Finding the right small business software
The term business software refers to any computer program used in the operation of a business – specifically those that help manage, increase and measure productivity. This specifically excludes games and other entertainment software.
Business software is as varied as the businesses that use it. The type of software a business needs depends mainly on its size. Small businesses usually require only accounting and office software and free versions of these programs are often enough to suffice. Medium businesses may also require collaboration software (groupware), customer relationship management software and human resources software. And large businesses might want to add enterprise planning and process management software.
Business software needs are also determined by the nature of the business. Retail businesses may require inventory and point of sale software, while service-based businesses may require time tracking and scheduling software. Every business is unique.
To figure out which applications your business will need, think about the kind of tasks your business performs and those required to keep it running, and then look for software that might help you complete these tasks more efficiently and accurately. For most businesses, software essentials include:
- Word processing or office software to create, edit and store basic documents. Microsoft Office (which includes Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel) is the most commonly used office software, but there are plenty of alternatives, each with its own advantage.
- Graphics software to design business materials, logos, etc. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are two of the most common applications under this umbrella.
- Accounting software to record transactions and manage finances. Typically, accounting software is broken down into modules that each deal with a particular aspect of accounting. Core modules include account receivable, accounts payable, billing and a general ledger. More specific modules include electronic payment processing, payroll, and debt collection.
- Antivirus software to protect computers connected to the Internet. Essential in order to maintain the security of a company's computer system, antivirus software is a blanket term that is often used to refer to not only software which eliminates the threat of viruses, but also spyware removal software and firewall software.
- Backup software to protect vital data. Businesses are vulnerable to hardware failure, just as individual consumers are. It's important for businesses to back up any important data. Off-site backup is preferred, since it protects a business in the event that a flood, fire or other disaster destroys local hardware. There are many excellent data backup services that will automatically (and securely) download vital data to a remote location and store backup copies of it.
Especially in small businesses, the temptation is to simply use whatever software comes with the computer. These packages, however, often provide only a basic form of the program, so you're not getting the full benefit of the software. Upgrade to the full version if you intend to use the application regularly.
If you're concerned about the hefty price tag some software carries, look for free trial offers and downloadable demos. Most reputable companies offer these and/or a money-back guarantee, so you can use the software for a while (usually between one and three months) to determine whether you need and like it before you make the investment.
Software as a Service
You might also look into Software as a Service (SaaS), also known as on-demand software. This software is accessed via the Internet rather than downloaded onto a computer's hard drive, and businesses pay for use as opposed to purchasing the program outright. It's a low-cost alternative to software ownership, but it's not without its challenges.
SaaS software is limited in its flexibility and scalability. Most applications are designed for small-to-medium-sized businesses that require a standard product. Customization is fairly restricted, and applications are not designed to provide enterprise-level functionalities. There was also some early concern about the safety of data in such applications, but these have largely been allayed as security protocols have become more advanced.
Certainly, Software as a Service at least warrants consideration for a small business looking for a cost-effective way to obtain software. However, if it doesn't offer what your business needs, you're better off biting the bullet and investing in software that does. Odds are, the right software will pay for itself in the time, money and frustration it saves you.