Small business owners might not have the capital to develop custom software tools that enhance their business. However, you can access cost-effective solutions – if you know the right questions to ask a vendor.
Assess and Prioritise Your Problems
Adding new business software can be fun, but buying those programs without a strategy isn’t going to address your long-term company goals. A quick-fix tool might alleviate a current problem. However, if it doesn’t stack up when it comes to scalability and handling an increased flow of data and new business, it might come back to bite you down the track.
New systems and processes can increase efficiency and help you better achieve your desired outcomes. To reach that aim, you’ll need to identify gaps or problems in your company that you need to fill or solve. For example, a problem might be not keeping on top of the project status and progression for several clients, meaning a time management and resource tool or a project management tool could prove valuable.
Mapping all the issues with your business will help you find the most valuable software solution. Add as much detail about each issue as possible, such as what is causing the problem, what is the business’s current solution and what other solutions are available.
An example of how you can use software to streamline your business is getting a comprehensive customer relationship management tool to replace handling all your customers on Excel spreadsheets, which can improve workflow and give you a good return on investment. Or perhaps your project management gets out of hand rather quickly without a technology solution – a handy and cheap tool like Trello could help you organise work more effectively.
Ask Some Questions of Your People
Developing and prioritising your company’s problems is just the first step – you need to get some additional input from other people who work with you. Build a list of general daily work activities and ask all your stakeholders to answer some questions, such as:
- What are your daily activities?
- Which activities do you track or measure?
- How do you track or measure those activities?
- What information do you collect, manage and maintain?
- What prevents you from doing your job better?
Your list of problems should now have fresh perspective and give you a more comprehensive understanding of your business, which will improve your decision-making during the final steps to purchasing.
Hitting the Shops
Business software developers generally design products with certain processes or problems in mind. Accordingly, your aim should be to match your business with a software tool’s solution. If you’re looking for some time-saving and cheap tools to add to the business to remedy minor problems, you can find several online that solve issues from time management to communication.
Your organisation cannot expect a one-size-fits-all solution to all your catalogued problems, as very few – if any – developers are working on such a platform (unless you buy in with each bolt-on). Rather, you’ll need to prioritise which solutions your company needs the most to solve problems in areas such as:
- Customer relationship management
- Billing and expenses
- Marketing/email/sales automation
- File sharing
You might have a few other programs available to you depending on your industry or niche, however remember to minimise the amount of tools you have in your business. Too many tools can be overwhelming. Instead, put together a quality and affordable list of tools that best solve your problems and invest in them.
Be Prepared to Spend and Measure
Quality software tools know their worth and they’ll make you pay. By the same token, bad software tools don’t know their worth, but will charge you for the privilege anyway. However, if you’ve taken the above steps, you should be able to distinguish between the two.
Before you’ve even started your search, put together a budget for software tools. If you find at the end of the day that the tools you really need would stretch the pre-qualifying budget, see if there’s long-term return on investment that would justify the extra money. Software can save on costs and generate revenue once properly deployed, making you money than what you spent. Just make sure you’re using analytics to measure the program’s value to the business.
Finally, beware of hidden costs, such as training costs, ancillary bolt-on costs and lost productivity in adapting to the new software.