As a technology professional I’ve been asked many times by friends, colleagues, and customers for software product recommendations. I recently came across a prospective client who among other things wanted to prepare his business’s technology for expansion to branch offices. The goal was to align the software to allow the company to start up new offices quickly and easily. That prompted me to think about what exactly would I do differently in setting up an office today if I were starting from scratch. Clearly that answer is going to vary somewhat depending upon your business and the number of employees you have. But in general everything discussed below is applicable for mid-sized businesses to businesses with as few as a single employee.
Get into the habit early
Get an accounting system, a task management system, and a CRM for sales and / or service requests from day one. Use them from the start so that they are ingrained. If you wait until you are forced to switch, the transition itself can become an extended disruption. You’ll spend years having some information in the new system and some stored elsewhere “From before” or “back when we did it the old way”.
Don’t buy low quality equipment
Its unreliable, probably doesn’t have a long term warranty, and it will cost you more in maintenance than the real deal. I’m completely guilty of the allure of cheap used equipment from eBay. Of the machines we’ve purchased, 2/3 failed within the first year. One was salvaged by replacing a hard drive, but diagnosing and repairing that 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 machine died completely in less than 6 months.
Don’t scam your licenses
Follow the licensing and be legitimate. I have a had a few clients that were “sharing” licenses. This practice may appear to save you money, but often times it requires users to work around the designed flow of the software, and this costs time, which 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 license. Beyond that, this is not a scalable practice and it contributes to a culture of cutting corners.
Have a plan to actually use what you buy
Make sure that whatever you buy you learn to use to its fullest extent. There is no point in paying $1000/month for a fancy software package if you only know how to use 5% of its features.
Avoid buying cell phones at all costs
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 these have clearly been used as a backup hockey puck while others look like they were used as a serving implement for some kind of dip. Most are outdated within a year unless you go to the highest end, where you will be paying as much as a landline or even more.
What’s the recipe?
Here is a list of the software packages I would recommend to any small business starting off in virtually any industry.
Do not use your @gmail.com account for business and don’t play around with G Suite/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.
QuickBooks is the dominant small business accounting package and you won’t go wrong by using it. Their cloud version isn’t for everyone though, and so if you look around at other cloud options I like Xero for small and simple 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 makes it easily accessible from anywhere.
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 just 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 just doing Sales, look at PipeDrive. If you are also doing customer service, you should look at SalesForce and Dynamics 365. These products speak to different people differently, much as there are Mac and PC people. Just don’t be fooled by the sales pitch for this software: 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 just 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.
There are a lot of 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 is OK. Start off 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 and it is 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 personal cell phone, tablet, and computer running the Skype for Business app, and voicemails automatically go to their email. All for less than half of what most phone companies charge for a single land line. The call history is also stored in their email, and that makes it searchable by both the user AND the business owner.
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Why Partner With The Bauen Group?
At The Bauen Group we focus on the unique needs of small to midsize businesses. In addition to being Silver Microsoft Partner Certified, we understand the challenges businesses face when growing out of old technologies and specialize in finding new solutions to increase your efficiency and profitability. Our small business IT specialist have years of experience helping company’s like yours overcome these difficulties and other IT issues that small and midsize businesses may encounter. We focus on building relationships with our clients to better understand your IT and business challenges and find the right solutions to get you to the next level.