Ryan Jon Dunn
Top 10 pieces of small business software
Finding the right software for a start-up has thankfully moved on from the days when Microsoft Office was the most exotic choice available.
Small businesses now have a varied and often highly affordable range of software to choose from thanks in part to the rise in ‘cloud computing.’
As StartupSmart has explored previously living on the cloud is an increasingly popular option for entrepreneurs.
Kevin Noonan, research director of Ovum, highly recommends that small businesses consider cloud services.
“The big advantage for small business is access to well-tested industrial strength systems and infrastructure without the upfront delays and start-up costs,” he says.
“The recent natural disasters highlighted the disaster-recovery capabilities of systems and infrastructure delivered over the cloud.”
Here we run down 10 of the most popular, most effective and most usable software products on the market for start-ups.
Dropbox is a file-sharing and storage program that automatically syncs files across a range of computers. It is free to begin with and it’s installable across a range of computers.
When users are at a computer that is not registered with their account they can log in and gain access to their documents.
Brendan Lewis, CEO of Flinders Pacific, says: “Dropbox is another great example of software that allows you to be always on the move but still allows you to have everything you need.”
We recently reported that two thirds of businesses still lack a website. As Renai LeMay, founder and editor of technology website Delimter, points out: “In 2011 if you don't have a web site you're not in business.”
LeMay says some people are scared off, thinking managing a website may be difficult and time consuming. But he says they needn’t be.
“There is no easier way to create a swish-looking website for nothing than to use WordPress,” he advises.
“There are thousands of free design packages and add-ons for WordPress and every hosting provider supports it out of the box.”
“WordPress is a must-use for every business – and will support sites as small as a personal blog all the way up to the scale of the New York Times. In fact the NY Times uses it.”
Google originally launched as an internet search business but it now produces software and its online cloud computing apps are being utilised by many businesses, including start-ups.
The main advantage that Google Apps has over traditional IT systems and desktop software is that it essentially places all business data and the entire workflow online, meaning it is accessible from anywhere at any time.
Google docs, calendar and email use its cloud computing form to enhance collaboration, a significant contrast from Microsoft Office products.
Brendan Lewis, CEO of Flinders Pacific, points to the Google calendar as a useful tool for start-ups.
“It’s not the most powerful calendar but it’s free, reliable and for me certainly gets the job done,” he says.
“I only have to update one calendar as it syncs instantly to my computer, any computer I log on to, my phone and my iPad.”
Renai LeMay of Delimter says smart small businesses almost universally use Skype, an internet telephony tool which lets users call many people for free.
“Skype is a free tool which provides most of the functionality of packages which cost tens of thousands of dollars,” LeMay says.
“It'll let you take calls to the same landline number no matter where you are – at home, in the office or even on your mobile.”
Email marketing is now an important communication technique for many businesses.
Last November Colin McLeod, executive director at the Australian Centre for Retail Studies, told StartupSmart he “couldn’t imagine that there’s a major retailer who’s not thinking about their online strategy”.
Mail Chimp is a cheap and easy-to-use program that allows users to design and produce email campaigns, share them on social networks, manage subscribers, track results and integrate with web services you already use.
It’s so good that even we use it.
Like Google, Yahoo started as an internet search company before spreading its wings into software.
Yahoo Merchant Starter provides small operators with eCommerce tools for their website, including shopping carts. The system is easy to use for customers and effective for business because it gathers and reports valuable customer information. It’s easy to install, set up and use.
Yahoo also allows businesses to customize the look of the software, with design templates, the ability to use Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive or any HTML editing tool, allowing eCommerce tools to fit the look of individual business websites.
Freshbooks is an online invoicing service made specifically for freelancers, small businesses and professionals. The products allow users to easily time track, expense track and monitor online payment collection.
Freshbooks boasts that its ease of use as well as the professional look of the documents it produces means any business “should look like a Fortune 500 company based on the image sent by invoices, bills or other accounting communications, no matter what size the company is”.
Avira is a producer of antivirus software. Functions include email scanning, spam protection and web guards, which block access to malicious sites. Flinders Pacific’s Lewis says the trick to this kind of software is the price.
“Some of the software out there is too expensive for small businesses. Other software is free but when your businesses grows you grow out of your software and your systems are left vulnerable,” he says.
Avira begins as a free service but is able to grow with your business. When more users are added the price goes up but it’s directly related to the number of users, which places a control measure on expenses.
Saasu provides a similar service to MYOB but does it all on a cloud.
It has the tools for basic accounting and invoicing as well as being able to produce various reporting and budgeting tools, point of sale capabilities and multi-business capabilities.
It allows for multiple businesses or groups to operate in one system while limiting the amount of information individuals or business sections can see.
The main advantage of Saasu is that it’s available online. The program can connect with bank feeds, meaning transactions are automatically recorded, reducing time spent completing data entry.
Working on a computing cloud means information can be gathered and entered from anywhere with an internet connection, which is perfect for small businesses operators who are always on the move.
Digital Rescue Premium is one of the best data retrieval programs, providing three main functions to its users.
It recovers lost files, recovers lost emails and can permanently delete confidential documents, which has become more popular with the rise in identity theft.
Each function is easy to understand because it has its own unique interface.
Despite the complexity and speed of the program’s capabilities it’s extremely easy to use.