Your business probably needs software. Before you let a business software vendor come in, demo, and sweet talk you into purchasing their “solution,” you need to figure out if what they are selling is a solution, or more headaches.
Starting a business is a difficult decision, and something as innocuous as buying a software solution is the last thing you would think would cause problems.
These solutions can be bigger problems than the ones they solve, but I’m going to give you a few tools that will help give a better idea of what you’re getting into.
Business Software Problems
Before we talk about solutions, let’s talk about the common problems that you are trying to avoid.
Business Software Updates
The obvious one is how well the software is maintained. Is the company responsive to bugs, and security issues by offering timely updates? Are the updates good, or do they create more problems? That could indicate poor development, or poor quality assurance.
How well does the company communicate their updates? Many pieces of business software will alert you within the application, or have a reminder pop-up. Do you have to actively seek out updates?
Are the updates free? You shouldn’t have to pay for an update if it is fixing bugs, or security holes. Does this company only offer an update once they can charge for it? In other words, will they create a new version, charge for it, and claim that it fixes all the previous versions bugs?
Business Software Support
Does the software vendor truly support their products? Is there an online knowledge base at their website? Do they offer free technical support, or do they have “support contracts?” Support contracts can wreck your business.
They can cost thousands of dollars per year, and they leave you in a precarious situation when you need them. You only need them when you have a problem, so you are forced to either buy a contract, assuming it is expired, or deal with the headache on your own.
No software vendor should hold you hostage like this, but many business software companies make more money on their support contracts than they do on the software itself.
Business Software Tips
Now that you see what some of the problems are, I’m going to provide some tips to help you pick the software you need.
Read Business Software Reviews
The easiest research you can do is to read reviews. If you perform a search for the name of the software and the word “reviews”, you’ll probably find someone talking about it. Be careful to not fall in love based on some of the top results, it is common practice for companies to pay for “honest reviews” but when money is involved, you wonder how honest it could be.
If you want negative reviews, consider using words such as “bad, fraud, scam,garbage” in your search and you’ll probably find some pretty amped reviews as well.
Software Support Test Call
Give the company’s technical support a call. Can you even find their number? If not, this could be an indicator to a support contract. If you can find their number, call it and see what happens. Ask some basic information and see how helpful they might be.
If they seem unwilling to help, ask them “how would I go about renewing a support contract?” or “how long are support contracts good for?” or “How much does a support contract cost?” Their answer should give you a good indication of whether they have support contracts or not.
I’m not saying that all support contracts are bad, but if you aren’t planning for a $1,000 annual expense for support, then that can break the bank at the wrong time.
Use Business Software Demos
If the company offers a demo, use it. Often, demos are allowed for 15 to 30 days. Download the demo and use it like it is the only piece of software you have. Find problems, ask questions, try to break it, and see what happens.
Before downloading the demo, outline what you plan to use it for that way you have a checklist you can use to make sure you are testing the software rigorously enough.
Software Integration is Good & Bad
Finally, I want to talk about integration. Software that integrates with other solutions, or software that serves many business functions is convenient, but can also be terrible.
These types of software create a certain “stickiness” which makes getting rid of them inconvenient. Companies try really hard to ensure that getting rid of their software is harder than continuing to use it.
The more dependent you are on it, the better. If a company can give you an inventory control software, that is good, if it integrates with your back office accounting, even better, if they can sell you an inventory solution that also IS your back office accounting solution, that is ideal (for them).
Business software companies want to get as entangled in your business as possible. Would you rather stick with the same software that has a few bugs, or dump all of your inventory & accounting data into some weird proprietary format that would require you to manually enter all the information into a new solution? That’s what the business software vendor thought too.
Business Software Solutions
Business software solutions are necessary, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prevent unnecessary expense. Be proactive in your research, or you may end up regretting your purchase. Don’t let the convenience of a salesman at your business’ door sway you to buy a software that might create strife later.