This blog was written by Walter Silin, CEO of The Bauen Group, addressing questions frequently asked as an IT professional. Let us dive in.

Walter Silin, CEO of The Bauen GroupAs a technology professional, I have been asked many times by friends, colleagues, and customers for software recommendations. Recently, I encountered a prospective client who, among other things, wanted to prepare his company’s technology for expansion to branch offices. The goal was to find software that would allow the company to open new offices quickly and easily.

This challenge prompted me to think about what exactly I would do if I were opening an office from scratch today. The answer would slightly vary depending upon the type of business and the number of employees. But generally, everything discussed below is applicable for business ranging from a single employee to a mid-sized company.

Here are five helpful tips I have for businesses just starting.

Get into the Habit Early

From day one, use an accounting system, a task management system, and a CRM for sales and service requests. Use them from the start so that they are ingrained in the culture. If you wait until you have to switch, the transition itself can become an extended disruption. You will spend years having some information on the new system and some stored elsewhere.

Do Not Buy Low-Quality Equipment

It is unreliable and probably does not have a long term warranty. It will cost you more in maintenance than the real deal. I’m entirely guilty of the allure of cheap used equipment from eBay, and the machines we’ve purchased, 2 out of 3 failed within the first year. We saved one by replacing a hard drive, but diagnosing and repairing it ultimately cost me enough in time and materials that I effectively bought the machine twice. It’s become the slowest machine in the office and seems to accumulate all kinds of weird issues. Another device died in less than six months.

Do Not Scam Your Licenses

Follow the licensing and be legitimate. I have had a few clients that were “sharing” licenses. This practice may appear to save you money, but often it requires users to work around the designed flow of the software. This work-around costs time and time is money. In one sitting, it might cost them an extra minute, which is no big deal. But over the course of the month, it can easily cost them a half or even a full hour. Depending upon the price of the license, you just spent more on the employee’s lost productivity than you would have for the new license. Beyond that, it is not a scalable practice, and it contributes to a culture of cutting corners.

Have a Plan and Use What You Buy

Make sure that whatever you buy, you learn to use it to its fullest extent. There is no point in paying $1000 per month for a fancy software package if you only know how to use 5% of its features.

Avoid Buying Cell Phones

My apologies to all the carriers and manufacturers out there, but phones are fragile and depreciate more quickly than a new car. If you could see some of the company-owned phones employees have returned to my customers, you’d know what I mean. Some of the phones I have seen look as though they were a backup hockey puck or used a serving implement for chip dip. Most cell phones go out of date within a year, anyways unless you go to the highest end, where you will be paying as much as a landline or even more.

Now, what is the recipe? By this, I mean, what are the tools needed to make following the above tips as straightforward as possible. Here is a list of five software packages I recommend to any small business in almost any industry.

Productivity

Do not use your @gmail.com account for business and do not play around with G Suite or Google Apps. Yes, it can work for you for a little while, but inevitably Gmail customers grow up and become Exchange and Office customers. Just do it from the start. Get the Business Premium package because it is hands down the best value in the market. And get connected with a Microsoft Partner that will help you use the software to its fullest potential.

Accounting

QuickBooks is the dominant small business accounting package, and you won’t go wrong by using it. Their cloud version isn’t for everyone, however. If you need to look around at other cloud options, I like Xero for small and straightforward accounting needs. Or you can do QuickBooks desktop, but don’t buy a server and host it in your office. Let a cloud vendor host your QuickBooks on a server in the cloud. This set-up makes it easily accessible from anywhere.

Task Management

Use a task management tool to track everyone’s to-do lists in a central place. We like JIRA for this because it also has plugins for time tracking, which is invaluable when you bill by the hour. If you don’t need the time tracking component, you can also use the task lists built into the SharePoint that comes with your Office 365 subscription.

Track Your Sales and Service Efforts

This class of software is known as Customer Relationship Management or CRM. If you are making Sales, look at PipeDrive. If your company does customer service, you should look at SalesForce and Dynamics 365. But these products speak to people differently, similar to the divide between Mac and PC users.

Just don’t be fooled by the sales pitch, “Companies who use our product experience experienced X% growth versus similar businesses in their industry.” No company experiences growth by purchasing software— it’s an expense. Your company grows through hard work. The software is just a tool.

With CRM packages, whatever you choose, you have to not only integrate it into your process, but rather, you must enmesh that software into your business. When it becomes part of everything you do, you will be much more efficient and effective in your sales and customer service efforts, and THAT is the stuff of growth.

Phones

There are many options for phones, and VoIP is all over. Own your numbers. A lot of small businesses start in the home, then add contractors and finally get big enough for employees and an office. This start is OK. But it is best to start with a business-class phone system from day one using phone lines linked to your Office 365 account.

Skype for Business phone-calling is an incredibly easy service to connect and install since it is already integrated into your Office 365. You can assign and reassign your phone numbers to contractors and agents as they come and go. It will ring on their cell phone, tablet, and the computer running the Skype for Business app, while voicemails automatically go to their email. All for less than half of what most phone companies charge for a single landline. Also, Skype stores the call history in their email, making it searchable by both the user AND the business owner.

Building a Foundation with a Technology Partner

Starting a business is challenging at best. But finding a technology partner to help you with the learning curve is an investment that will more than pay for itself. At The Bauen Group, we focus on the unique needs of small to midsize businesses. In addition to being a Gold Microsoft Partner, we understand the challenges companies face when growing out of old technologies. We specialize in finding new solutions to increase your efficiency and profitability.

Our small business IT specialists have years of experience helping companies like yours overcome challenges and other IT issues. We focus on building relationships with our clients to understand your IT and business challenges better and find the right solutions to get you to the next level.