One of the biggest decisions a small business has to make is investing in the right software solutions. Technology is a key asset for any-sized business; day-to-day operations are dependent on it. In today’s competitive business landscape, it has become essential for small businesses to leverage technology – software solutions in particular – to maximize productivity and keep operational expenses low. Before start-ups can leverage technology, they must first purchase or acquire the right software solutions to meet the demands of their business. This task is not doubt an intensive one requiring time and effort. But it doesn’t have to drive you up the wall.

Fix your budget

As a small business, it’s natural that budget would be your first concern. You will need to decide what part of your total budget can be committed towards purchase of software. Will you be able to afford a large up-front payment or do you prefer to make monthly payments? Once you set your budget, you can explore sources of funding as well as payment arrangements.

Determine your needs

The solution to any business problem starts with identifying needs. What value will the certain software solution deliver to your business? What software is good-to-have but not entirely necessary for your line of work? These are some decisions you need to make. The software needs of a small freight trucking business may be different from that of a content marketing start-up. By understanding your priorities and examining the processes you currently have in place and expect to include in the future, you can chalk out a list of key requirements. As part of this process, you will also be identifying the key areas within your business where software solutions can be deployed.

Here is a look at some of the common areas of business where the use of software for daily operations becomes necessary:

Accounting
Accounting and book-keeping are rather mundane tasks that you’d rather have a software product to help you with! On a serious note, it is imperative that your small business tracks finances efficiently and without any errors. If you need a centralized accounting and bookkeeping system from which you can pull tax or expenses data quickly, a well-rated accounting software is a way to go.

Inventory management
If timely and efficient order fulfillment is the difference between gaining and losing customers, you will need assistance from a top-notch inventory management software. It will help you track and control inventory and handle orders, sales, purchases, and deliveries.

Ecommerce software
If you are a B2B or B2C e-commerce business, you may want to invest in software applications that allow you to sell your offerings and conduct business online. The simplest shopping cart software, for instance, will serve as a real-world order form that allows convenient sale-purchase over the internet. There are different kinds of shopping cart software you can choose from, so you may want to consider the pros and cons of each before zeroing in on one. You have the option to buy or lease software. You can also choose open-source applications that have a strong developer community.

Social media management software
If your social media presence is an important sales driver and you don’t have the time or the resources to offer real-time responses, investing in social conversation software like Hootsuite and Sprout Social makes sense. On the other hand, if you want to be an active social media player by understanding the interests and spheres of influence of social media participants, social influencer software like Klout could be useful. For creating customized Facebook applications and promotions on YouTube and other social media channels, opt for social marketing software.

Logistics software
If you need to handle multiple shipping partners for your online import-export business, you can add a good logistics software to the list. Do a bit of research to identify the best paid and open source logistics software in the market.

Data analysis software
If your work involves extracting, analyzing and manipulating data on a regular basis, a data analysis software can help. The software is also useful to handle massive amounts of data – you can accumulate and organize it easily, efficiently and quickly. Some of the big data pools you may need to handle in a well-organized manner include employee information, product information, and customer information. The right CRM or HR software can help you accomplish this and stay on top of your business.

Project management software
Managing multiple projects takes more than just a highly-competent project manager; it requires clearly defined objectives and steps of action from planning to implementation. Project management software can provide a roadmap, help manage risks and define goals/work for every member of the project team.

 

A project management software can help with milestones, calendars, scheduling, and tasks. It can also provide chat and forum support by enabling online communication between teams, vendors, and freelancers.

Is there a solution for your needs?

Depending on the niche you operate in, you will have to research to determine if there actually exists a software solution for your specific need(s). Even if there isn’t one that completely addresses your niche-specific requirement, can it be modified by the provider or even at your end? Do you have the means to get a custom software system/application designed from scratch? These are some of the questions that need answering.

 

Making an informed decision

The decision-making process must involve participation from not just you – the business owner – but also employees who will be using the product. A product rating system based on appropriate criteria can help you arrive at an informed choice. Some helpful tips in this regard are:

  • Opting for product demonstrations without identifying your requirements
  • Starting without a shortlist of products and adopting a ‘let’s see how we go’ attitude
  • Testing the software product without a scenario
  • Getting swayed by any extra or added functionality that is not really a critical requirement

It goes without saying that you should give due attention to product ratings (from customer reviews), product support and vendor reputation before committing your small business dollars and time.