How to Improve Your Firearms Business with Software
Software is an essential component of any modern business. It can be used to improve the efficiency and ATF compliance of your firearm’s business.
Having an FFL and a storefront isn’t enough to drive profit. You should constantly be working on your own business. That means gathering resources, improving processes, and building systems that make work easier so you can spend more time selling.
These days, it’s smart business to use software anywhere you can.There’s no reason to waste your time or energy doing something that can be automated with a computer.
Further, your problems are largely similar to other firearms businesses. You all have the same regulations to obey (with some variance by state). You also have similar accounting, payroll, billing, and marketing needs.
This means you don’t require custom-made software solutions. In most cases, you can greatly improve the performance of your business with an off-the-shelf tool. Here are some ways that software makes your business stronger.
1. Staying Compliant
FLLs spend a lot of time worry about their compliance with complex ATF regulations. A mistake here or there is forgivable, but serious omissions or errors are not tolerated. If you’re caught with erroneous documents, your business can face serious consequences.
On top of that, regulations are constantly changing. Who knows what rules you’ll be forced to obey next month? You don’t have time to keep abreast of the government’s fickleness. You’re trying to run a business.
Software Helps You Avoid Compliance Issues in the First Place
Software makes it easy to avoid compliance issues. The best bound book software uses a task-based workflow. This process prompts you for information in a logical order. You can’t move forward without providing an answer to the question.
Further, the software will catch simple errors that would normally invalidate your data. For example, if your serial number is one digit short, the software will alert you of the error. On paper, it would be the investigator who found the mistake and you would have to accept the violation.
Recent changes to ATF regulations have made bound book software more accessible to FFLs. The ATF Rul. 2016–1 now permits FFLs to use cloud-based technology and leased servers for bound book software and ATF Rul. 2016–2 permits electronic submissions of Forms 4473 with e-signatures.
Software Updates When Regulations Change
Don’t stress yourself about keeping up with the ATF. When regulations change, the software will update accordingly. If a new document or piece of information is required, you’ll be presented with that field going forward. If certain data is no longer necessary, you won’t be prompted for it again. This will enhance your accuracy.
(Important note: The ATF “does not endorse ANY software program or any manufacturer of such a program. Be wary of any firm that says its software is endorsed by ATF.”)
2. Saving Time
Time is money, right? Every minute you spend handling some tedious task is a minute you could spend growing your business.
As you process a sale, you’ll inevitably fill out the same information over and over, like the customer’s name, address, and the firearm’s serial number. Bound book software reduces the amount of time you spend completing paperwork by pre-filling out this redundant data and populating it in the appropriate places.
Not only does this speed up your workflow, but it also improves the customer experience. Even though we can’t avoid the compliance documentation, the customer will feel like you offer a service without the red tape.
If you ever need to recall information, your data is instantly searchable with just a few keystrokes. You’ll never dig through filing cabinets again.
Furthermore, there are software solutions that can minimize or eliminate the amount of work required for other tasks. There’s no reason to expect yourself to be an expert at accounting, payroll, or marketing.
Use software to control your inventory for compliance purposes and business operations. At any time, you should have a perfectly accurate picture of the inventory on premises. Between sales, trade-ins, consignment, gunsmithing, and NFA firearms, you have a lot of categories to track. This will help you manage your ordering and promotions. You’ll know if inventory is being misplaced, lost, or stolen by staff or customers.
If you don’t use an accountant (and I don’t blame you; they are expensive), use accounting tools to manage revenue, expenses, taxes, and payroll. QuickBooks is one of the most popular. Use marketing software to maintain customer lists, email marketing, promotion schedules, an online store, and even your social media accounts.
You should spend your time doing what you do best: selling firearms.
3. Data Security
Staying compliant with ATF regulations means maintaining certain information. You’ll have to provide this information during inspections or in the event law enforcement needs to investigate a crime.
But if you lose your data, you can’t provide it. In the eyes of the ATF, it’s like you never it had it at all. Data security is your responsibility. Similarly, the loss of payroll, tax or accounting data, employment records, or customer records can be costly.
When you work solely with paper, your data is vulnerable. That includes fires, floods, or other extreme weather. Even more likely, however, are coffee spills, ink stains, or torn pages.
Theft is a possibility as well, though I admit it’s unlikely. But it’s not uncommon for you or an employee to misplace paperwork, take it home by mistake, or unknowingly knock it into a trash can.
Whatever software you use should take the security and confidentiality of your information seriously. Your data should be reliably backed up every day so it will never be lost, but it should also be accessible at any time. This is why you need more than a clunky spreadsheet.
Furthermore, a software application locks your data behind a username and password (you can give each employee a login so you can track their work). This prevents prying eyes from snooping. Your customers will be pleased to know that their information stays with you.
4. Responding to an ATF Inspection
Inevitably, the ATF will come to inspect your business. This can happen as often as once a year, but many businesses only see an investigator once every three to five years.
Investigators are people. Their job affords them a moderate amount of discretion. If you create a pleasant experience for the investigator, they’ll be less likely to come down hard on mistakes. If you can manage to not be the cause of their bad day, they may let you slide on an error that typically calls for a harsher penalty. I’m not suggesting that you need to carry their bag and serve snacks, just make their job easy and efficient.
When the investigator arrives, you have no choice but to help them locate any information they need. They have the right to inspect your bound books, inventory, and premises. You’re obligated to show them around and provide any paperwork they need. This can be a time sink that keeps you away from your regular duties and customers.
Bound book software for firearms dealers makes searching for information simple. By entering a name, serial number, or other piece of data, you can quickly pull any record. You can also allow the investigator to browse through your account or give them printed documents. (It’s recommended that you keep a printed version of your bound books on hand for safe-keeping.)
You wouldn’t believe how often crucial data is considered missing because the investigator can’t read the handwriting in forms or in bound books. Since your documents will be printed by a computer, there will be no issues of illegibility.
5. Legal Protection
I’m a bit biased, but I think my company, Fastbound, is the best bound book software for gun dealers. The biggest benefit we offer all of our users is legal support.
In the event of a software related ATF violation that results in administrative action, we guarantee a legal defense to fight your case. To provide this, we have partnered with FLLGuard. Their ProtectionPlus PlanTM is a unique service developed by expert firearms attorneys and compliance specialists.
While other software solutions for tasks like accounting, payroll, inventory management, and customer relationships may not offer a guaranteed legal defense, they will help in the event of litigation. You’ll have all the records you need to mount your defense in an easy-to-find location.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to adopt some software solutions to improve your business. With some new tools, you’ll have more time to help your customers, sell more guns, and make more money