One of our clients is a building company who focus on developing commercial space for businesses. I was speaking with their MD recently and asked him about the challenges of building/ developing space for businesses. As you can imagine there is a lot of thought that goes into this process and the right balance of all the different types of rooms and functions that business requires needs to be carefully planned, getting this wrong could lead to a lot of disadvantages for that business. Considerations included things like how many toilets are going to be needed? How many car parking spaces should be left for a building of this size? How many meeting rooms should be reasonable? Etc. and this is just at a high level, there is a lot of things to think about when developing commercial space down to the stuff we take for granted like hot/cold running water, heating and lighting; getting this wrong would mean the company in the building could survive and even prosper but certain things would be inconvenient or uncomfortable.
I realised that it’s exactly the same with Software in business, it’s very important to have the right tools in place in able to enable your business to function properly, getting the wrong software structure in your business may still mean you can function but it won’t be as efficient and as easy as it could be and would put you at a disadvantage.
Lots of companies either:
So what types of software should a new business look to have in its arsenal?
Marketing & Lead Generation
In order to win new customers you need tools that help your marketing efforts. Having multiple tools to help your marketing efforts are often used. Email marketing is a low cost yet highly effective way of getting your message out there. Social media platforms are also commonly used by businesses promoting themselves. You also need to consider graphic design programmes and of course your website which is likely to be your primary source of marketing.
Sales are going to be your life blood when growing your business, you need to win customers to establish your business, start building your reputation and of course to start receiving money. Therefore having a system that holds all your customers and Sales opportunities seems like a good idea. Lots of CRM packages are highly adaptable, allowing you to add workflow to its core functions so that it fits with your sales processes. CRM packages also come with reporting and dashboard functions so you can analyse performance and not miss important tasks relating to your sales opportunities.
Financial/ accounts software
As a new business money is going to be tight, you’ve simply got to know your numbers and know what’s coming in, what’s going out and when. You need to have a system in place that can track your debtors/ creditors, create invoicing, log supplier invoicing, reconcile your bank and do month/ year ends that can submitted to HMRC. There are lots of options out there and all of the above are likely to be in one package. You also need your accounts software to assist you with cash flows and budgets as this is how you are going to be able to plan your future and is an essential component when seeking funding from a bank or investors to push your business forwards.
Project Management & Communication
This is an increasingly popular type of tool that businesses use to help their productivity. Traditionally Projects were managed by Gantt Charts and communication was undertaken by Email. Whilst these are still commonplace, new tools attempting to combine the two are rising in popularity, tools like Slack for example. Microsoft has just launched a new application on Office 365 called Teams which also promises to work well in this area.
This is useful for your back office, administrative and operational functions. Keeping consistent, up to date documents ensures you and your team are delivering a consistent, accurate and up to date message to your clients. This also enables you to keep accurate records. Several Document management systems have in built functionality such as versioning, permission management and content approval allowing you to view historical versions of documents and ensuring that changes to document can only be made by people with the authority to do so.
Storage & backup
Losing data means losing a lot of hard work, the harsh reality is that you may never get it all back. If you are working in the cloud then your data is going to be automatically backed up. However you have to think about your data storage policies and your circumstances. You may have a poor internet connection which you cannot improve (unless you move) which could make accessing large documents very difficult. Also in some circumstances you may be forced to store data locally to comply with regulatory or customer requirements. In examples such as this you cannot use the cloud, in cases like this you need a backup system in place to avoid data loss.
The obvious one we have missed out from the list is everyday productivity tools (software that people need to do their jobs) Microsoft Office is the go to choice here with Word, Excel, Outlook, Visio and PowerPoint all being used ubiquitously.
I think that having tools within these areas will give you a good starting point. The above are quite generic tools that every business is going to need, you also need to think about what you need in your industry, this is going to change from business to business and will vary dependant on the industry you are in so as with the above you need to consider your options carefully.
One final point is that it’s important to think of scalability, will the software you choose grow as your business (hopefully!) takes off.