How To Choose Software To Run Your Business
As a startup or small business owner, you have a single focus – winning and looking after new clients.
But very quickly, you realise your business produces a ton of administration:
- Keeping a grip on your finances
- Managing annual leave and staff rotas
- Marketing yourself
- Managing client and internal projects
- Developing your sales pipeline
- Handling emails and instant messaging
Your basic tools of email, spreadsheets and Word documents start to hold you back. Collaboration is difficult. Producing repeatable and efficient processes is nearly impossible. Things get missed or mishandled.
We’ve been trading for 10 years at Purple. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s the challenge of choosing the right software to help drive your business forward.
Sound Familiar Already?
Tell us about the challenges you’re facing with your business software and we’ll help you find a way out of the woods. We promise there will be no obligation and no hard sell.
Apps That Do Everything For Your Business
A quick Google search for software designed for your industry will usually return at least 10 reputable, well established software packages. Some target multiple industries. All of them will paint themselves as the answer to your business prayers (or nightmares).
We call these the Jack Of All Trades, but as the saying goes, are they “Master Of None”?
You’ll commonly encounter major software platforms like these:
These are usually referred to variously as:
- Electronic Resource Planning (ERP)
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Professional Services Administration (PSA)
In some cases, these 3 component parts are separate elements of an even bigger software platform.
The idea is simple. Every business has mostly the same set of requirements, like keeping track of prospects and customers, billing, stock control and so on. It therefore makes sense to bring all of this data into a single software package. In theory you then enjoy comprehensive insight into your whole business, using a single bit of software. What’s not to like?
Problems With Big ERP / PSA / CRM Systems
The common problem with large software platforms is their inflexibility. The sum of the parts is powerful because you have so much potential insight across the business, but there are also lots of dependencies. It becomes increasingly difficult for the developer to react to the needs of its users, as every component is so interconnected. If they change one thing, will it break all of those other things?
In our experience, the Jack Of All Trades software platforms tend to have a confusing user interface (the buttons, fields and navigation menus) because there are so many functions to provide buttons for. This increases the training burden for your staff to ensure data is entered correctly and consistently over time.
Growth and development of your business relies on making everything an easily repeatable process. So, if you have to conduct extensive training for all staff to use a complex software platform correctly, mistakes will be made. What use is an interconnected software platform if the data is hard to enter accurately in the first place?
Used correctly at scale with plenty of oversight and double-checking of data, there is no denying that integrated software platforms are a powerful tool for growing and running a profitable business. But they do suffer for their size and can be expensive to get on-board with initially.
Using Software-As-A-Service (SaaS)
Software As A Service, SaaS for short, describes offering software apps usually within a web browser, typically on a month-to-month subscription, based on the number of users you have in the business.
The advantages are many:
- Your IT overheads scale up and down with the size of the business
- There is no software to install or maintain – if you have a device with internet access, you can probably work effectively
- Updates and backups are automatic
Many of the big business management tools described above are technically SaaS. However, we like to think of SaaS as the smaller apps which do one thing and do them well. Tools such as:
- Slack (companywide messaging and collaboration)
- Trello, Hive, Monday (project management tools)
- Zendesk (customer service helpdesk)
- Xero, QuickBooks Online (accounts and finance)
- LucidChart (online charts and diagrams)
- Office Online, Google Docs (online document creation and editing)
- Hubspot (CRM)
Each of these tools does one thing and does it really well. They benefit from simple user interfaces and a high degree of agility and responsiveness from their developers. They simply don’t have the baggage of the big all-in-one platforms, so they tend to be modern, fast and easy to use.
The problem of course how you tie all the data in these systems together?
Modern SaaS applications often have what’s called an API – an application programming interface. This sounds complicated, but it’s very simply a set of rules that one app can use to send and receive data from another app, which it otherwise knows nothing about.
In this way, you can set up some incredible workflows. Your staff and departments are free to use high quality, inexpensive and tailored tools to suit their purposes, and the API can ensure this data is fed between departments.
A Multi-App Workflow
As an example, your Sales team might enter a new prospect’s info into their preferred CRM app.
When you get a sale, the CRM could send the customer information to the Project Management team’s preferred app, using its API, including the scope of works.
When the project is underway and nearing completion, the Project Management app can send the bill of materials and labour time to your accounts package via its API, for billing and credit control.
Here you have 3 separate tools, each designed and maintained for its sole purpose, providing efficient workflow for each department and a much better user experience for everyone.
It’s not always easy to find the right combination of tools, but a combination of good software supported by clear internal processes can really drive your business forward. Better still, unlike the big software platforms, you don’t have all your eggs in one basket if something goes badly wrong. You may only experience downtime in a department rather than the whole company.
This inherently starts to sound like a big-business topic, but it applies just as well to startups and small businesses alike.
You may not have separate departments because you don’t have the staff, but chances are you’re acting as several departments all by yourself. Putting in place the right tools early on, tools which can scale up to serve entire departments in your successful future, is a very good investment of your time and energy now.
We’ve learned it the hard way – a single platform for all your business functions doesn’t necessary solve your growth problems. We firmly believe that really good SaaS tools which serve single purposes, but have excellent integration with other SaaS apps, is how the modern small business can use their agility to compete seriously with big business and deliver growth.
Want To Give It A Go?
Tell us about your business and we’ll help you to find a suite of tools to transform what you’re doing, one department at a time.