Free software and resources that every repair shop owner should be using to help manage their business
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Posted on Dec 31st 2019
Here at autoshopinvoice.com, we know that it can be expensive to run an auto shop. Between paying for tools, garage space, employee salaries, and whatever other miscellaneous expenses that pop up, we know that running a shop is anything but cheap. We’ve spoken with a number of auto shop owners and mechanics who are looking for effective ways to improve their business without breaking the bank, but don’t know where to begin. Or maybe you have a healthy repair business that is already profitable, but you’re simply looking for simple ways to take your business to the next level.
If this is you, we thought that you and any other auto shop owners looking to save a buck may be interested in common online tools that other small businesses use to help grow their business. Best of all, all of the tools on our list are free of charge. That’s right, you can find new ways to boost your shop’s productivity without spending a penny!
One important note before we get started: you may notice that there are no shop management software or invoicing software in our list. That’s intentional! To be objective, we’ve purposefully left out auto shop management software. If you’re interested in learning more specifically about us here at autoshopinvoice.com, then feel free to check out our home page. Otherwise, all of the software and resources listed below are great additions to your existing online tools and software suite.
Oh and we should also mention: we do not have any business or affiliate relationships with the software or websites listed below. They’re listed only because we think they’ll help your business and because we use them ourselves. We promise we don’t get any kickbacks :)
To save time and make you more productive
Let’s imagine you’ve got an important paper receipt or invoice with information you need to remember. To help you remember it, you take a photo of that paper using your phone. The problem is, you’ve got thousands of photos on your phone. If you ever need to find that receipt at some point in the future, it’s going to take forever to dig through your old photos. For faster searching, wouldn’t it be nice if you could just do a quick search using something like Google for the words or numbers that were printed on the receipt? Evernote lets you do this.
Evernote is software that lets you collect photos and notes, organize them, and easily search for them in the future. It uses a special kind of technology called optical character recognition or OCR. To put it into simple terms, optical character recognition converts text from images and photos into text that computers can read. What this means for you: it makes searching for notes really easy.
Tell me if you’ve had this experience before: you’re trying to show one of you friends or family an awesome photo you took a few years ago. However, it ends up taking you 5 minutes to find the photo you’re looking for. By then, your friend or family member has lost interest, and you no longer have a captive audience. While this may be annoying, now think about a similar experience in a business context. When it comes to running your business, time is money. Added up over time, a few minutes needlessly searching for an old file or note will eventually add up to lost productivity and lost revenue for your business.
Why not use Evernote to help your auto shop stay organized? The optical character recognition technology even works with handwritten text. This means you could write a hand-written note, take a photo of it, and search for the handwritten text within Evernote later.
Similar to autoshopinvoice.com, Evernote’s software is also cross-platform. This means you can use it from your phone, your desktop computer, your tablet, etc. and the notes will sync across each device.
Evernote offers a free version as well as a subscription-based premium version with additional storage and features. However, the free version is still handy and let’s you utilize the OCR features described above.
To speed up team collaboration
Hopefully by now already heard about a little company called Google. However, did you know that in addition to building the #1 search engine in the world, Google has a bundle of collaboration and productivity tools that are free to use? One of these tools is super useful specifically for auto repair shops: Google Docs.
Google Docs lets you create documents that are saved 100% in the cloud, meaning you can edit and view documents using any device that has an internet connection, just like the autoshopinvoice.com app (sensing a trend here?). Gone are the old days when editing a single file or document with others took a million steps.
To really see the power of software like Google Docs, think about any time you need to have multiple people edit one single document. For example, let’s say you and a couple business partners own an auto shop together. Your garage is growing and you’ve just hired a new auto repair tech for your shop. You realize that there’s a lot for the new employee to learn, so you want to create a list of things a new hire should be trained on: for example, how to log their work hours, instructions to use your shop management software, etc. You create this list of onboarding steps and email them to your two business partners to review.
After a couple hours, one of you business partners emails you back on the email thread and recommends an additional step for onboarding which you forgot. An hour later, the second business partner replies back to agree. He also mentions an additional step that would be nice to add. You go back and forth like this, eventually ending up with a long email thread and lots of additional onboarding steps. The email thread becomes longer and longer. Eventually, you’ve got more steps than you can count, the thread becomes a mess, and you start to lose track of all the proposed onboarding steps in each and every email.
