Small Business Software
There's software for nearly every business need, from accounting to presentations to industry-specific applications. Some software is available as a one-time purchase downloaded to computers or mobile devices. But many popular software products are now subscription-based.
Many of these subscription software services use a tiered pricing structure, with three or four options based on the number of users, the features included, or the amount of usage. This lets a business start with a less expensive software subscription and scale up as the business grows.
Subscription software is updated automatically, and data is stored in the cloud. When choosing software, always make sure the provider has strong data security measures in place and a good customer support team.
Here's a brief look at five of the most common types of software that small businesses need: financial software, productivity software, client relations management (CRM) software, backup software and security software.
Financial software can track cash flow, download transactions from bank accounts, generate invoices and help organize income and expenses for tax purposes. Good financial software also helps you identify financial problems before they become a crisis.
Financial software comes in many forms, offering everything from basic income and expense tracking to sophisticated budgeting tools. Here are some questions to ask when choosing financial software:
- Talk to the people who do your accounting and billing. What functions do they need? Which feature is most important?
- Does your financial software need to be compatible with other software?
- What sorts of reports would you like to create?
- If your employees are already fluent in one type of financial software, will the benefits of switching to a different system outweigh the cost of training your staff to use it?
- Will you need business plan creation, sales forecasts and industry-specific reports?
- Do you expect your business to grow?
Productivity software is a suite of products for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Microsoft Office is one example, but there are others, including products from Apple and Google.
When choosing productivity software, consider the type of operating system you have and the functions your employees will be performing. What features do they need? Which software makes it easiest for your employees to collaborate with one another and with clients or other people working on the same project?
No matter how small or large your business is, it's critical to back up your company data. While backup to an external drive is better than nothing, the possibility of theft, fire or device failure makes offsite backup a better choice for most businesses. For sensitive and irreplaceable data, consider backing up your data both locally and in the cloud.
System backup and recovery programs not only protect your documents and data; they offer peace of mind. Factors to consider when evaluating your backup choices include:
- Amount of storage required
- Whether you have personnel to manage on-site backups. Cloud services typically require less infrastructure and staff expertise.
- How often your business will back up documents (for on-site backups)
- The sensitivity of your data and the security features of cloud services.
- Cost. Most cloud-based services require a subscription.
- Customer support. Choose a cloud service with a good customer support record.
Client Relations Management (CRM) Software
CRM software keeps track of your interactions with customers and clients. CRM software varies greatly in both price and capability. Some simply manage contacts and documents such as proposals and invoices. But other CRM software includes an entire suite of products that can collect information about customer interactions in one place, share that information across your organization, improve your customer service and satisfaction, and automate routine tasks. And full-featured CRM software typically includes customer data analysis and reporting tools to help you with decision making.
Security software is essential to protect your sensitive data against hackers, viruses and cyber attacks of all sorts. While highly publicized data breaches tend to involve major corporations, small businesses are not immune from cyber attacks, especially if they collect and store customer data like credit card numbers. New technologies also pose a threat. Wireless devices such as thermostats and lighting systems only increase the potential for hackers to infiltrate the system.
Security software can be highly technical and rapidly evolving, so it's best to hire an IT professional to recommend, install and maintain your business's security software.
Software Buying Tips
Whether it's a complex security system or a simple word processing program, keep these guidelines in mind before whipping out the credit card:
- Try before you buy. Many business software programs offer free trial periods. Take advantage of the free trial to find out whether the program will work for your business before you purchase or sign up for a subscription. If there's no free trial, ask about a demo or a money-back guarantee.
- Make sure the software is backed by adequate customer support. You want to know that someone will be available to help you learn the software or resolve any glitches that occur.
- Don't buy more software than you will use, and don't buy a complex product with sophisticated features if you don't need them or won't learn to use them. Always ask whether a simpler, less expensive product will do just as well.
- Read professional and customer reviews with an eye toward functionality and ease of use.
- If you need on-the-go access, look for software that is available in both desktop and mobile versions.
While hardware is the foundation of your office, software allows you to do your work. Invest in the right products for your needs and you'll set your business on a course for growth and productivity.