By Tim Handorf
Selecting the right business software can be difficult for any professional. However, as SMBs tend to have smaller budgets than their enterprise-level counterparts, selecting the wrong software not only could give you a headache – it could have a real negative impact in your organization, and draw focus from where you need it most: growing or running your business.
Here are five high-level considerations to keep in mind when selecting any type of software for your business:
1) Define the benefits you expect the software to deliver.
Because running a small business can be extraordinarily fast paced, it may seem like a luxury to be able to step back and take a deep dive into your business. However, without understanding the results you expect to achieve it will be difficult to determine the best fit for you or if you even need a software to solve the problem. Before starting make sure you can answer the following questions:
- What are the business benefits you are trying to achieve?
- How will you define success of the implementation?
- How will you measure the ROI?
Having answers to these basic questions up front will make the rest of your selection process much, much easier.
2) Determine your requirements.
Once you’ve decided your goals and an approach, you’ll need to answer a few additional questions to help you create your initial shortlist. For instance:
- How many people will need to use the software you select?
- How much company and employee growth do you expect?
- Will your team need to use the tool remotely? From mobile devices?
- What other systems will you need to integrate with? (For instance, will you need to connect a new CRM platform with the email marketing software you already use?)
- What kind of customer support will you require for implementation? On a regular basis?
- Are there specific features that you must have to achieve the desired business benefits?
- What is a reasonable budget based on your expected ROI?
These are just some of the questions you will have to have answered before you create your initial product shortlist.
3) Ease of implementation and use.
Many enterprise-size companies have IT resources and people dedicated to implementing and maintaining software. Small businesses don’t necessarily have the same luxury.
If the software offers a free trial, take it for a quick spin to see how intuitive it is. As a small business owner or employee, it is unlikely you will have time or the money to spend on extensive training initiatives. You will probably set it up yourself and the employees and your yourself will need to learn how to use it quickly with little to no training. Because of the minimal set up and ramp up time, software as a service (SaaS) offerings are very popular with small businesses.
In addition, don’t lock yourself in to the software you select. Just because this software is right for you now doesn’t mean it will be right for you in a couple of years. When your business is small and younger, your requirements will change as your company matures. If you have fast growth plans, make sure you can easily take the data you have put into the software to another software if required. Make sure the system you choose has data export capabilities. Also, you may not want to lock yourself into an extended contract. Long term contracts could force you to use a software that no longer makes sense for you business.
4) Data reporting and dashboard capabilities.
As you begin to demo and test out different platforms, make sure to spend some time checking out its reporting and data export capabilities. Some questions to ask:
- Does the platform make information easy to digest at a glance, as well as to analyze while you’re on the go (if needed)?
- Do the platforms’ analysis capabilities make your job easier?
- Does the data be exported to other platforms easily?
This last question brings us to our final consideration…
5) Look at what your peers are saying
No single software product fits all use cases, of course. In addition to researching general feedback on products and vendors, it’s important to find specific insights from other people who are in your shoes, including from:
- people who also work in your industry
- people who work at companies of similar sizes to yours or your clients’
- people who are users, administrators or executive sponsors for the platforms you’re considering.
Whether you gather these insights through coworkers, friends and families, or review platforms (such as G2 Crowd), they’ll be helpful through your purchase process.
Consider these five items, and you’ll find that you might be able to take your business to the next level by selecting the right business software platform.
Tim Handorf is president and co-founder of G2 Crowd, a Highland Park, Ill.-based technology company. With nearly 150,000 unique monthly visitors and more than 30,000 reviews and ratings, G2 Crowd is a leading business software review platform on the web. Prior to this role, he led the product team at BigMachines. Follow him on Twitter at @thandorf.