Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Top 10 Small-Business Software Applications

In a previous blog post, I shared some insight on how to find small business software. Today, I want to expand on that and share with you the top 10 must-have small-business software applications. Depending on your business and industry, you may not need all of these software applications; however, I think each is important to consider. 

Accounting Software – One of the first software packages any small business will purchase is the accounting software. The #1 rated accounting software for small businesses is Intuit’s QuickBooks. There are various different types of QuickBooks depending on your needs and budget. QuickBooks is one small-business software application that can grow with your business. If you are looking for your first real accounting software, I recommend QuickBooks Pro 2011, you can purchase it directly from Intuit on their website or from one of their many resellers. QuickBooks Online is also available for those of you wanting to avoid hosting your own data and wanting the ability to access everything in the cloud.

Customer Relationship Management Software – A CRM, as they are known in the business world, helps you keep track of your prospects, leads, customers, vendors and other relationships. A CRM is a great tool for helping your employees track their interactions with customers for support, sales, marketing or management. Many small businesses elect to build their own CRM and while this can work, I would advise against it unless you really have a unique business. You should stay focused on your core competency and let other businesses do theirs. If you want the best CRM in the industry, is your answer; however, you will pay for it. If you are looking for a cheaper solution, you may want to go with SugarCRM, which is an open source software application. However, you may need to pay to get it set up and to train your employees on how to use it.

Point of Sale Software – If you have a retail element in your small business, you will need a Point of Sale small-business software application. If you are already using QuickBooks for your accounting, I suggest looking into QuickBooks Point of Sale. This will allow you to scan items at the point of sale and make direct updates to QuickBooks. But remember, you will need a merchant service provider to accept credit cards. Also, you may get a Point of Sale Software application included with your ERP or inventory management software.

Web Analytics Software- You may not think of web analytics as being a small-business software application, but it is something you should consider. If you are running a website, a web analytics software application is a must. Most small businesses should stick with Google Analytics as it’s free and has more features than most users will ever need. However, if your business grows to the point that Google Analytics is no longer enough, Omniture, recently acquired by Adobe, is the leader in large-business web analytics software.

Content Management System – A CMS is used to host a website in order to make it very simple for anyone to quickly update content. This can be useful if you continually need to update your website but don’t want to involve your development or IT department. Drupal is an open source application that is widely used and recommended.

Word Processing Software – We all know that we need basic word processing software when it comes to running our business.  Things like Word, Excel and PowerPoint seem commonplace now a day.  So, when you are considering your small-business software applications, don’t forget the Microsoft Office Suite.

Enterprise Resource Planning and Inventory Management Software – In big business, many companies turn to Microsoft Dynamics for their ERP solutions. However, this can be expensive and oftentimes overkill for many small and mid-sized companies. If your business carries inventory, manufactures items or needs to create and fulfill orders, I suggest looking into an inventory management software application. If you are using QuickBooks for accounting, I suggest using Fishbowl Inventory for your inventory management software. It integrates with QuickBooks and lets you track inventory across multiple locations.

Remote Access and Web Conferencing Software – If you need a small-business software application to remotely view customer or prospect computer screens, consider a remote access or web conferencing application. You can use industry-known software such as Go To Meeting or Log Me In Rescue to remotely help customers solve issues or show prospective clients how your business can help them.

Email Software – If you want to stay in contact with your customers, a great way to do that is via email blasts and promotions.  Constant Contact is a small-business software application that lets you easily create professional email campaigns without the technical knowhow. Also, if you have employees that travel, you may want to consider SMTP Server software.  SMTP2Go is an SMTP Mail service that lets your employees send emails from anywhere worldwide. This is valuable for traveling salespeople and other employees as ISPs often prevent emails from sending if you are not connect to the Internet via their connection.

Graphic Design Software – If you have a need to create and edit graphics, whether for your website or other marketing purposes, you should consider some graphic design software. While these software applications can seem overbearing at first, with a little time watching instructional videos on YouTube and a little practice, you can get what you need done. The most widely known graphic design software application is Adobe Photoshop. But, depending on your needs, you may want to consider Adobe InDesign as well. Also, if you are looking for the low-budget option, Gimp is a free small-business software application that will satisfy most of your graphic design needs.

I hope this list of small-business software applications is helpful to you. If it is, please leave a comment and let me know. Also, if you think I missed a good application or have additional ideas, let me know that too! And as always, please forward this along to your friends using one of the social media or email links below.

(Image: Some rights reserved,  David Morris.)   

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Small Business Failure Rate – What you should know

“90% of all new small businesses fail within the first few years!” You may have heard that statistic before. Well, it seems that there isn’t much in available data to support it. Maybe it’s a scare tactic or maybe it’s just people exaggerating. Either way, just because a lot of businesses fail, it doesn’t mean that yours has to be one of them. 

But, since we’re on the topic, let’s examine the small business failure rate a little bit closer. According to data available on the US Small Business Administration’s website, about 34% of new employer firms are still in business 10 years after opening. That often won’t even include businesses that may change entity types or reincorporate. So, I think it’s safe to say that about 1/3 of new businesses survive their first 10 years. Now, if we were talking human survival rate, that’s pretty bad but for a small business survival rate that isn’t too bad.

