Software for your Business - Custom vs Off the shelf (or off the web for that matter)

Code on Computer Screen Image by James Osborne from Pixabay Whatever business you’re in, chances are you use a variety of software packages - from accounting to payroll to sales tracking and customer support - the options out there are wide and varied. Making sure that they work specifically for your business and make your life easier can be a challenge so it’s important to take a number of things into account before you dive too deeply into any option. First question is often whether a piece of software actually exists that fulfills all your requirements or whether you’ll have to go down the custom route. So where do you start? Here’s my suggestions for navigating the maze of software complexity.

1. Write down what you want the software to do. Start off with a list with what you actually need from your software & try to think it through on a weekly basis. That means things like if you’re looking for Payroll software think through your team and any anomalies - do you have contractors? Do you pay fuel or other regular allowances? Do you need it to integrate with your accounting software? Try and ask the questions before you dive in as often the massive list of benefits and features touted by various solutions can cloud the issue of what you actually need it to achieve for your business.

2. Try and think of all the ways various software should integrate to make your life easier. We’ve already mentioned above about your payroll and accounting system talking to each other (or being one solution) but what about your CRM and sales tracking. Or your ecommerce solution with your customer feedback. Or your project management software with your reporting? The more ties that can happen automatically to make your life easier the better.

3. Analyse how important having everything is to your business. It’s unusual to find an out-of-the-box solution that does everything you want it to. Really unusual. But how much are you willing to sacrifice in terms of both time and money to get a custom solution that does it all? Sometimes it is absolutely worth it & other times it’s just not so get a dollar figure in your mind before you go hunting for custom solutions so you’ll know if it’s in the ballpark of what it’s worth to you.

4. If going custom - consider all the options. Sometimes you need to go custom and if you do try and get advice from someone who’s done it before. There’s some serious questions that need to be asked about what system to go with and you need to detail (I mean really detail) what you need. Custom solutions have a habit of becoming an absolute monster of never ending improvements and alterations - and that can become a serious cost to your business. Investigate if building on top of existing software can make it easier - or if you could even buy & mix a number of plugins together to do the job. Check out Wordpress and Code Canyon as a first stage to see if you can put together most of what you need with just a touch of customisation on top.

5. Outsource or local - when you’ve decided what you need and spec’ed it out thoroughly there’s the question of whether you have the work done by a local company or outsourced through the likes of Upwork or Fiverr. Shooting straight - going local is going to cost more money (sometimes a lot more money) but it can be worth it especially if you’ve never done anything like a custom package before. That way it’s easier to catch up to talk things over and get advice on how the system should be built. If you go with a freelancer make sure you look over their ratings and past work to make sure it’s quality. Also specify want you want thoroughly (I’m sure I’ve mentioned that). Try asking around to see if someone has a freelancer they can recommend (over the years I’ve worked a lot with PHP Masterminds and would highly recommend them).

Software that works for your business can make a massive difference but remember it’s supposed to work for you and that all starts with knowing exactly what you need.