Startup Software Gotchas

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Everyone needs software to run their business. As a consultant at a small company a huge mistake is to get caught up in the myriad of features and capabilities the various business software packages deliver. How you use business software will either help or hinder your business. This guide is meant to help you zero in on the features that you need and skip the others.

Note: If you can get all of these software capabilities in the same system that would be excellent. Otherwise, look for separate software packages and make them easy to call from your desktop(s).

Start with Bills and Budget

You have to start your day by taking a look at the budget. There are two reasons for this:

The busier you get the worse you are going to be at paying things on time without help. You will find that you periodically must curtail your spending. You cannot do that effectively if you do not track your spending against budget categories. For instance, if you say that your 'petty cash' budget is $500/mo. then $750 for a given month should require a plausible explanation.

Software Angle: Your software needs a budgeting facility so that you can see, at a glance, whether you are exceeding your budget in certain areas. It should help you pay your bills on time -- you can see a history of bill payments and a schedule of regular, recurring billing per month. You should be able to see what your total monthly/yearly regular billing will be for any given month.

Watch out for: Avoid using a full accounting package for budgeting if possible. The goal is to track what you spend and quickly identify if you have exceeded your planned amount(s). This has to be done on a daily basis and often with greater flexibility than the budgeting module of most standard accounting packages will allow. A good example here is the so-called 'trade-spend.' Let's say you send out teams to different conferences to promote your business. There are costs for attending the conferences and renting booth space. If you do not track all of the expenses against a budget you could easily overspend by attending too many conferences, renting unnecessarily large or expensive booth space, etc. A standard accounting package might have great difficulty telling you whether the number of leads generated by a particular conference last year (hence justifying the expense) was higher than this year's.

Contact Management

Next you should visit your contact management software daily. You must maintain your contact management system as a gardener would manage a garden. Here you will prune old/dead contacts, shoot out a 'howdy' message to people you have not spoken to in 6 months/1 year. You should also separate contacts into five categories:

The difference between a prospect/lead and an organizational contact is that the latter would recognize a message from you where the fore likely would not. Organizational contacts are typically acquaintances you met during conferences. They differ from professional contacts in that you have not performed meaningful work with them in the past. Strategic contacts are different from everyone in that they include your 'go-to' service providers. As your business grows you will have to revisit these to see if they will be able to handle your increasing needs. Oftentimes you will find that you will have to locate new strategic contacts as your business grows or adopt various control points to ensure they can keep up with you.

Software Angle: Your software must let you maintain list of contacts, the companies they work for, their title, and e-mail/phone/fax/website fields. You should be able to sort by date last contacted. It must let you keep notes per contact so you can remember what you talked about last. It must allow you to assign contacts to custom categories so you can differentiate between them.

Watch out for: Software that imposes a structure here that you do not intend. For instance, one software package includes pre-included categories and an entire eleven step sales cycle that might not match your business. Do not use it just because it is there (would you just eat *anything* you found at a buffet?) -- use it if you understand and accept the paradigm it imposes.

Weblog

If you have ever asked yourself, 'what was I thinking?' you need a weblog.

At first this will seem like a gigantic waste of time but there is a reason for this: the busier you get the easier it will be to start forgetting things and making poor decisions. The latter will cost you money. Adept sales people look for overworked business professionals and will employ higher-pressure sales tactics to close sales quickly. They know you are too busy to think things through. A weblog lets you confidently 'sleep' on decisions, picking up exactly where you left off so you can delay making a determination until you've thought it over at least a few times.

You might be familiar with using sticky notes to accomplish this task. Sticky notes are localized to your office -- when you leave you (normally) have to leave them behind. If you travel this won't work. An electronic web log is often a brilliant alternative.

Software Angle: The software should help you maintain daily posts. It must be searchable. You should be able to make an entry into it in less than 30 seconds. It must will allow you to add pictures/images/diagrams.

Watch out for: Complexity. You want to get in, post your stuff, and then get back out.

Document Management

It is never too early to start writing and maintaining Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Models of Quality for your business. The sooner you can start proceduralizing everything you do the sooner you'll feel comfortable identifying areas you can safely hand off to somebody else. Don't wait to start doing this. Even if your practice starts today, you should start developing SOPs, capturing information about quality models and start using them.

If you are like a lot of business people you will fall into the trap of thinking that document management means document storage and archival. Those are important parts but it does not indicate the presence of management any more than the act of keeping children in a room would be the same as educating them.

Management means you are imposing a structure upon the documents you produce. If you use structures like SOPs, MOQs, and supporting documents you will find yourself spending less time writing and utilizing documentation in the future. Yes, less time. Your marketing documentation for the next quarter becomes a public outgrowth of your internal vision, your operating guidelines, and your strategy -- all of which can be stored as SOPs in your document management system and periodically revised.

You see, inconsistency forces you to spend more time finding and identifying information. If your important documents are either SOPs or supporting documents referenced in SOPs, then they will be in a regular, predictable format. It will take you less time to find what you are looking for in such a document. It will also take less time to write them because you already know what format they should be in.

Software Angle: You should be able to attach documents produced by the various Office suites. Your document contents should be searchable.

Watch out for: Lack of backups! You really need to back up all of your business data. Hard drive crashes occur frequently and unpredictable/disastrous weather is a possibility wherever you are so encrypting your data and storing it remotely should also be an option.

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Citation: Startup Software Gotchas. (2014). Retrieved Wed Mar 22 22:13:31 2017, from http://www.limsexpert.com/cgi-bin/bixchange/bixchange.cgi?pom=limsexpert3;iid=readMore;go=1419955485