If you are looking for software for your business, you may be at a loss as to how to pick the best solution. After you read three or four product brochures, or websites, all the software features start to seem the same. How much money do you need to spend to get something that will meet your requirements? Where do you start?
Here are a few things you should consider before you buy that software. You will find these pointers helpful, whether you are looking for a Human Resources package, accounting software, inventory tracking or point of sale software for a retail checkout counter.
Sit down with a pad and pencil and write down the things you want to do with the software. Then note with a checkmark those things for which you have a specific process or policy in place. These are the items to which you’ll pay special attention when you review the software package for purchase. You don’t want to have to change your processes to accommodate the software. If you can find a software package that will allow you to easily customize the software or to work with the software, you won’t have to bend or change your processes.
Now that you have your list, look on the internet or in trade journals for the packages that provide these kinds of features. If you are in a specialty business, be sure you are looking at packages that have special processes and flows available in the software for your kind of business (shoe store, dry cleaning, chiropractic, etc.). Don’t choose a generic package if there is specific software for your type of business or practice.
With your list in hand, begin your research. Get brochures or look on websites and find the features and benefits list for the product you are reviewing, and see if it has the features you need. If you have questions, write down their telephone number and call them or write them an email and outline your questions and concerns. None of this costs you money, but it may save you money in the long run if you take the time to ask questions.
Ask other businesses what they use (if your needs are generic and the other business person is not a competitor, they will be happy to tell you what they like and don’t like about the software). Learn from their experience so you don’t make the same mistakes.
Look at what these companies offer in terms of free upgrades, service by phone or in person. Do they guarantee a 24 hr turnaround on business questions? Does their website have a frequently asked questions section and/or message boards or blogs where people talk about tips and tricks for getting the most out of software?
Find out if there are local computer service companies that know how to use this software and can service your machine or help you if you have problems. Find out if there is training on it you want to use (either self-paced computerized tutorials and manuals or classes in your local community).
Does the company report on customer satisfaction? How long have they been in business, selling this kind of product?
Is there a trade show in your area where you can go see the product demonstration and talk to a sales person?
Read business software trade journals and online articles and find out what the rating is for the package you’d like to buy (most business software has been rated by someone and there are lots of articles out there that talk about ease of use and how each package compares to its competitors).
Look at the reporting requirements you have for end of year accounting and periodic reporting for your taxes, inventory control and other purposes. For example, if you are looking for inventory control, does your package give you an automated tickler for things that are out of stock or low on inventory and need to be re-ordered? If there are performances appraisals or raises due on a certain date, does your Human Resource package track and report on those dates?
Lastly, will the package you are considering be suitable for your business if your business grows to twice or three times your current size within the next year?
Many small business owners walk into an office supply or computer specialty store and buy the first thing they see on the shelf. They spend more money than they should on the package, and a lot of time and effort entering data into the system, and then they are locked into a software program they do not like, but cannot afford to replace.
If you take the time to address all the questions listed above, you will find a package that is suitable for your business.