The business technology landscape is crowded, making it difficult for a small business owner to know which vendors to consider.
For the business owner looking to solve a particular problem or who is just getting started, the vast array of small business solutions — tools, apps and platforms — can be nothing less than overwhelming.
When you factor in the software a typical business needs across categories such as accounting, email marketing, human resources or web content management, thousands of solutions are available.
Here are but two examples:
Chiefmartec, a marketing technology blog, recently published a list of more than 1,800 marketing tech vendors. A separate list, from Accountex, an accounting industry technology conference, contains nearly 400 suppliers in the accounting technology industry alone.
How does a small business owner know which to choose?
The Long Short List of Small Business Solutions
The “Long Short List” (shown below) was created by Small Business Trends to help companies navigate technology more efficiently. It provides a short list of small business solutions arranged by category of activity, including everything from accounting to inventory management to social marketing to web conferencing — nearly 40 categories and more than 300 vendors in all.
This list is divided into three sections — Front Office, Back Office and Productivity & Collaboration — to make selection easier.
The Front Office contains customer-facing applications that include CRM, marketing automation, customer support, POS and even digital signatures.
The Back Office includes applications essential for streamlining business operations: accounting, invoicing, payroll, human resources and password management.
Productivity & Collaboration contains applications that help get work done, including project management, chat, document management, telephony and note-taking.
Small Business Solutions – The Long Short List
Steps for Choosing the Right Software
Using the list, follow these steps to choose the right small business solutions:
1. Know your needs. Start with a couple of the most critical categories, search each company’s name to find the URL and take a few minutes to review each. It’s likely you are already using some of the software on the list, such as Office 365, Zoho or Wix. Think about the features that you really need. Does the software include those? If not, move on to the next provider;
2. Determine your budget. Determine in advance how much you are willing to pay. Take advantage of free trials (many vendors offer them) before making a purchase. Read the fine print, to better understand contractual obligations;
3. Refine the list. Quickly cross off the listed vendors that don’t fit your criteria. If desired, call the company to ask questions. Useful questions include “How easy is the software to set up?”, “What customer support options are available?”, “How are updates and upgrades managed?” and “What is your refund policy?”
4. Review in detail. As you narrow the playing field, review each finalist in greater detail. Set up a free trial account and test the product, to ensure it lives up to the vendor’s promise and meets your needs;
5. Read customer reviews. It’s not a bad idea to read reviews from others who have tried the product. Learning from their experience will save you time during the selection process.