Small Business Software
A program exists for nearly every need, from finance and accounting management to the development of presentation and marketing materials.
While the possibilities may be endless, it makes sense to stick to four common business functions: bookkeeping, backup, communication and marketing.To protect the files and data your software generates, a good security program likewise is a must.
Many small companies need help keeping their finances organized so they can focus on business growth rather than on a sea of paperwork. The good news is that several programs are available to do just that: track expenses and income, keep an eye on what makes- and costs- money, create invoices, track sales, manage expenses, print checks and pay bills, manage payroll, create reports and have all pertinent information organized and available at tax time.
The key to finding the right software is to identify your current and future needs. Ask these questions:
- Do you require only basic tracking and billing functions?
- Who will be using the software - you or an employee?
- Will you and your staff be able to handle the technology?
- What is the most important feature you need in the booking software? Examples might be ease in operation, extensive management capabilities, advanced mathematical function, etc.
- Will you need business plan creation, sales forecasts and other detailed industry-specific reports?
- Do you anticipate growing your business?
- Do you already have multiple locations or need thorough reporting capabilities?
If you own a business that's snowballing in size, a premier package is probably the ideal selection. Odds are you'll need all of these features at your disposal at some point.
If you are just starting out or have operated at the same level for some time, the basics probably are sufficient. Opt for a more affordable professional version.
The most critically-acclaimed small business bookkeeping/accounting software features regular upgrades to improved versions, at least on an annual basis. These programs include:
These brands range in price from less than $50 to more than $2,000 with varying degrees of support. Other popular products are Big E-Z Bookkeeping, My Invoices & Estimates, and TurboTax for Business.
Successful business owners know the importance of protecting company assets. No matter a firm's size, backing up data on an external drive or device, internal server or Internet service is critical. System backup and recovery programs not only protect essential documents, they also offer peace of mind. Selecting software to meet your needs rides on a variety of factors, including:
Prices for many products in this category run less than $100, with online subscriptions often coming in at just a few dollars a month. Highly-rated brands include:
Other popular products include: FolderMatch, Symantec, SugarSync, Retrospect Professional, Dropbox (online) and Mozy Remote Backup online.
The variety of communication programs on the market is dizzying, so it's a good idea to narrow the field to a couple basic categories:
- Office suite products offer a range of programs under one umbrella, including e-mail, scheduling, word-processing, desktop publishing, mapping/directions and report management. Because these applications are compatible, the savings in time and cash can be considerable.
- Solo-application products, such as language translation, word processing and Web conferencing, to name just a few, are suitable for companies with a narrower focus.
The market boasts a slew of software products to manage virtually any communication need, among them:
Ubuntu, Talk It Type It, MyMailList and PCanywhere also perform a range of communication tasks.
Today's small company not only manages its own finances, business operations and communications, but often handles marketing chores, too. Fortunately, software developers are supplying a wide range of programs for that exact demand.
From editing snapshots for newsletters to creating television commercials, production possibilities are endless. Programs can assist with photo retouching, organization and sharing; Web creation and hosting; movie and audio editing; and DVD production. Other applications address page layout, prepress and production for anything from black and white ads to complex brochures.
When considering a purchase, select marketing software based on skill sets and needs. Firms employing an advanced designer typically will manage all marketing communications in-house. In this case, a multi-product software package is the best choice.
On the other hand, companies using an outside marketing firm will need simpler functions to edit copy, photos and ad layouts. To this end, a single application product specific to the print medium should suffice.
Software options to manage most marketing needs include:
While premium products such as Adobe Photoshop can run into hundreds of dollars, many productivity programs available at retail outlets cost far less, and may offer enough functionality for simple marketing materials.
Most computers come equipped with trial versions of antivirus and firewall software. For the safety of your hardware, software and data, never let these subscriptions lapse, and always download updates. Too many companies have lost customers, clients and money at the hands of unscrupulous hackers and destructive viruses.
On today's market, Norton and McAfee antivirus products, which offer frequent updates and strong online support remain popular. But others are available too, such as:
- Avast Free AntiVirus Series
- Sophos Antivirus for Mac
- BitDefender Antivirus Pro Series
- Webroot AntiVirus with Spy Sweeper Series
Software Buying Tips
Whether it's a complex back-up system or a simple word processing program, keep these guidelines in mind before whipping out the credit card:
- Try before you buy. If it's a reliable program, the manufacturer will not have an issue with a free trial or demo; nor will they have a problem offering a money back guarantee. Don't buy without a test drive, or without a solid return policy.
- Don't buy more than you will use. Ask yourself if you're hankering after too many trinkets. How important is it to speak to your computer instead of hitting a couple keys? Will you ever learn to use that advanced video production software? Will a simpler, less expensive product do just as well?
Check for compatibility and service. Make sure the software will work with your operating system and existing programs, and confirm that technical support is readily available to answer questions or troubleshoot. Any worthwhile program should have online support and a telephone help desk available around the clock.