Small Business Software
In the 21st century, almost all businesses depend on computers for day to day operations. And just as vital as these useful machines is the software that runs on them. A program exists for nearly every need, from finance and accounting management to the development of presentation and marketing materials. Some software seems to have enough bells and whistles to make coffee and shred documents.
While the possibilities indeed may be endless, for simplicity's sake, it makes more sense to stick to four common business functions: bookkeeping, backup, communication and marketing.
Many small businesses need help keeping their finances organized so they can focus on business growth rather than a sea of paperwork. The good news is that several programs are available to do just that: track expenses and income, keep an eye on what makes - and costs - money, create invoices, track sales, manage expenses, print checks and pay bills, manage payroll, create reports and have all pertinent information organized and readily available at tax time.
The key to finding the right software is to know your current and future needs.
- Do you require merely basic tracking and billing functions?
- Who will be operating the software - You or an employee? Are they capable of understanding the technology?
- What is the most important feature you need in the booking software: Ease in operation, extensive management capabilities, etc.
- Will you need business plan creation, sales forecasts and other detailed industry-specific reports?
- Do you anticipate growing your business? Do you already have multiple locations or need thorough reporting capabilities?
If you already own a business that's snowballing in size very quickly, a premier package is probably the ideal selection. Odds are you'll need all of these features at your disposal at some point.
If you're just starting out or have operated at the same level for some time, the basics probably are sufficient. Opt for a more affordable professional version.
The most popular software to manage bookkeeping tasks includes: QuickBooks 2009, Peachtree 2009, Bookkeeper 2009, Big E-Z, Quicken 2009, Small Business Pro, MYOB Accountedge, My Invoices & Estimates, TurboTax, and Microsoft Money.
Most of these programs are available in a variety of packages, from simple to deluxe.
It's a rare business that doesn't want to minimize risk and protect its assets. No matter the company size, backing up data on an external drive or device, internal server or Internet service is critical. System backup and recovery programs not only protect essential documents, they offer peace of mind. Your backup software selection will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The type of operating system
- Amount of storage required
- Number of systems and range of files requiring backup
- Desired location of backup files (online or external drive)
- Number of times per week/day the business will backup documents
- Speed of backup process
- Desired ease in accessibility
Some of the most popular software to manage backup functions include: Norton Ghost, FolderMatch, Symantec, Syncplicity, SugarSync, Acronis True Image, NovaBackup, Retrospect, Dropbox and Mozy Remote Backup.
Communication greases the wheels of commerce. E-mails, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, remote computing and voice-to-text technologies no longer are luxuries - they're services we depend on. To this end, going with communication software suitable to your particular business increases operational efficiency, accuracy and simplicity.
The variety of communication programs on the market is dizzying, so it's a good idea to narrow the field to a couple basic categories:
- Office suite products offer a range of programs under one umbrella, including e-mail, scheduling, word-processing, desktop publishing, mapping/directions and report management. Because these applications are compatible with one another, the savings in time and cash can be considerable.
- Solo-application products, such as language translation, word processing and Web conferencing, to name just a few, are suitable for companies with a narrower focus.
The market boasts a slew of software products to manage virtually any communication need, among them: Microsoft Office, WordPerfect, OpenOffice, iWork, Timbuktu, Dragon Naturally Speaking, MobileMe, MacSpeech Dictate, Ubuntu, Talk It Type It, My Mail List and PCanywhere.
Today's small company not only manages its own finances, business operations and communications, but will oftentimes handle marketing as well. Fortunately, software developers are supplying a wide range of programs for that exact demand.
From editing snapshots for a company newsletter to creating television commercials, production possibilities are endless. Programs out there can assist with photo retouching, organization and sharing; Web creation and hosting; movie and audio editing; and DVD production. Other applications address page layout, prepress and production for anything from black and white ads to complex brochures.
When considering a purchase, select marketing software based on skill sets and needs:
- Firms owned by or employing an advanced designer typically will manage all marketing communications in-house. In this case, a multi-product software package is the best choice.
- Companies using an outside marketing firm will need only enough functions to edit copy, photos and ad layouts; so a single application product specific to the print medium should suffice.
Software options to manage most marketing needs include: Adobe Creative Suite or individual products such as Photoshop or Dreamweaver, iLife, Corel products, Microsoft Publisher, Final Cut, Roxio Toast, Dazzle Video and AutoCAD.
Whether it's a complex back-up system or a simple word processing program, keep some guidelines in mind before whipping out the credit card:
- Try before you buy. If it's a reliable program, the manufacturer will not have an issue with a free trial or demo. Nor will they have a problem offering a money back guarantee. Don't buy without a test drive, or without a solid return policy.
- Don't buy more than you will use. Ask yourself if you're hankering after too many trinkets. How important is it to speak to your computer instead of hitting a couple keys? Will you ever learn to use that advanced video production software? Will a simpler, less expensive product do just as well?
- Check for compatibility and service. Make sure that the software will work with your operating system and existing programs, and confirm that technical support is readily available to answer questions or troubleshoot.
Software selection can be exciting - and intimidating. Follow the few purchasing tips outlined above to end up with a product capable of both boosting the bottom line and reducing unnecessary stress.