I have always had an affinity for small businesses and entrepreneurs. My father and his brothers worked at a chain of gas stations that my grandfather started when I was a small child. Despite not having a college education or wealthy upbringing, I was in awe of their entrepreneurial spirit for as long as I can remember.
Even today, I have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for anyone that takes the risk to start a business. Our team at Third Stage Consulting works with some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies, but we also work with a large number of smaller businesses and startups as well. There is something innately rewarding about working with our small clients and their founders.
In our consulting work with small businesses, we find that technology can be a key enabler of higher growth and profits. There are a variety of technologies that we help clients select and implement in their quest to create an entrepreneurial legacy for their families, communities, employees, and investors.
Choosing among the various technology options can be overwhelming. Not only is there a large variety of types of different systems that can help fuel small business growth, but each software category has a plethora of vendor offerings to choose from. For example, there are accounting systems to track the financials, CRM (customer relationship management) software to manage sales pipelines, and eCommerce to manage online sales. Small businesses easily have hundreds – maybe even thousands – of potential software to choose from.
This video provides an overview of finance, accounting, and enterprise systems:
So, what is the best software to drive digital transformation in your small business? Below is some advice to help you through your journey.
Finance and accounting software are among the first software options that most young small businesses pursue. As the business gets off the ground, owners and operators typically seek some sort of technology to track invoices, cash inflows, and outflows, and other basic accounting needs. Quickbooks is one of the more common and popular options for smaller businesses.
Some of the leading finance and accounting systems for small business include:
As small businesses grow and begin to scale, they often find that their basic accounting software can’t handle increased volumes or scale for growth. They also often find that their systems can’t handle more complex financial reporting, costing, and analytics. And finally, small businesses typically reach a tipping point where they need more than an accounting system – they need a single enterprise system to tie together disparate operations and data.
While finance and accounting software can help during the startup and early growth stages, small businesses typically find that they need something more as they continue to grow.
CRM software, which stands for customer relationship management, is a common technology adopted by small businesses as they accelerate their growth. This is especially true for sales-driven organizations. CRM software helps small businesses manage their prospective customers, track sales pipelines, log customer service touchpoints, and automate other sales and customer service processes.
Some of the top CRM systems also double as marketing automation software. For example, systems such as Hubspot and Salesforce automate marketing processes, manage email campaigns, and track marketing analytics – in addition to performing more standard sales and CRM processes.
Some of the leading CRM systems in the market include:
The video below outlines our team’s independent ranking of the top CRM systems in the market:
eCommerce software is a key technology for many retail, distribution, B2C, and B2B businesses. This is especially true in today’s post-Covid-19 environment with more limited physical interaction and face time. Even without the health implications of the pandemic, more companies were diversifying their revenue streams and customer touchpoints to include eCommerce.
There are a number of leading eCommerce systems built for small businesses. For example, Shopify is used by smaller retail organizations, while Magento is often used by higher growth and larger companies. These are just a few examples of the many eCommerce systems available to small businesses.
Some small businesses reach a point in their growth cycles that require them to think outside the siloes of finance, CRM, or eCommerce systems. Instead, they may gravitate toward more robust systems that can handle all of these functions along with many others.
For example, NetSuite and Microsoft Dynamics Business Central are two of the top ERP systems for small businesses. These and other small business ERP systems can handle most – if not all – of the operations of a growing small business. This includes everything from sales to production to customer service to financials, inventory management, human capital management, and just about everything in between. They can also provide better transparency into reporting and analytics as the business grows.
Some of the leading ERP systems most commonly used by small businesses include:
This video outlines our team’s independent ranking of top ERP systems for small businesses:
In addition to the systems mentioned above, small businesses have a variety of other software to choose from. Many of these options provide more niche or industry-specific capabilities not offered by the other types of systems in the market.
For example, below are some of the other options available to small businesses:
Some of these capabilities can be provided either as part of a broader ERP system or as a standalone, best of breed option.
Navigating these many options can be head-spinning. However, arriving at the best decision quickly is completely manageable with an objective analysis of your needs and priorities relative to the systems in the market. Defining a digital strategy and software selection that is best aligned with business needs is something we help our clients with every day.
We would be happy to brainstorm ideas with you as you define your digital transformation journey for your small business. Please feel free to contact me if you would like objective advice to help define your best path forward. My team and I are happy to be a sounding board as you continue your small business growth and transformation journey!