
You should always purchase a flexible management program that allows you to define and support your business rules and procedures according to your preferences. Many people purchase management software only to find they can’t operate the business the way they want. As a result, they end up adapting the business to the limitations of the software.
Mistake No. 5: Skimping on Features
Many self-storage owners skimp on important integrated add-on software, such as automatic credit-card payment processing and electronic check/ACH payment processing. As a result, the owner or manager must still run some aspects of the business manually, spending time, money and labor on tasks the software is designed to do.
Mistake No. 6: Buying Software That Doesn’t Interface With Your Other Systems
Many people select software without realizing it will not interface with their other business systems, including access control and gates, online payment options, kiosks, connectivity options for remote access and backup, electronic payment processing, photo identification and a host of other features that enable the owner to grow the software with the business.
Mistake No. 7: Restricted Payment Options
You need to provide convenient payment options that will result in timely payments and positive customer relationships. The software should allow tenants to make payments on your facility’s website 24/7, or through automatic credit card and ACH/electronic check processing. The more options you provide, the fewer excuses your tenants will have for missing a payment.
Mistake No. 8: Giving Managers too Much Access
Why not give your managers the keys and the checkbook? If your employees know you review the books on a regular basis, it serves as a deterrent to employee theft. Your level of familiarity with the management software should include knowing how to perform daily functions.
Your managers may not need to access all the reports your software can provide. Set up appropriate user profiles and passwords so employees can only access the features appropriate to their tasks and all transactions are tracked with their user identification.
Mistake No. 9: Limiting Knowledge to Software Fundamentals
Fifteen years ago, self-storage owners and managers only used management software to rent units and post payments. Now they use it for more than basic accounts-receivable tasks. Property managers can enter customer information into the software via driver’s license scanner hardware; track tenant types such as military, student, commercial/condo/apartment, commercial contractor, commercial law or medical, etc.; and communicate specifically to those individual customer types through targeted services and correspondences.
Language-specific correspondence, where a customer receives e-mails and letters in the language preferred, e-mail-based invoices and letters and rate-management systems increase the effectiveness of marketing a self-storage business and help maximize its revenue. The self-storage industry is far more mature and sophisticated now, and management software has added many features to support the varied demands of the industry.
Mistake No. 10: Partnering With the Wrong Software Provider
The total investment you make in hardware, software, people and training for your business is much larger than your investment in management software, but the quality of the relationship you build with your software provider is essential to the successful operation of your business. A good software tool along with a responsive, knowledgeable, honest and helpful provider will ensure your long-term success.
Tom Garden is president and Alison Kiesa is the marketing director for Syrasoft Management Software, a provider of Web-enabled software and technical support to the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.817.7706; visit www.syrasoft.com.