Going to the Cloud

A bustling job site with plumbers, electricians, carpenters and roofers can be a difficult place to manage a contracting business, but construction contractors do this daily.  Under that dusty hard hat is someone who is always juggling the paperwork involved for the job on-site including the order forms, delivery notices and last-minute changes demanded by the architect. This is a paperwork nightmare for someone sitting behind a desk in a comfortable office, let alone someone making business decisions standing on the site of a half-built house.

But that’s the reality on a daily basis for thousands of construction contractors in the U.S., and the paperwork is growing as the housing market recovers. New construction began in January on the highest number of U.S. single-family houses in more than four years and permits for future projects climbed, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. This sets the stage for construction to keep adding to economic growth in 2013. Total housing starts could reach 1 million at an annualized rate this year, ending years of sluggish growth and adding jobs across the industry.

That’s great news for the construction industry, but it also means a bigger workload for contractors. Along with new homebuilding growth, mortgage rates near historic lows are spurring existing homeowners to release cash to renovate their properties, further driving demand for contractor expertise. Residential construction contributed to gross domestic product in 2012 for the first time in seven years, and a strong recovery was seen in the South and West.

This increased demand in the housing construction market may mean more and more contractors are working less from the office and more from the field, complicating the challenge of managing essential tasks like answering and responding to phone calls in a timely manner or sending and receiving signed contracts. Just as contractors need to manage their building sites well, they also need to effectively and efficiently run their businesses with high standards.

Fortunately, a solution is already here. Many smart contractors are beginning to step away from a world of bricks-and-mortar and embrace one with cloud technology and mobile apps. Business-grade cloud services that offer mobile apps can help ensure work gets done more productively while keeping costs down. Ordering materials, arranging deliveries, sending long contracts, documenting work onsite, sharing floor plans and other paperwork can all be managed easily when utilizing an online fax service or a virtual phone system.

 An online fax service enables faxes to be delivered directly to a contractor’s email inbox. The documents can be stored in the cloud, retrievable by date or keyword search. Paperwork that used to require extra trips back to the office or to a land-line-dependent fax machine can now be sent, received or signed from the job site.

 With a virtual phone system, contractors don’t have to worry about missing important business calls when they’re in the field because calls are professionally routed to their mobile phones, even when a client or customer calls the office phone number.

 Here are four tips to help construction contractors and home renovation professionals stay connected with clients and operate their businesses while on the go:

  • Avoid miscommunication with transcribed voice mails – Select a virtual phone system that transcribes voice mails and delivers them as text messages and emails, so there is no need to listen to voice mails over and over again to understand what your clients or teammates need from you. There is also no need to grab a pen and paper to jot down numbers to return calls with the transcribe feature.
  • Don’t get buried under paperwork – The days of shuffling paperwork are over with electronic fax services that allow documents to be sent or received from a laptop or mobile device, such as a smart phone or tablet. An online fax service supports the concept of a paperless workflow, not to mention the ecological benefits that come with eliminating paper and toner normally associated with a fax machine.
  • Finish a project in record time – Got a big contract that needs signing on the dotted line, or need an approval for a series of orders? Now there’s no need to tie up time at the office facing piles of paperwork. Just send the documents via an online fax service, and you can drop a digitized signature onto a fax from a smartphone, tablet or computer and then return the approved document via e-mail or fax. This simple process can mean finishing projects and getting paid sooner.
  • Put your mobile phone’s camera to Work – Paperwork pops up on the jobsite. Rather than waiting until later or in your leisure time to deal with it, take a picture with your mobile phone camera and use the online fax service’s mobile app to fax it on the spot.

Mobile and cloud services are not only for contractors who need to overcome communication challenges as they face more projects on the horizon. For those who are looking to begin a business in the construction industry, cloud and mobile apps will give them a competitive advantage and a good start.

Mike Pugh is vice president of marketing at j2 Global Inc., a Los Angeles-based provider of cloud-based communications services including eFax® and eVoice®. He can be reached at [email protected]

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