There’s no doubt that small businesses have different software requirements than larger enterprises. Finding the right small business software for your company can be a challenge since it is often difficult to figure out where to start.
About 15 years ago, small business software was scarce, but nowadays software vendors specialize in this market and there are a myriad of solutions, ranging from “CRM lite” to productivity suites to Web conferencing tools. Some software companies, like Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and SugarCRM, offer a number of these small business software functions on one platform, but most vendors in any of the aforementioned software segments offer integrative products for companies acquiring disparate business software applications. Some particular tools are essential when looking for small business solutions. Below, we’ll take a look at four technology segments you should include when selecting your small business software.
Accounting & Finance
Small business software needs to be scalable, but it doesn’t initially need to be very extensive. If you are using several applications to manage your small business, one thing that is a must – whether you have 30 employees or are self-employed – is a program to manage your accounting and finances.
An invaluable small business software tool, an accounting and finance platform will automate the processing, recording, handling, storage, reporting, and analytics of your financial management processes, along with providing access to various types of financial transactions and associated information. It essentially streamlines accounting processes by creating formal procedures, delivering your company’s financial information in a way that allows key decision makers to improve strategic planning. As a small business tool, it is also important in helping companies avoid compliance errors that can lead to severe penalties.
Typical accounting software packages are outfitted to perform accounts payable and receivable functions as well as debt collection. They can also support purchase and sales orders. A general ledger is another key feature that maintains a centralized log of your small business’ financial activity. In addition, accounting and finance software normally offers some basic reporting options, like balance sheets, P&L statements, and the like.
While there are many elements that are standard for the majority of accounting software packages, there are a few features you should look for before you add a solution to your small business software arsenal. First and foremost, make sure the software you choose is industry-specific. Off-the-shelf solutions like Quicken and Quickbooks satisfy the needs of most businesses, but there are also tailored programs for specific industry verticals, so don’t settle for a store-bought solution unless it meets all your requirements. In the same vein, make sure the program has any other special features you may need, like timesheet management or purchase requisition management.
As mentioned previously, most componential small business software programs can be integrated into other systems, but make absolutely sure the accounting system you choose is integrative. Accounting and finance teams interoperate with more business departments than any other unit, so it’s crucial that necessary financial data can be shared with any other management systems you may be using, like productivity suites or a CRM system.
Customer Relationship Management
Another necessary addition to any small business software package is a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. CRM programs for large enterprises have lots of bells and whistles, but for small businesses they are essentially contact management organizers. These systems, also called “CRM lite,” are designed for companies with fewer than 50 staff members, or fewer than 500 clients. Some of the more advanced features that come with enterprise-scale CRM tend to be offered as add-ons to these products, making them more scalable should your business grow.
Features which come as standard in any small business CRM software package include management modules for sales, marketing, and service personnel. These features help to track leads as they go through the sales pipeline. Some platforms come with reporting capabilities, and there are also systems available with marketing campaign execution, order processing and tracking, and sales forecasting. Another useful tool included in small business software is social media integration. Since small businesses tend to have more personal relationships with their customers than large enterprises do, social networking integrations can help them track conversations about their brand and strengthen existing relationships.
It’s worth noting that for very small companies that are looking for the right small business software there are a number of contact management tools produced by vendors of large-scale CRM systems, like Salesforce.com and SugarCRM. These contact managers are usually meant for 5 to 10 users and are purchased on a month-to-month basis. They can be invaluable in tracking communication and, what’s more, that data can be easily integrated into a larger CRM system should the company need it.
Productivity Suites & Collaboration Tools
Having a productivity suite might seem like a no brainer, but since they are small business software essentials, we’re going to take a closer look. The suite that most people are familiar with – and that most small businesses have on their computers – is Microsoft Office. It offers basic word processing, spreadsheets, a presentation program, note-taking, an email client, and more.
The reason why productivity suites and collaboration tools are grouped together in this section is because they have become inseparable and are especially valuable to people working via home offices or different locations. Collaboration tools allow multiple users to view a document, spreadsheet, and the like all at once, and to edit and create in real-time. Free collaboration tools are probably best for companies who don’t need wide-ranging small business software, but there are more advanced collaboration tools for companies that do.
The reason why the two are closely associated is because there is a growing trend for on-demand productivity suites, and online access to particular documents or spreadsheets makes collaboration much simpler. Google has the Google Apps Premium Edition, which features online word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, a calendar, Gmail, and Google Sites, and Microsoft has been cultivating their Office Online suite. Office Online offers most of the applications found in the desktop Office suite, but with limited editing and creating functions.
Web Conferencing, VoIP
Even small businesses need to present themselves as professionally as possible, so VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is the final bullet point in our list of small business software recommendations. You must have broadband Internet capability to leverage VoIP, and from there, you’ll have a telephone system with professional features, like the ability to conduct an audio-based conference and to set up fax and voice-messaging applications.
Occasionally, VoIP solutions are offered as on-demand PBX services, which provide users with a number of shared outside lines, allowing them to add extensions, configure call-forwarding rules, create call groups, and more. Other vendors, like Microsoft, offer VoIP services as a bundle with phone system hardware from their partners.
As with finding any small business software solution, cost is a factor. But the key to finding the right VoIP service is to really vet the programs to get a feel for sound quality and reliability, to see if there are any time delays with conferencing, and to inquire about customer support. Most VoIP solutions are relatively inexpensive, but make sure the provider offers features such as free long-distance calls.
With this information, you’ll be able to make intelligent comparisons as you look for the best small business software for your company needs.