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Selecting Software that Fits Your Business

Catherine Harrell, Senior Marketing Manager, Intuit, Inc.

Entrepreneurs hear over and over again that technology is the key to managing a growth company and making it more efficient and productive, and potentially more profitable.

So why do so many ambitious entrepreneurs go cross-eyed when confronting a computer screen? The likely answer is that their software is not suited to their needs. A business software package that helps a small retail store succeed may not be right for a start-up technology company looking to find new customers.

Purchasing software for a business is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. If the software a company selects is too “big,” the entrepreneur will spend too much time weeding through features they don’t need. For example, if in an organization, the same person both approves purchases and then makes those purchases, a company will not need software offering a complex purchasing requisition and approval process. Software that insists a business do something it does not necessarily need to do is not working for that business.

By the same token, if a company’s accounting software is too “small” and does not support a business’s needs, the entrepreneur will waste time creating workarounds for all kinds of tasks required by the business. And worse, all the extra work could lead to problems, from incorrectly entering data to generating inaccurate reports.

With so many choices in small business accounting software available, choosing the right program can be a major undertaking. Many small businesses don’t know where to start. Consider the following before you make your decision.

Your Accounting Skills

You probably did not start your business to sit in the back office under a pile of financial paperwork. In order to spend your time managing your business and not your books, look for financial accounting software that is easy to learn and use, as well as one that avoids using a lot of accounting jargon.

Your Business Needs

Answering a few simple questions about your business needs will help you decide what software package is right.

  • Do you just need to perform basic activities, such as printing checks, tracking sales and expenses, generating routine reports, invoicing customers, and preparing for tax time? Or do you need more than the basics, such as advanced planning and forecasting, industry specific reports, and multiple simultaneous users?
  • If you’re just starting out and have fairly simple financial needs, you might want software that just covers the essentials, such as tracking money in and money out and preparing invoices. If you want to grow your business quickly, you might want a product that helps you do forecasting. Or, if your business type requires specific tools, such as job costing and estimating for contractors, having job costing and estimating tools will be important features to seek.
  • Do you need to pay employees at your business? Staying on top of payroll, making sure it is on-time and accurate, and staying in compliance with taxes and other liabilities can be difficult. Finding an accounting software that integrates with a payroll service or has an add-on offering may be quite helpful.
  • Will you need to access your software remotely? If you travel often or have remote workers, you might want to consider a software package that allows for remote access or a version that is hosted on the Internet for anytime, anywhere access.
  • What are your plans for growth? Knowing your business today as well as your goals for growth can assist in ensuring you select a software package that can grow with your business.As your business grows, it will likely become more complex and your software needs will change. Look for accounting software that offers more comprehensive versions that do not require additional training or complicated implementations, which can often take months to put in place.
  • Your ecosystem. Think about how you connect with partners and vendors that support your business and how you can get their assistance when you need it. Does your accountant work with various software packages, or does he or she recommend you use a certain product? Selecting software that your accountant is fairly familiar with can provide you with a source for technical support when you need it. If you don’t have an accountant, can the software vendor you select connect you to an accountant in your area with expertise on your software product and your industry?
  • Also, think about how you connect with businesses similar to yours in an effort to find a forum that allows you to get and share advice. Look for a vendor that can connect you with industry peers, such as a community Web site, to ask questions and share tips with others in your field.

Indeed, knowing your business and the goals you have for your business are key for putting the right accounting software system in place for your organization. Proper planning at the outset can save you considerably in both time and resources.

© 2006 Catherine Harrell. All rights reserved.

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