Solar Software: Free tools to lower soft costs

Free Software Tools to Lower Soft Costs 

There are many solar software tools out there to help residential solar (PV) companies lower their soft costs.    I also know that a lot of solar contractors aren’t ready to $$$pend money on software.  So, I thought I would write this article on how you can use cheap or free software to create foolproof and automatic processes.  This will be a step by step guide, which you can use as the basis to facilitate any processes you have at your company.  Immediately below, you’ll find a list of the tools used in this guide.  No programming or prior experience with any of these tools is necessary, so you could even have your summer intern walk through it 🙂

Software Used for this Guide

By the way, we don’t get any kickbacks from any of these companies.  I am only making recommendations based on my experience with their products.

  • Google Sheets – free
  • Google Drive – free
  • Trello – free
  • Zapier – free for a few Zaps, reasonably priced after that ($20/month)
  • Your existing checklist to process a job right after a sale is made (I mean a checklist you already use at your company)

If you are interested, Pamela Cargill (thought leader in best practices) wrote a nice article about the state of solar software.

The Scenario: Process a New Sale

Let’s assume you just sold a residential PV system, and to keep this example simple, the customer didn’t use a 3rd party financier.  So, we won’t have to worry about those processes in this example.  I’ll assume that somewhere you have a list of all the steps you need to perform to successfully install the job. Whoever sold the job explained all these processes to the customer so the customer knows what to expect!  Right?! 😉

Step-by-step Guide

Your First Free Software Tool: Get Google Drive

If you don’t already have Google Drive, then get it here for free.

Create a Google Sheet

Go to Google Drive and create a new spreadsheet.  Here is the one I created for this article.

solar software design video

Now that you have a swell new spreadsheet, add some column labels for data we care about.  We want to know things like when a project was sold, who sold it, project details, customer name, etc.  Make your sheet look like the image below.  (pro tip: this is formula I put in the Folder Name column, =A2&” “&text(G2,“yyyy-mm-dd”))

solar energy software

Get Trello

Trello is one of those awesome tools that everyone should know about.  It’s about as easy to use as software gets, has great mobile apps, runs lightning fast and is free!  It uses the concepts of boards, which have lists, which have cards, which can have lots of stuff on them like checklists and comments.  If you don’t already have it, sign up for free here.

Create “Post-Sale” Board in Trello

This is where you create the Trello board where you will work through your post-sale tasks.  For now, create three lists, To-Do, Doing and Done on the board (like in the video below).  Later, we will use Zapier to automatically create cards which will go in the To-Do list when we update the spreadsheet Our Projects with a new sale.  Pretty cool!

solar PV software free

Get Zapier

Zapier is software that helps you connect other software.  Each time a new row gets added to Our Projects spreadsheet (which is a Google Sheet) we will also want to 1)  create a Trello card with tasks, due dates and assign a team member and 2) create a new Google Drive folder.  So, Zapier fits the bill because we want Google Sheets to talk to Trello and Google Drive.

Sign up for Zapier here.

Create a Zap: Updating a Sheet Automatically Creates a Trello Card and a Google Drive Folder

Here is where we will create a new Trello card and new Google Drive folder when Our Projects spreadsheet has a new job added, i.e., a new row of data is added to the bottom of the existing projects on that Google Sheet.

This sort of Zap is actually pretty common, so there are already zaps made to give us a head start.  Log into Zapier and search for “Google Sheets”, then “Google Drive” to find existing Zaps…

solar software free video

After filtering for “Google Sheets” and “Google Drive” scroll down and perform the these steps:

  • Click Use this Zap
  • Click Make this Zap
  • Choose the correct Google Sheets Account
  • In the Spreadsheet field select the correct Sheet (in this example we called the Sheet “Our Projects”)
  • Select the sheet to use (called “Sheet1” in this example)
  • Click “Save + continue”
  • Choose the correct Google Drive Account
  • For Folder Name we are going to use the “Folder Name” column from the spreadsheet (pretty cool right?!)

Now, every time we add a new row in Our Projects, a Google Drive folder will be created wherever we want, and the folder will be automatically named correctly because the name is set by a function within the spreadsheet.  Saving time and minimizing chances for human error… all with free tools!

 

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We also want a Trello card to be created.  So, let’s open the Zap we just created from the Zapier dashboard and add a Trello card creation step.

solar software center

Zapier will open the Zap.  Now, perform these steps…

First group…

  • Add a Trello step, then you’ll be in the Set up Trello Card screen (note: there may be an extra step where you choose your Trello account)
  • For Board, select the Post Sales board you already created
  • For List, select To-Do
  • For Name, click the plus button at the end of the field and you’ll have the opportunity to get values from any of the previous steps (adding a Sheet row and creating a Google Drive folder).  Select the New Spreadsheet Row step, then select foldername (note: you could have another field in your spreadsheet like Trello Card Name, but naming the card the same as the Google Drive folder will work just fine for this example)

Second group… (I broke these up just to make it easier on the eyes)

  • For Member, select the team member you would like assigned to this card.  Since I did not share this board in Trello with the rest of my team, the only option is myself, so I chose Michael Latch.  You would select the correct person in your office that has access to your Post-Sales Trello board
  • For Due Date, enter “2 days.” Zapier is pretty smart, it will set the due date to be 2 days past whenever the new card gets created.
  • For Checklist Name, enter “Post-sale tasks”
  • For Checklist Items, enter the checklist items from your existing checklist (I created a sample checklist further below)
  • Click Continue

solar energy software

Here is an example Post-Sale Checklist that an office admin person might go through when a sales rep drops off a Sold Job Packet.

  • Create new Google Drive folder (We won’t need to add this to the Trello card because Zapier can now create a new Google Drive folder automatically.  We are already saving time and decreasing mistakes!)
  • Create a physical folder for hard documents
  • Verify sales rep turned in signed Net Metering Contract
  • Scan the Net Metering Contract
  • Place Net Metering Contract scanned file into the Google Drive folder
  • Place hard copy Net Metering Contract in the physical folder
  • Verify there is a signed Customer Agreement
  • Scan the Customer Agreement
  • Place signed Agreement scanned file into the Google Drive folder
  • Place hard copy signed Agreement into the physical folder
  • Verify a Project Details sheet has been filled out
  • Scan the Project Details sheet and put the file into the Google Drive Folder
  • Place the hard copy Project Details into the physical folder
  • Verify there is a copy of the customer’s electricity bill
  • Scan the customer’s electricity bill and put the file into Google Drive
  • Place the hard copy electricity bill (if there is one) in the physical folder

So now when we add a new job to Our Projects (we added the Smith job)…

solar design software

 

We will get a new Google Drive folder…

solar system software

And, we will get a new Trello card…

solar software

And, when we click on the card we can see it was assigned to somebody (me), given a due date of 2 days from the time it was created and a checklist of all the things that need to be done…

solar software

Conclusion

I sure hope this was useful.   Can you think of other processes that could be made better with these tools at your company?  I’d love to hear about them.  If you could use help with any of this, especially around sales processes (I LOVE sales processes!), feel free to contact me (mike@closehero.com).  By the way, CloseHero makes it easy to have consultative selling experiences between you and your customers. Let us know if you think that could help your company 🙂

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