When it comes to your small business, software applications – or “apps” – are your silent partners.
Without applications – the programs that tell your computers what to do with all the 1’s and 0’s that are the lifeblood of most modern businesses – your expensive hardware is powerless. For most corporate office jockeys, the applications involve the use of Microsoft Office software, which typically includes Word, a word processing application, Excel, a spreadsheet, and its PowerPoint slide show presentation software. Office is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to office productivity applications.
As powerful and universal as Office may be, however, for small businesses and startups, it can be an expensive medium and may still not be able to meet all of your information technology needs. Here’s a general rundown of the different categories of business application software that should be on your shopping list, and some of the other ways to meet your needs without breaking the bank.
Whether your business is big or small, business today is all about doing your numbers. It’s a lot more complicated than just balancing your checkbook, especially if you have a lot of customers, have inventory, and have different types of billing cycles. To get a true picture of the financial health of your business, you need accounting software.
Accounting software allows you to record and process basic accounting transactions such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll, as well as a host of more complex financial tasks. Because accounting software allows you to track financial relationships with your customers over time, it also gives you insight into your customer base.
“It becomes a great database of your customers,” said Ellen DePasquale, IT consultant and trainer for 20 years.
[For reviews of all of the small business accounting software, visit our best accounting software for small business page.]
Link to the top: e-mail
For many small businesses, email is the primary link with customers and suppliers. Virtual businesses can add employees to the list. The functional aspect of email revolves around the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that provides your email account and the email client software application that you use to send and receive your email. You can use paid email service or a variety of free email services.
There are a number of hosting companies such as GoDaddy.com that will provide your own domain and email account. Another way to acquire your own domain is through your local cable company or telephone company. If money is of critical interest, you can always go the free route with an online email account with Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo.
When it comes to customers, the gold standard remains Microsoft’s Outlook, which is a rich email client, married to contact management and calendar functions. There are also other full-featured clients available, such as Mozilla’s Thunderbird, Firefox browsers, or Apple’s email client. There are also a number of online accounts like Gmail that don’t require any separate client software but have a more limited stable of bells and whistles.
Put your best face forward: Documentation
Your business needs to present many faces to the world. This is where documentation applications come in. Your documentation is all that lets people know about you, what and how you do it – text documents, business plans, presentations. It’s all about words – verbiage. And where there are words, there must be a word processor – a word processor app is a must for correspondence, copywriting for any business literature or your website. Presentation apps, like Microsoft’s oft-maligned PowerPoint, are nice to have, but unless you’re spending some time at trade shows and conventions or looking for cash for funds, this is optional.
The default documentation solution for just about all computer users is Microsoft’s Office application package, which includes Word for word processing and PowerPoint for presentations. Both have so many features and capabilities that you could easily make learning how to use them a full-time job. An alternative is OpenOffice, a free office software suite that you can download that includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics, and database applications. And there are online suites like Google Docs and Zoho, among others. The advantage of using an online application such as Google or Zoho is that your work is automatically saved on their servers.
How much will it cost?
Microsoft Office is not cheap. If you just want Word or PowerPoint, they cost $ 139.99 each. But you can get the full package, which includes both apps plus Outlook and Excel for as little as $ 199.99 if you download the apps, or $ 279.99 if you want to have the actual disks. OpenOffice is free, just like Google and Zoho, for individual users.
Keep an eye on your customers: CRM
If you only have a few clients, it’s usually not difficult to keep tabs on your relationships with them, including when you’ve contacted them, what you’ve done for them, and what plans you have for it. to come up. When that number increases (as you hope), the task may previously become more complicated and time consuming. This is where small business customer database software (also known as CRM) can come to your rescue. As the name suggests, it helps you keep track of your customers and your relationships with them.
CRM helps you organize your customer relationships every step of the way, from the start of your collaboration with a new customer until the end of that relationship. And even when the professional relationship is over, it can remind you to follow up with former clients to see if they are interested in renewing the relationship.
If you want cheap CRM software (like Less boring CRM) that you can install on your own computer, the main game in town to help small businesses manage their customers is Act! Software. But Salesforce.com’s online CRM is a formidable competitor.
And if you’re comfortable with online CRM, you should definitely take a look at Zoho’s CRM capabilities.
How much will it cost?
The basic act! The software starts at $ 171.99. Salesforce.com offers a CRM starting at $ 5 per month. A version of Zoho’s online CRM software with reduced functionality is free for up to three users.
Spreadsheets are the raw material of accounting applications and much more. They display multiple cells containing alphanumeric text, numbers, or formulas in a grid consisting of rows and columns. They are useful for keeping track of things, sorting things out (slicing and dicing in business lingo) testing the effects of changes on things like pricing and math. They are knotty, but they are necessary.
Microsoft Excel is by far the most used, but IBM’s venerable Lotus 1-2-3 has a lot of staunch supporters. OpenOffice offers downloadable spreadsheets online, and Google and Zoho offer spreadsheets.
How much will it cost?
You can buy Excel on its own for $ 139.99, but you would have some cash up front to get it as part of the Office bundle because you will also need a word processing app. Lotus 1-2-3 weighs $ 322. OpenOffice is free. And online, Google and Zoho both offer free spreadsheets.