Anyone who owns a small service business knows that any given moment, you're either making money, or you're not. That is, if you're not engaged in an activity that directly generates revenue—i.e. providing your product or service to a customer—you're engaged in one that doesn't, such as scheduling jobs, figuring out how to get from one appointment to the next, processing invoices, making payments, and so forth.
While these administrative tasks are clearly important, the longer they take to perform the less time remains for the work that actually contributes to the bottom line. So with its eponymous smartphone app (for Android and iOS), Breezeworks aims to help small businesses run more efficiently (and profitably) by streamlining overhead chores including customer and job management, scheduling and mapping service calls, invoicing, and payment collection.
Getting Started with Breezeworks
We fired up Breezeworks on an iPhone 6 Plus. You can create an account right from the phone by providing the basic information about your company, such as name, number of employees, type of business, physical address, etc. During this process you can also send invitations with app download links to other users via text.
Figure 1: The day's jobs show up on your schedule along with estimated driving times between each location.
One of the first thing Breezeworks prompts you to do is set up your customer directory by importing contacts from your phone. We're not sure this will be an ideal method for every business, but at the moment, it's the only direct method for getting customer data into Breezeworks.
The company tells us that it's working on a way for business owners to import their customer information from a various other formats (including a QuickBooks customer list) via the Breezeworks website, but in the meantime, the customer service department can format and upload such data into Breezeworks for you (at no charge).
Speaking of customer service, Breezeworks provides it via (toll-free) phone and email, and the app provides convenient shortcuts for both contact methods. When we called into phone support with a question, the support rep answered promptly, was very pleasant and, perhaps most importantly, answered our question quickly and accurately.
On the Road with Breezeworks
Once you load your customer contacts into Breezeworks, you can start scheduling jobs. (You can also create a new customer while you're creating a job.) Entering the details of a job takes a few taps—choose the customer, a day, time, and duration for the appointment, and then give the job a descriptive title, e.g. "ceiling fan install" or "virus removal." Breezeworks adds the job to your schedule and plots its location on a map.
Figure 2: Breezeworks maps appointment locations and offers turn-by-turn driving directions.
When the appointment time approaches, the app notifies you when it's time to leave, estimates the travel time to the destination, and offers turn-by-turn driving directions. In our testing, the app pretty consistently overestimated the time required to travel between waypoints, though we suppose there are worse sins, particularly for people who pride themselves in arriving at all appointments in a timely fashion.
One of those worse sins might be Breezeworks' inability to schedule recurring jobs—the kind that a massage therapist or a piano teacher might require—though the company tells us this frequently-requested feature in under development. We also wish Breezeworks allowed for a bit more granularity when selecting appointment times. For example, many service businesses schedule visits on the hour, half, or quarter hour, but Breezeworks' minute dial turns in five-minute increments, which results in 12 possible slots per hours (which in turn can result in lots of extra scrolling).
Businesses that schedule calls in broad time windows (e.g. 9 AM to Noon) rather than fixed times will find that Breezeworks doesn't allow for this (though you can sort of compensate for it by entering a job duration that equals your desired window).
While you're on-site with a customer (or at any time, really), you can use the Breezeworks app to record notes or take photos (or associate previously-taken photos) that relate to the job, making them easy to refer to later. Although it wasn't available while we were testing, by the time you read this, Breezeworks will likely have added an Estimates feature that lets you send a job proposal to a prospective customer and subsequently convert it to a job.
We especially like Breezeworks' ability to automatically send notifications to customers via text or email. For example, the system issues one when an appointment is scheduled, then again 24 hours prior to the appointment, and finally when you're en route to the customer location. It will even send a notification with an updated ETA if you're running late. (You can specify a default contact method for each customer, and you can disable notifications as well.)
Figure 3: Breezeworks lets you create an invoice from the app, collect a signature and payment, and email the receipt in PDF form.
There are some limitations to notifications. Those sent by text originate from a 415 area code number (not surprising as Breezeworks is based in San Francisco), which might cause some confusion when customers don't recognize the number, and customers can't reply to them to reach you (e.g. with appointment cancellation or rescheduling requests). Customers can answer notifications sent by email, but you'll still need to manually update Breezeworks with any new information they provide.
Invoicing and Payments
When you finish a job, the Breezeworks app lets you create an invoice, collect a signature, and accept payment via the integrated merchant processing (provided via WePay) all before you've left the customer's premises. If you're the type of business that prefers to send out invoices in batches a few days after you complete the work, the app makes it easy to do that by clearly listing which past jobs you have yet to bill. We also appreciate Breezeworks' option to mark a job as "Do not bill," so that you can provide complimentary services when needed without having to deal with "dummy" invoices in your system.
Figure 4: Breezeworks notifies you when it's time to leave for the next job, and it will notify your customer when you're en route (or if you're going to be late).
Trying to fill in the detail of an invoice (one or more line items for parts and/or labor, along with a description of the work), can be a bit cumbersome, mainly owing to the fact that you're doing a lot of thumb typing (as opposed to simply tapping) on a relatively small keyboard and screen, but Breezeworks lets you save the line items you create, so you won't have to re-enter the same information twice. Breezeworks plans to release a website app this spring so that you can enter some information into the system in advance with the benefit of a large screen and proper keyboard.
Breezeworks offers the obligatory free-trial period (30 days), and thereafter costs $19.95 per month for an owner account and $11.99 for each employee/technician account. Those prices drop to $15.99 and $9.99, respectively, if you opt to pay annually rather than monthly. (As you might expect, the owner account always has administrative visibility and control over technician accounts.)
We didn’t test the payments feature, but Breezeworks charges 2.25 percent plus .30 per transaction, which compares favorably to the cut that Square and PayPal Mobile take (2.75 percent and 2.7 percent respectively), though neither of those levy an extra transaction fee. For its part, Breezeworks doesn’t require a card swipe dongle; it instead uses the phone’s camera to capture card info.
Though it has some weaknesses that need to be addressed (and it appears that the company is doing just that), Breezeworks is a slick app that largely succeeds in its mission to simplify the administrative chores a small business trudges through.
Pros: Create/manage customers and jobs from a smartphone; maps appointment locations and provides turn-by-turn directions; automatically issues appointment reminders and arrival ETAs to customers
Cons: Can only directly import customer directory from phone's contact list; doesn't support recurring appointments.
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
|Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!|