Data from the SBA website states that 7/10 new firms survive at least 2 years, ½ at least 5 years, 1/3 at least 10 years, and ¼ at least 15 years or more. They also stated that small business failure rates were similar across states and major industries. 

So, after looking at that data on the US small business failure rate and going to see what other people out on the net thought of this rate, I found a post from 2008 on Small Business Trends that also shares more data. According to their figures, about 29% of the small businesses they were tracking were still in business 10 years later; a little lower that the SBA numbers. Also, their data showed that about 25% of the small business that fail, do so within the first year. So, if you are past your first year in business, your chances of survival just got a lot better!

I hope this small business resource was helpful to you. Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on the small business failure rate. Also, be sure to pass this article along to your friends using one of the social media or email links below!

(Image: Some rights reserved,  TheGiantVermin.)  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Small Business Saturday - November 27, 2010

In an effort to help small businesses during these tough economic times, more and more businesses and people are joining the efforts of Small Business Saturday. Small Business Saturday, an idea that recently got traction in New York City, seems to be catching national attention. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the idea along with Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, yesterday (November 8th) in New York.

Large retail stores have long had Black Friday and in recent years online retailers staked out Cyber Monday. Now, it seems, small businesses will claim their large shopping day as Small Business Saturday. Small Business Saturday will immediately follow Black Friday, on November 27, 2010, the weekend following Thanksgiving. Supporters are hoping the efforts will spur sales for those small businesses involved. 

The first 10,000 small businesses to sign up for the event will get $100 worth of Facebook advertising and American Express will give a $25 credit 100,000 of its customers who pledge to use their cards at small businesses on November 27, 2010 for Small Business Saturday.

Organizers are hoping to make the event an annual one and hope that it will help stabilize and increase the small business sector of the economy which is still lagging in economic recovery. You can read more about Small Business Saturday on their website

Please share your thoughts on Small Business Saturday in our comments section below. If you found this small business news article useful, please pass it along using one of our social media links below!

(Image: Some rights reserved,  Rubenstein.)  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

5 Small Business Sales Tips

Let’s face it. If you’re in small business sales, you can’t offer all of the same benefits and perks that your larger competitors can. You need to differentiate yourself and provide what the big boys can’t. How do you do that you might ask? Well, I’ve prepared 5 small business sales tips below that I think will help you do just that!

1. Sell a relationship – If you are friendly, dependable and honest, your customers will appreciate you for it. We all know that working with large companies can be annoying because we never know who we will interact with and what kind of a person they are. As a small business, your employees are your face to the customer, so put on a good one. If you can build good relationships with customers, they will stick by you even if you don’t have all of the whistles and bells.

2. Be Flexible – As a small business sales department, your employees should have the power to deliver what the customer needs. Big businesses are like ocean liners and small businesses are motorboats. Although you can’t provide all the comfort and benefits, you can maneuver through tough waters and change course easier. If you see a need that your prospects have that no one is satisfying, you can jump on that opportunity much quicker than a large business with lots of red tape.

3. Work with partners – As a small business, you should understand that many times customers will want a lot more than you provide.  If there is something you don’t have the time or resources to develop yourself but your customers want it, consider finding a small business partner who can provide it. For example, if your company makes accounting software, you may want to partner with a company that makes CRM software. Add value to your products by bundling them as a solution with other small businesses products.

4. Don’t sell yourself short – Just because you’re a one-man shop, doesn’t mean everyone has to know it. Or if you have 20 employees, your customers don’t have to know that either. I’m not saying you should be dishonest, but make sure you and your employees go out of your way to avoid telling people. Never tell customers “We can’t fix that because we only have four full-time employees.” Don’t let it be an excuse, because the real reason will always be that it’s not the highest priority right now or you are working on it. You should act big, but not too big. Don’t have your employees convincing people that you are a big company only to have them find out on their own that you are not. 

5. Use a salesperson – Even for small business sales, a salesperson is important. If you don’t have a salesperson or can’t afford one, turn yourself into one by studying. There are plenty of books that can teach you how to become a better small business salesperson and what you should do to improve. Don’t just hope that you will get it right and then pat yourself on the back when you get a few sales. No matter how good you are now, a little education and a lot of practice will make you better!
I hope these small business sales tips have been useful. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think. Also, be sure to pass this small business article along using one of the social media or email links below!

(Image: Some rights reserved,  Aaron Tang.) 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Drives the Small Business Economy?

Today I wanted to share a little on politics, the economy, and small business. After all, it is Election Day. America is great because it is the land of opportunity. People have the freedom to try something new and succeed. However, along with that comes the opportunity to fail. In the last few years it seems that many have tried to eliminate the opportunity to fail in the hopes that all will succeed all of the time. This cannot work. To understand why, we must understand the economics behind the US economy and what drives the small business economy.

