When it comes to business software, small businesses are looking to increase efficiencies without putting a hole in their pockets. So, what’s the best option for your business? Here are 10 simple steps to take before making any costly decisions on business software.
Implementing or changing business systems/software is a huge step for businesses of any size. Whether you are moving up from a basic business system or entry level accounting software, it is important for business owners to do their research.
The natural instinct of most businesspeople is to find a solution that reduces costs and overheads. But software solutions can last one, five or 10 years, so a thorough long-term strategy is needed for supporting the changing business environment.
The first place any business owner should look when analysing their business’ needs, is their own backyard, particularly at the systems that should be providing a window into how things really are. At a time when customer demands are changing rapidly, a real time and instant view on all components of your business workflow cycle is needed. You can meet market demands and improve business efficiency with accounting and business workflow solutions, which provide an all-in-one system beyond traditional accounts information. Often they can simplify and incorporate all elements of a business into the one integrated information resource.
So what should you be considering when choosing new business software?
1. Business Growth
Will your software grow with you? The decision you make today will have ramifications long after you have paid your money, installed the software and entered your first transactions. Whether you add staff or resources, your software solution should support growing business needs, rather than adding to your administration. As your customer base increases, the last worry you want is whether or not your accounting software can keep up with change. Moving to an integrated system that brings all of your accounting, reporting, purchasing, resourcing and scheduling tasks together is definitely worth serious consideration.
2. Location, Location
Was the software developed in Australia for the Australian market and Australian users? Being able to contact the software developer directly means faster, more efficient and more reliable service when you need it most. Australian-based developers and support staff can provide immediate contact and advice. It is important to identify a software solution that is constantly revised and improved to keep pace with your market needs. With local technical support, these updates should be efficient and easily delivered.
3. Support you can count on
One of the major frustrations with any business software is when you are having difficulty executing tasks. If support is not local, is it contactable in your business hours? Is support included in the price of the software? If not, it could really cost your business. If you personally know the people who have created and supported the software, your problems and needs can be addressed individually, and solved according to your specific requirements
4. On top and up to date
Is your software updated regularly, using customer feedback as a guide? User feedback and software revision by the developers is the key to making the best software possible. Without customer feedback and the follow-up of that feedback by the developer, how does the software developer know that customers are extremely happy? Regularly updated business software means you are using the absolute latest technology. By keeping technologically updated with competitors and the industry, your business has the advantage of being prepared for the next stage of growth.
5. One size does not fit all
Are the people setting up your software able to achieve the maximum benefit to your business? Among all the available options, there are software solutions for your industry, and there are software solutions that are uniquely tailored to fit your business’ needs and demands. Which one should you choose? The only way to make a brilliant piece of software is to talk to the users of that software on a regular basis. By having the developers of the software conduct the installation, you gain a much more personal service than third party consultants can provide.
6. Productive from day one
How will your business software be installed? Before the installation process begins, you should ensure that preparation work is completed before the installation date. This way the business will experience minimal interruption. Consider if both systems have to run side by side simultaneously to make sure the new one does its job. It is too late once the implementers have left the building. Do not be trapped into paying for services you did not, or could not, foresee because of poor planning. When changing business software, you need a solution that can run independently from day one, while causing minimal disruption to business workflow.
7. Not just numbers
Does the software help manage all aspects of your business, or simply your accounting? A business system needs to be more than just numbers. As your business grows, the only way to control the resources in your business is to put in place certain procedures and processes. These are the rules that will ensure that actions within your business are performed correctly, accurately and in the right order. Purchasing, point of sale, accounting, reporting, recording jobs—all these business processes need to be documented and built into your operations. Typically business systems in the price range of small-to-medium business do not contain process-driven management systems, however they do exist.
8. “All in one” solution
What additional system will you need to complement the accounting software? If you’re looking for a software solution that goes beyond accounting, you’ll probably be searching for a solution to customer relations management, resource planning, point of sale, job tracking, warehousing, manufacturing, open to buy spreadsheets, machine tracking and reporting. For optimal productivity and cost savings, you need a solution that contains all the systems you need in one. An “all in one” business workflow management solution provides a clear window into every aspect of your business, enabling business owners to pinpoint when and where mistakes are being made, and how to fix them to maximise profits.
9. Does new software mean new hardware?
Changing software is also a good time to be taking a close look at the hardware that runs your business system. You will need to assess what hardware is required to run the new software, devise a back-up strategy if needed, and analyse how to make the best use of your current resources. Whether you use a server and who looks after your network are also influential factors.
10. Subscription-based software
When will my software be out of date? Subscription-based software means paying a yearly subscription fee to be able to continue using the software. This allows a software developer to continue to improve the product, release updated and improved versions of the software, and also to continue to provide customer support for the software. Subscription-based software has the advantage of never actually being out of date as it is improved on a regular basis, often up to twice a year, and these improved versions are available at no extra cost to the subscriber above what they normally pay.
11. Proven track record
Are you able to speak to other businesses freely about their experiences with the business software you are considering? Speaking to other businesses about their dealings with the installation, training, ease of use, migration process and benefits of the business software is probably the closest thing you can get to surety of the claims made by the software salesperson you have been dealing with. While software companies may have quoted you for the software and installation alone, it is often the case that there are hidden extras involved. After-sales costs such as custom report writing, additional modules and support that are not covered by your licences can add up to the same cost as the software itself. Ask for references. People currently using the system will have ponied up their hard-earned business cash to buy the software you are looking at. It will pay dividends to get their opinion and learn from their experiences. At least two customer references should be mandatory in your due diligence process in selecting your business system.
You probably noticed there are actually 11 items on that list. That’s because there is a LOT to think about when looking at different types of business software. Purchasing it is a big decision. Current assessment of your business is crucial, as well as using your business plan to dictate where you want to be in one, five, and 10 years. Your business system is either going to be the vehicle that will take you there, or the hindrance in your quest for growth and efficiency.
—Paul Berger is the founder and MD of Happen Business (www.happenbusiness.com.au). He also heads its development team, having designed and developed Jim2 from the original Job Information Management (Jim DOS version) he created in 1990.
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