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Tips for Selecting Software for your Small Business

Businesses need software to run efficiently. Software can be a great enabler for small businesses, but with so many options available how do you know that the ones you select will be supported, remain relevant, and be around as long as you are?

Every business needs software in order to run efficiently, effectively, and productively (accounting, marketing, communication, etc.). Software technologies can be a great enabler and level the playing field for small businesses, but with so many technologies available how do you know that the ones you select for your business will be supported, remain relevant, and be around as long as you are?

When selecting software for your company keep in mind that you want to make selections that will be around for a long, long time (as long as youíre around); you want software that will be supported both with updates/upgrades, so that it doesnít become obsolete, and with customer service, so you can get help when you need it.

Hereís how you make sure these things are true about the software youíre about to buy:

1. Research the software providers website and check out the customer support areas, if any.

This is of course obvious because you probably wouldnít know about the company if you didnít somehow land on their website. However, some companyís can have great looking websites, and even a terrific product, but poor or non-existent customer support.

Review the website for customer support areas and find out what type of support is offered. Is it free or paid; is it by phone, by chat, or by email; is there user driven or peer support (e.g. knowledge base, message boards); and is there a live person you can speak with when the going really gets tough.

Most credible technology products will have some combination of the above but some level of free customer support is a must. Also, keep in mind that paid customer support can lead to a conflict of interest for the software provider with respect to product development, and should therefore not be part of the core business model Ė some paid support is perfectly fine (see point 3 below).

2. Review the product history and check for updates/upgrades.

Hereís something that often gets overlooked. A great way to find out a few things about a particular software technology is by reviewing the update and upgrade history for that product.

An update/upgrade history can tell you important things such as when the software was released (so how long has it been around); how often are updates provided (so you know the company is keeping it current); how many problems there have been with the software Ė bug fixes (careful of never ending bug fixes); and how much upgrades cost, if anything.

A credible software will have a history of major version upgrades which tends to mean the product is mature and refined. Minor updates should be freely available and a "check for updates" integrated into the software has become standard. Also, keep in mind that major version updates/upgrades will often be fee-based but thatís acceptable practice.

3. Review the companies business model.

No, you donít have to call the CEO and ask for a detailed accounting statement and their business plan. Simply take some time to review a few key areas of the business model so you get an idea how this company makes itís money. If itís not apparent how they make their money, then they probably arenít making any and they wonít last.

Focus on these 3 areas:

i. Core Revenue Streams: How the software is sold is the big one of course. Is it a 1-time fee, user-based licensing fees, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for instance; are there yearly fees; are there product verticals such as a Home, Pro, and Enterprise versions?í

ii. Target Audience: By understanding who the provider is trying to sell to, you can better understand if they are trying to sell to you (therefore the product will be relevant for your needs and development wonít steer into non-relevant sectors or uses), if they have a sustainable source of buyers (or is it too niche), and if the price model will remain accessible for you.

iii. Competition: Find out who the big competitors are and ask yourself why youíre not considering them. There are lotís of reason not to go with the market-share leaders, just make sure they make sense for your business. Also, consider that the top 3 Ė 5 competitors will likely be around for a long time and therefore run little risk of going out of business or being bought out.

4. Last but not least, review the buzz on the software and the company youíre buying from.

Youíre not just buying software, youíre investing in a company so make sure you learn what you can about how they do business. A great way to do that is by checking the buzz on the company.

Start with reviewing the current client list and see who else uses the company. The software providers website should have a list of current clients and if they donít, contact them and request one (get at least 5 Ė 10 sample companies).

Also, Google/Bing/Yahoo! the software to find out what people are saying about it. Running searches that include words like "reviews" and "comparison" are good starting points but check popular review sites as well. Also, donít be afraid to utilize your personal/professional social networks like FaceBook, LinkedIn, and BizNik Ė ask people you know what they know. The socialsphere can tell you a lot about a company so access it.

Depending on the size of the financial investment, and the role the software technology will play in your company, research can take anywhere from an hour to months. Donít rush it but donít get buyers paralysis either. When you find what you needScience Articles, buy the thing already and get on with the business of your business.

[Read original article at New Prodigy Marketing Group blog]

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John is an expert in developing focused, practical, affordable marketing strategies for SMB's. He is a leader in both traditional and online marketing, and showing his clients best-practices in today's Internet-based world. John and his team at New Prodigy Marketing Group will help you understand the competitive value of professional marketing and will show you how to keep existing customers, and win new ones.

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