Why not instead use a Google Doc? With a Google Doc, each business partner could have simply viewed a single document and made real-time edits to that document, adding their recommendations to the onboarding list. No emails back-and-forth, no wasted time trying to read through a long chain of emails. All edits to the document are saved instantly; as soon as you added something to the document, the other people viewing the document would be able to see the changes immediately. In the example above, this would have saved you and both of your business partners time back in your day to get back to running your auto repair shop.
Here’s another example of what you can use Google Docs for: let’s say you’d like to keep a list of “problem customers”, AKA customers who have been difficult to work with in the past or who may have been dishonest and tried to get a free repair. To help your repair techs keep an eye out for these customers, you could simply create a document that was a running list of the customers’ names and vehicles. With a Google Doc, you can simply share the document with your repair techs. The techs will then be able to see updates as you continuously add new problem customers in the future. You can also adjust the permissions of the document so your techs can add new customers to the list themselves. Again, all changes are saved instantly, so everyone is up-to-speed on the current list of problem customers without any unnecessary back and forth over email.
To learn from others
If you own an auto shop, you know that running a business can be a solitary endeavor. You’ve invested, time, sweat, and money into building your business and no one has as much at stake as you do. When things break or something goes wrong, your first instinct is to figure things out and take responsibility for the situation. However, sometimes you get tired of being a lone wolf. For example, times can arise when you just want a new perspective from someone other than yourself; what are other shop owners doing? How do other auto repair shops handle [insert issue here]?
Outside of calling your friends who also own auto repair shops, 2 common online resources for these types of situations are blogs and forums.
You may be wondering, what’s the difference between a blog and a forum? Blogs are simply curated information written on a specific topic by a specialist. You’re already familiar with blogs because you’re currently reading one. Reading blog posts are useful if you’re looking for a lot of in depth, detailed information on one particular topic. For example, blog posts could on topics such as should you add a diagnostic fee to your shop's invoices? or can building trust lead to more business for your shop?
In addition to the numerous auto repair blogs that are available to you online, hopefully you’ve also tapped into the power of forums. Forums provide you with the power of the herd. They provide multiple people who are interested in a specific topic with the power to comment with their opinions. Think of it like a large group discussion if you wanted to ask other auto shop owners their opinion on something.
Note that not all forums are created equally. In addition to adding their opinions, better, more sophisticated forums will allow users to upvote and downvote the credibility of other shop owners and users of the forum. This ensures that you’re getting the best advice and information from the most credible sources.
As an example, one popular forum specifically geared for auto shop owners is from the Automotive Management Network. If you view the forum and click on a given topic and then on a specific post, you can see that most topics have multiple people who have commented with their expertise and opinions. Here’s the downside: for this and similar forums, there’s not a great way to know whose opinion to trust. For example, what’s to stop someone who knows nothing about cars from creating an anonymous online profile and posting nonsensical comments?
As a safeguard against this type of behavior, other forums such as AutoShopOwner allow for reputation scores so that new forum members can immediately see the number of “likes” a user has accumulated over time from commenting on threads. Each “like” acts as a vote of confidence for a user. This is helpful to give new posters a sense of how active and helpful another user’s past comments have been for others.
Newer forums such as the Mechanic Advice subreddit on Reddit build on this idea and take it to the next level. Similar to AutoShopOwner, Reddit allows each user to upvote comments from other users. However, the added benefit that Reddit has is that it also allows for downvotes for unfavorable comments. This is particularly helpful with advice that is divisive to the forum community. Some advice may be favored strongly by a vocal minority of users, but not necessarily popular across the greater forum. This is why downvotes help provide a more well-rounded view of a user’s credibility: collectively with upvotes, downvotes create a more unbiased reputation system based on the merit of the comments and information alone.
So there you have it, a few additional online tools and softwares to have in your auto shop repair management tool belt. And again, all of the resources we’ve linked above are 100% free to use.
We hope these tools and resources provide great value to you and your auto shop. If you have any questions, comments, or additional suggestions, feel free to reach out to us at fixnamic[at]gmail[dot]com.
Interested in learning more about the automotive software industry? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Auto Repair Shop Management Software for more.