The right tools can raise your business to a whole new level. The wrong ones can cost you time, money and a great deal of stress. Here's how to choose wisely.
The most powerful hardware is useless without the right software. Make sure that you choose what will work best for your business.
Before you do anything else, decide which operating systemyou want to use. There are a few to choose from but remember that not all software will run on all operating systems.
If a particular program is essential to your business, this will dictate your choice. Microsoft Windows is the most widespread in terms of providing all-round business support, flexibility and security, and it is suited to most, if not all, business applications.
Operating systems usually come with a variety of high-quality software included, such as email and Internet browser software and a selection of fonts, among other things.
However, you will still need to purchase licensed copies of any specialised software programs needed to run your business.
Most basic admin programs are available in integrated office software suites, which can be bought as single packages. These offer good value if you need two or more of the included applications.
There are several major office suites available but they don't all contain the same type of software. They are also often available in different versions, catering for different needs and budgets. So don't just compare prices, compare contents too.
Typically, an office software suite should include everything you need to run the financial and administrative aspects of a small business, for example:
- A word processing package for basic layout and formatting of documents.
- An office spreadsheet program for basic accounting, statistical planning and management.
- An office presentation graphics program.
- An easy-to-use design and layout program for basic business publishing and marketing materials.
- Email software with contact management features. This should allow you to manage email and general communication, calendars, contacts, personal and team information, as well as business contacts, sales opportunities and personalised email marketing campaigns.
While it is possible to set up accounts in a spreadsheet program, you might prefer to buy a separate accounting package.
For sole proprietors, a personal financial package may be sufficient. For more complex requirements, consult with your accountant to make sure you buy a package that is compatible with his/her software and that suits your company's requirements.
Computer systems sometimes come bundled with utility software, which handles the housekeeping and maintenance tasks on your computer.
By far the most important of these is an anti-virus program to protect your machine from data loss and file corruption. Ask your software vendor about it when you buy your computer, and again when you buy your software. DonÃt start using your computer without one.
Certain work may require specialist or tailor-made software. This can be pricey, and cost does not always reflect quality.
Do some research and consult with others in your industry who have used similar applications. See whether your local trade organisation has any recommendations.
If you employ a programmer to create custom-made software, use one who is familiar with your type of business and who comes with good references.
Also make sure you get all the source code for any programming work that is done. Without it, you won't be able to get technical assistance if your original programmer moves on.