While not always this simplistic, basic economics can be explained as people freely exchanging goods and services with one another. With time, individuals in the economy begin to specialize in producing a particular good or rendering a certain service. These small businesses are able to produce their products more efficiently because that’s all they think about. When they need some other service, they trade with other small businesses specializing in the service they need. Of course, when trading for various items becomes cumbersome, money comes into the picture to act as a store of the value of the items on either side of the trade.

These businesses only succeed if they are able to make a product as good or better than the individual on the other side of the trade could make. If they don’t, they will not succeed unless they change. This change may be producing a different type of product or service or learning how to do work better. Because individuals tend to produce things they are interested in and they spend a lot of time doing it, they tend to get better at it. The small business economy and our entire economy in general, only improve and function properly if individuals are good at what they do. And where there is demand in the market for their products or services indicates whether they are properly producing something that other individuals need.

Coming back to the topic of our current small business economy, I wanted to share the following video which recaps many small business managers’ feelings toward big government. What do you think?

I hope you enjoyed this small business article on the small business economy. Please share it using one of the social media or email links below!

(Image: Some rights reserved,  William Warby.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Small Business Management Anxiously Awaits Election

While many small business managers are reading mixed signals from the current economy, it seems they are anxiously awaiting the November 2nd election. According to a recent survey, 49 percent of small business owners would vote Republican if the election were held today. 38 percent said they would vote Democrat. Why the difference, it seems that many small business managers don’t feel the current administration is doing what’s necessary to help small business stay competitive and higher more employees. 

Although congress did recently pass H.R. 5297, the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010, small business managers still feel Washington is out of touch. Many small business managers may not be aware of the recently passed bill and what it may be able to do for them. Although the bill is labeled for small businesses, it contains tax cuts and credit opportunities for much larger businesses as well. 

Another recent survey, by business management software company Sage Group, said 77 percent of small businesses surveyed are either unsure when the economy will improve or don’t expect improvement in the next year. That’s yet another reason why small business management may turn up in the election booths to vote for change in Washington. 

Hopefully once the election is over and we all have a better idea of who will be creating economic policies and the types of policies they will be making, small business management will be more willing to invest in their companies. Many managers feel the future is too uncertain to invest and therefore would rather play it safe and wait a few more weeks to see how things play out.

You can read more about these two survey’s here:

Hopefully you enjoy these surveys and this small business news article. If it was useful to you, please send it along to your colleagues using one of the social media or email links below. Also, post a comment if you have any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

(Image: Some rights reserved,  John Lee.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Calculating Return on Investment for Small Business

Do you know what ROI is? If you’re managing a small business, then you definitely should! ROI stands for Return on Investment, or the benefit (or loss) that your investment has returned to you. Usually this is calculated in dollars and it’s figured over a certain amount of time. As I talk to more and more students and young entrepreneurs, I am often surprised and how many of them don’t know what a return on investment is or how to calculate it. ROI is business 101!

Let’s look at an example, say I started a business with a loan from the bank of $15,000. For now, don’t worry about the interest on the loan or when it has to be paid back, let’s focus on the ROI you’re getting from your investments in the business. Let’s say you use $1,000 to build a website and another $2,000 in the first month to advertise online and bring traffic to your small business via the website. What’s your ROI for that investment?

To figure it out, we first need to know how to calculate a Return on Investment. Well, it’s quite simple actually. Take the profit generated by the investment and divide it by the cost of the investment. (The profit generated by the investment is not the revenue. You must subtract the cost from the revenue to get the profit.) For additional help in the calculation, a really good definition can be found on Investopedia’s ROI page.

Now that we know how to calculate it, let’s break it down and find the ROI in our example. In order to find the ROI, we need to know how much business the website actually generated. So, let’s say you had a system in place that tracked where your leads came from and showed that $4,000 in sales closed because of the website. Now we can find the website’s ROI.

To calculate this month’s ROI, simply take the revenue generated from the website in the month ($4,000), subtract the cost of the website in the month ($2,000) and divide the result of that by the cost of the website in the month ($2,000). So you get something like this:

($4,000- $2,000)/$2,000 = 1 ROI

Now, what does 1 ROI mean? Well, notice how the dollar symbols are on both the top and bottom of the equation, so they cancel each other out leaving only a percent as a unit. This means that 1 ROI is a Return on Investment of 100%. That makes sense because you spend $2,000 and you got your money back plus another $2,000.

You may be wondering now why we didn’t include the original cost of $1,000 to build the website when we subtracted website costs. Well, the reason we didn’t is because of the way we figured our timeline and how we did our accounting. I don’t want to spend a lot of time in this small business article talking about accounting. But, I will say that I decided not to include it because that $1,000 was a cost that will continue to provide benefit well beyond the first month I run the website. Some people may want to include it but I find it more relevant to focus on the current costs that generated the current revenue. Because come next month, I won’t have to pay that $1,000 to build the website again.

I hope this small business article has been useful and if you have any questions about calculating return on investment, please leave a comment below. Please send this small business article to your friends and colleagues using one of the social media or email link buttons below!

(Image: Some rights reserved,  Keith Ramsey.)