When you start a small business, it's common to hack together a few free or low-cost technology solutions to help you through the first few months. While these small business solutions might save you some money upfront, the mix of technology could lead to a metaphorical "rat's nest" of conflicting tools that make running your business harder, not easier.
With a mess of technology on your hands, you might have to enter the same data into multiple systems. Or, your information won't update automatically across your tools. With each minor inconvenience, you risk inaccurate information and significant amounts of lost time.
Thankfully, it's easy to avoid this mess if you choose your tools carefully from the get-go. In this guide, we'll cover how to choose the right small business solutions for your technological needs.
What to Consider When Selecting Small Business Software
When looking for new technology for your small business, start by defining the problem you'd like to solve. Be as specific as you can so you can look for technology with the features you really need, rather than a tool with too many bells and whistles that don't make running your business easier.
Once you've made a list of the must-have features for your next small business solution, you can begin looking for software that meets your needs. As you compare software and tech solutions, consider these factors:
- Cost: Will you pay a one-time fee or a monthly subscription? Does the price change depending on the number of users or the amount of storage you use?
- Learning curve: How long will it take for you and your team to learn the new technology? Is the software intuitive and easy for first-timers to learn?
- Customization: Can you modify or adapt the features and interface to best meet your needs?
- Integrations with other tech: Can your new software connect to other important tools via connectors or APIs?
Many tech solutions for small businesses offer free or low-cost trials to experience the software before you commit to buying it. Try your top software options before making the purchase to see how they actually work within your business. If you can, let your employees try the software too and give their opinions on its usefulness and ease.
Best-in-Class vs. Integrated Solutions
Some small business owners may find themselves deciding between software that performs one crucial task exceptionally well versus an "all-in-one" solution that does several things reasonably well.
All-in-one technology is often known as integrated software. With integrated software, you get several functions or applications in a single package. These applications can then share data with each other, making it easier for you to stay up-to-date. Microsoft Office is an example of a popular integrated software suite.
If you are considering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or other online software, you may find that you can create your own integrated solution by connecting multiple services. Many SaaS companies offer integrations with related technology so you can share data among all the tools you use. Looking for separate tools that work well together is an excellent way to merge best-in-class software with the benefits of integrated solutions.
Small Business Solutions to Consider
If you're in a specialized industry, you might be tempted to look for small business solutions tailored to your field. While this is worth looking into, you can also invest in generalized software or tools designed to be customized to the needs of your business.
Here are three small business solutions to consider — no matter your industry.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is the backbone of many small businesses. Though initially designed for sales teams, CRMs now help companies stay on top of everything from onboarding new employees to marketing for small businesses.
A good CRM helps you track communication and interaction with anyone you do business with. If you do small business consulting, for instance, your CRM can keep a record of when you last talked to each client and give automatic reminders for follow-ups. In marketing for small businesses, CRMs can pinpoint the path a prospect took to become a customer.
Many CRMs today are highly customizable and may even offer specialized features or modules for specific industries. So if you're looking for one integrated solution to do the most for your small business, a CRM is a good place to start.
Accounting software is perhaps the most important small business solution you need. Accurate financial records are absolutely essential to making sure your business runs properly.
Choose accounting software that feels intuitive to you. If it's too difficult to use, chances are you'll fall behind on your bookkeeping, leading to potential issues down the road.
These days, plenty of accounting solutions integrate easily with other small business tools. Check the available integrations to make sure your ideal tool plays nicely with your other technology.
Sometimes, you don't need a whole new software solution to solve a problem in your business. Chrome extensions are small, inexpensive ways to get essential functions covered.
Browser extensions work best for small, simple tasks like tracking time and creating to-do lists. Some extensions feed data into a complete software solution, making them part of your integration small business solution. With others, you'll have to move the data from Chrome to the relevant software manually. Think carefully about whether you need accurate data from Chrome extensions before committing to them as a permanent solution.
The Importance of Your Small Business Website
Your small business website can quickly become a rat's nest of technology if you're not careful. If you use a website builder or online service to create your website, you may not have the flexibility you need to upgrade your website as your business grows.
Consider hiring a web developer to create a custom website for you and help you make smart business decisions regarding your company's technology. Or, look into small business consulting on websites to get more ideas for how to build a long-lasting website.