As a small business owner, it’s important to use the right software, at the right cost. There are a plethora of utilities out there that claim to do everything from managing your contacts to tracking your due dates to washing your dishes (well, maybe not that last one, but it sure seems like it sometimes). Some are free, some are ridiculously expensive, and a great many require a monthly fee. I’ve put together a few tips to help the busy entrepreneur narrow down the selection, and make the right choice the first time.
- Paid vs Free
Software as a Service (SaaS) really started gaining ground in the mid-2000’s. Since then, nearly every major (and most minor) software packages come with a monthly fee, rather than a one-time cost. Many programs such as Asana, Help Scout, and even anti-virus software like AVG offer a free version, but without the full features of the paid version. The key is knowing when to pay, and when to keep your credit card safely in your wallet. Pay for software that is inimical to your business – accounting and industry-specific core programs are two good examples – if you can’t get the functionality you need from free software. Everything else, from organizational tools like the aforementioned Asana to graphic design packages like Gnu Image Manipulation Program (gimp), can stay free for most of us.
- Reviews as Guidelines
Another development in the last decade or so has been the advent of user reviews. Regardless of the type of software you need, it will pay off big-time to read others’ experiences with it. Go with a trusted source like CNET or Tom’s Guide, who use a mix of user reviews and in-house experts. Amazon is also a good source of reviews, but without those resident experts, you’re only getting the user’s perspective. Take caution when talking to peers about which software to use; the opinion of a member of your entrepreneurial group is valuable, but that of your neighbor might not be.
- Take it Everywhere
Thanks to the astronomical rise in the use of phones and tablets, every software developer has to make their application at least a little mobile-friendly. The actual functionality of the application on a mobile device, however, varies widely. In addition, there are some things you really don’t need to have 24/7 access to. Evernote, for example, is an extremely useful organizational tool that I definitely recommend putting on every device you use regularly. Dropbox, a fantastic file-sharing platform, can stay on the office computer. If Ted really needs that file this very second, you can log on with your phone or tablet and transfer it from there.
- Hardware Requirements
Most modern computers can handle just about anything. My secondary computer is a seven year-old PC laptop that can run any Adobe product right along side Chrome, Skype, and those mysterious background programs that persist in taking a slice of the CPU pie. Still, I have to be careful about what I put on it, and what I run all at once. I also keep a close eye on bandwidth; having Skype, Dropbox, Chrome, and Dreamweaver all open and using the Internet causes serious speed issues, and sometimes one or more will crash all together. As an aside, always keep your virus protection software up-to-date, and for heaven’s sake, don’t use Norton or McAfee. Go with what the geeks use: AVG or Avast, both of which have free versions that are more than adequate for 90% of us.
- Let someone else take care of it for you
Paying consultants are another area I’ll explore in a later post, but suffice to say that, just like software, there’s a time to pay. When it comes to setting up the framework on which your company will heavily rely, bringing in an expert is more than worth the price. Choosing the software, setting up the accounts, and getting everyone trained is one of my specialties, as well as something that I truly love to do. Get in touch for time frames and quotes.