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Choose the right tech to boost your SMB

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As a small business owner, you have plenty of choice when it comes to affordable technology that helps you run an efficient, responsive and productive company. Accounting and payroll software takes the pain out of dealing with SARS and other authorities, while making it easy to keep accurate financial records, says Daryl Blundell, GM for Sage Pastel Accounting.

Mobile broadband and smartphones mean that you can access business information while you’re on the road and stay in touch with colleagues and customers wherever you are. And the Web has opened access to a global marketplace of customers and suppliers for even the smallest of SMEs.

Yet choosing the right software and hardware for your SME can be challenging when you’re working with a limited budget. Here are a few ideas about how you can go about choosing the best IT solutions for your needs:

1. Start with your business needs, not the technology

The point might sound obvious, but many SME owners focus more on the brand or the technology they want to buy than on their business needs. Here are some issues to consider when considering a new IT product or service:
• Does my industry have specific requirements, for example, robust job costing or point of sale?
• How big is my business? Do I really need the most expensive and complex solution?
• How fast is my business growing and what will my future requirements be?
• What features do I need? Basic bookkeeping and cash flow management? Or detailed business intelligence?
• What is my budget?
• What are my customers’ requirements? Will they expect that they will be able to communicate with me on social media? Will they want to shop online?

2. Look at your online options

These days, you don’t necessarily need to set up your own servers or buy software licenses. Instead, you can use free or affordable online offerings such as DropBox, Google Mail, and Office 365 for many of your business needs. You can even buy your accounting and payroll software as an online service for an affordable monthly cost.

There is no more need to invest a lot of cash upfront in technology, which is great if you’d rather keep your capital for other business needs. It’s also good to know that you can still access your software online when there’s load shedding – just take your tablet or laptop to a wireless hotspot in an area where there’s power or use a mobile connection.

3. Going mobile

Mobility can have huge benefits for your business, and most SMEs know it. According to the Sage Business Index 2014 for South Africa, 50% of South African businesses use a tablet or smartphone to communicate with customers, suppliers or colleagues. And two-fifths say they spend more than a quarter of their working day on mobile devices.

You can give employees access to applications and data from any Internet connected device, so they can be productive wherever they are. Your business can be more responsive to customers and processes will keep flowing even when people are out. You might even be able to reduce your office space because your staff can work together without being in the same room.

These days, most popular business applications offer slick mobile apps that enable you and your employees to keep working on the road. Whether it’s accounting software, office productivity, a GPS, customer relationship management, or business intelligence, you’ll probably be able to access it from a smartphone or tablet.

4. Functionality, not frills

Many SMEs make the mistake of buying the Rolls Royce when they need the Toyota. So, be wary of buying an expensive solution with bells and whistles you may never use—rather look for something that is modular and that allows you to add in features in you need it. And make sure that the software takes care of basics—like local tax and labour law requirements. Of course, it goes without saying that the cheapest solution isn’t always the best either—so look at value and performance when you’re doing your analysis.

5. Look at the supplier’s track record

It’s important to have good technology, but also check on issues like the support infrastructure, customer satisfaction, and local expertise when you buy an IT product or service. Some elements to think about:
• Does the vendor have local reference sites and experience in my industry?
• Is the provider familiar with the needs of smaller businesses?
• How good is its support and service?
• Does it give me flexible payment and deployment options, for example, a choice of on-premises installation or cloud solutions?
• Does the provider support modern needs like the cloud and mobility?
• Does the vendor understand the local market and localise its product for South African needs?