1. Watch the cash!
Obviously, for a start-up, this goes well beyond spending money on technology, but it’s important to keep it in mind when choosing software.
Where possible, invest in systems that allow you to pay monthly with no tie-in. Even if you feel that your business requires something more bespoke and specific in the medium term, selecting Pay-As-You-Go systems initially can pay dividends. Initial use of a Pay-As-You-Go system will allow you to test your requirements and then purchase a more bespoke solution from a more informed position.
Consider things like dedicated or hosted servers, and shared environments, so that you are not spending money on in-house servers and so on. Rarely are these necessary nowadays, and in fact they can limit your flexibility. The online environments are usually available for a monthly fee as well, and this helps cash flow as well as limiting risk.
If your requirements change, or if the business fails, you are faced with a relatively small write-off as long as you haven’t signed up to long-term support contracts, or made large capital outlays in these early stages.
Many business owners are not technology experts, and there is no reason why they should be, but there are many vendors who will take advantage of this fact, unfortunately. If you talk to someone who has a software package to sell, you will always find that their system will do everything that you ask of it – sometimes it is only later that you discover that those claims are at best costly, and at worst simply untrue.
This may seem a cynical view, and there are of course many technology vendors who will offer you the best advice and the benefit of their experience, but they will also tell you that there are no shortage of business like those above. The risk that you run, as a non-technical start-up, is that you don’t know which of these categories the people sitting in front of you fall into!
Make sure you research the market, talk to other businesses that you trust and find out what their systems are, or take external advice. When you settle on a solution, ask for reference sites that you can visit or speak to, in order to find out what the after-sales experience is.
3. Keep it flexible
You may well find that your business changes to some extent as it develops – you find some avenues are more worth pursuing than others, and sometimes what you end up doing a year or so in is not necessarily what you set out to do.
Having systems that are suitably flexible, or which can be dropped and changed quite quickly and easily, can keep you ahead of the game. If you have spent a lot of money on large and inflexible system, this can actively hold back your business growth.
4. Aim for integration
It can be tempting to take on an assortment of systems to fulfil various functions that you either need, or think you need. Bear in mind that most of these systems will hold, for example, your customer contact details – perhaps in a CRM system and an accounting system.
If any of those details change, they will need to be updated in two places. Quite quickly, this process will fail, and you will find yourself in a position where you have two different addresses for someone, and you are not sure which is the correct one!
It’s not always easy, depending on the systems you need, but it’s worth aiming for the greatest degree of integration that you can manage.
The golden rule is to aim to store every piece of data only once, and then share it, if you can. So you have one core customer or contact record, one central product record and so on.
5. Consider your processes
When you start a business, you will probably have a fixed idea of how you want it to work. Be prepared to learn from the way that the systems you look at operate – by their nature they will be generic, as they are designed to fit the needs of as wide a base of potential users as possible.
In the early stages of your business growth, try and follow these generic processes, rather than being too prescriptive about your own idea of how you want to operate. You will find it much easier to get started, and you will still be able to get orders out of the door one way or another!
There is an adage that you shouldn’t let software control your business, and this is certainly true, but at the same time you should always be asking yourself why you need to do something that is different to the way in which many businesses operate. As often as not, you may find that there is no compelling reason, certainly in the early stages.
Having made the above point about keeping your processes as generic as possible, it is still important to bear in mind where you want to get to in the end. If you are likely to have specific requirements, mobile apps or e-commerce for example, then try and ensure that the systems you are using can support some form of integration with external systems like these.
You won’t necessarily want to spend money on a mobile app at the start (unless that’s your business!) but you don’t want to be in a position where you are prevented from moving forward by a hasty and poorly researched decision made when you started.
In the end, choosing software is always a risk. You may find something better a few months later; you may spend too much because you are not familiar with the market; your business model may change; new technologies and possibilities may become available, and a host of other factors.
Keeping these six key pointers in mind while you are making your decisions may help to mitigate those risks. Like many purchase decisions, there is a balance to be struck, and there is no right and wrong.
We have extensive experience in implementing processes and systems to help you find the right focus for your business. If you’d like to find out more, please feel free to get in touch with me for a ‘no obligation’ chat about your business software and systems at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07722 605545 .