Here are two software solutions, one for creating customized flat rate pricing books and the other focusing on expediting scheduling, billing, job costing and other tasks performed by field service contractors.

Acorate, by Team Management Systems is a flat rate pricing program for creating and printing a customized flat rate book based on particular company requirements, using any of thousands of predefined repairs if the buyer purchases the repair database or user-built repairs if the buyer prefers to build the book from scratch.

The repairs are built on one screen, eliminating the need to drill down into the program to add material. The software supports easy add, delete and edit of repairs and allows speedy resorting and renumbering, so the repairs print out in the correct order in the flat rate book.

A company can have unlimited labor and material mark-up rates to accommodate different types of work. The software accepts the addition of miscellaneous charges based on a flat rate dollar amount and/or a set percentage, to cover various shop supplies without having to add "non-stock" items to the inventory file.

Acorate affords the user the ability to increase or decrease a single category, multiple categories or all categories of inventory costs by a flat dollar amount or by a specific percentage.

Based on entering some basic labor and overhead information, the Labor Rate Calculator will automatically compute your hourly breakeven labor rate and how much you should be charging per hour to achieve your desired net profit after tax. It also calculates your regular time and overtime hourly costs as well as the projected annual labor cost and profit. This is a handy tool for contractors to determine what hourly rate to use when setting up flat rate books. The calculator is also available as a stand-alone software product.

A Profitability Review Screen by Repair with graphs that break out income versus material and labor costs allows you to easily review the gross profit detail of each flat rate repair.

Users can attach current price lists, correspondence from vendors or any other document to any vendor file. Inventory reports can be printed with or without costs and/or sell prices.

When printing a flat rate book, a contractor or estimator can print all Active Repairs or just one Repair Task Section and can, if desired, import the company logo and include it on reports and on the flat rate book.

An electronic version of a company's flat rate book is available as an add-on (at additional cost) that includes the ability to print or e-mail proposals based on selected repair codes. A QuickBooks Interface that allows import of flat rate repairs into that software is also available.

QXpress Platinum Scheduling Software, by Alocet Inc. offers scheduling, job costing, batch invoicing, contact management and several online features. The program, designed for QuickBooks users in the field services industries, supports zone-based scheduling, billing for multiple services and materials per visit, tracking of detailed job costs, and use of custom fields to track information such as dispatch priority, call aheads and service ready status. The solution syncs changes with QuickBooks in real time.

The program also enables project scheduling, which allows a user to schedule a multiday service, with many different tasks, assigned to one or more crews, spanning an indefinite date range. Each scheduled visit can have its own material load list setup to let crews know what materials to take each day. The job costing feature allows users to record time on a per employee basis with multiple employees per service and multiple entries per employee. QuickBooks users can one-click all employee service times to the Employee Timesheet in QuickBooks, which can be used for payroll.

Contractors can select from three invoicing styles. One collects all the completed services in a date range and compiles the services into one invoice per customer. Another enables printing before completion of service, so the invoice can be dropped off at the job site. The third prompts creation of invoices for services as soon as they are marked done. Invoices can be e-mailed directly from within the software in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

Contact management capabilities include tracking of every contact with all customers, including e-mail, phone calls and site visits and optional reminders for date and time of scheduled phone call and equipment servicing.

An optional (subscription-based) QX Mobile enables users equipped with a handheld device running Mobile 5 or 6/Pocket PC 2002 or 2003 to take customer data, history, contact events, and services into the field, with full read/write capabilities on all data. Users can also add new customers, services, and items in the field and have the data sync back with QXpress.

A QX Mapping add-on is also available. QX Mapping plots scheduled services using Microsoft MapPoint, generates a map and driving directions, and rearranges services to create the most optimal route for crews with the shortest driving distance between services.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com.