Last year was a tough year for small businesses, and there may not be many who are sorry to see 2009 go. But the silver lining is that last year was great on the supply side of easy, low-cost and highly functional software applications. What you can do now with the simplest server setup, plus a mobile device, is far beyond what you could have done just over 12 months ago.
You don't have to buy entire software suites anymore. Buy as you need-without buying what you'll never use. For smaller businesses looking to get started in 2010, or existing ones trying to compete for choice clients, it's a great time to upgrade business processes. Recessions create new needs and forward-thinking software companies are meeting those needs. Smaller, agile businesses can benefit during this time.
While assembling the list of applications you will use to make your business stronger, you should demand some key features. These products exist on their own and are ready for prime time. Accept no less than a free 14-day trial and the ability to be up and running within five minutes. You should expect reliable performance, easy scalability and available customer service.
The first thing most new businesses need to do is to bill customers. Small businesses typically outsource most of their accounting but they still need an invoicing program. Here is what you should demand, the gold standard:
An invoicing application should be available as a standalone product. It should be able to create invoices, quotes and charts, and schedule recurring invoices. It should allow users to send faxes or e-mail messages from inside the application. It should also integrate with complementary products such as an inventory management program.
The program should also calculate tax rates and send statements to customers who are overdue with payment. Finally, scalability is important. There should be a free version for the smallest of businesses, but it should provide an easy upgrade path for a more robust version that scales for multiuser functionality. This is all completely available in a single application, without having to buy a suite. Do not settle for less.