One of a small business owner's most important IT concerns is ensuring their technology choices actually work for them - now and longer-term as well. Making the most of your technology budget with tools that really work for you can be an overwhelming task, especially if you're just starting out. Here's where Fulcrum Group experts can help...We've drawn up some key tech points to consider, addressed by business category:
Key Tech Points:
Customer Relationship Management System (CRM)
Sales and clients drive top-line revenues. SMBs (small-medium businesses) should start early to track clients and client information using a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).
Small business owners should decide on a standard business office suite (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, email). Think particularly about the software choices your clients and business partners use if you plan to share documents.
Accounting for your business should include some sort of software that can handle typical accounting functions. Consider frequent accounting needs such as quoting, invoicing, end-of-period reports and financial analysis.
Many times businesses will have specific “line of business” applications that are specific to their industry. The beauty of these platforms is they might have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allow that business software to directly exchange data with other systems, like transferring data directly into your accounting system.
General business/productivity applications
There are plenty of individual tools that are available in the cloud, or as smartphone apps, that might help you track things like notes, time, expenses or mileage. Some of our personal favorites include:
Operating Systems for small business
What should small business owners consider when selecting an operating system? SMBs need efficiency. If really small, focus on operating systems that you already know, or that are standard for an industry or have solid access to support. Priority one for businesses is that they have to be able to operate and being forced into something new isn't always helpful. However, it is a good idea to standardize over one platform for all users, where possible.
A Few Cost/Benefit Points
Cost of Ownership - We consider cost of ownership to go beyond purchase price alone. Along with original cost for purchasing the solution, don't forget to account for the estimated annual renewals, implementation/service/support costs, application training, administrator training, hardware requirements and any cloud/hosting service costs.
The Benefits of a Potential Solution - Once you've narrowed down some potential solutions, some good questions to further explore include:
- Is the app/os easy to use?
- Does it offer advanced features?
- Can I start small and grow as my business does?
- Is there a cloud/hosted option that lets me get started without lots of start-up costs?
- Do the apps work with other tools I use?
Cloud (or hosted) Considerations:
- Gauge the speed of a desired app over your internet connection.
- Make sure you have back up plan if your Internet connection goes down at work (maybe work from home, or secure a secondary Internet connection).
- Consider your technology as a recruiting tool. Will the best hires stay on with your company if they are provided old applications on outdated computers?
Other general tips
Here are some other general business tips we've encountered along the way, ourselves:
- Draw out your most important business workflows to help determine the tools you need (sales process, warehouse/shipping, invoicing/collections, service delivery, even relocating an office/office move plans)
- If you have time, conduct a pilot or try trial software first
- Make planning and user training an important part of rolling out any new application or operating system.
- Ask around at industry meetings and shows to find out what other people are using or addressing challenges specific to your business or size of business. Online user groups are good sources of info, too.
- DON’T just trust online reviews (many of these are sponsored by the vendor). Probe around in different venues for the most reliable info.
- Make sure to organize your technical expenses together to start a budget and consider from all angles for the most accurate cost/benefits.
- For security and stability, make sure you are applying regular updates to operating systems, applications and applets (Acrobat Reader, Flash, Java…)
- Don’t forget custom applications for your business. This might give you a competitive advantage in a non-technical industry.
- Go ahead and build into your technology plan to replace PCs/laptops ever 3 years or so, servers every 3-5 years and infrastructure about every 3-5 years, depending on your particular needs and flexibility.
- Ask about surrounding tools to your preferred line of business applications - is there built-in faxing, copier scanning, OCR and other features that can translate to saved man hours?
Whether you are just starting a new business, or you're a seasoned small business owner, we expect some of this info is useful to you - feel free to share this with a colleague as well.
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