Essential Online Business Software For Startups

You’ve decided to take the plunge. Finally go off the deep end. You swing open the door to your manager’s office, walk back to your desk and begin to sweat. A cocktail of stress and jubilation spills down your body from head to toe. Your feet start to move and then you are walking, out the door, down the elevator, into the city, and then out into the world. You’ve decided to start your own business- escape the grind and finally pursue your dreams. You’re free. You’re screwed.

Then comes the details. You need to strategize – figure out what needs to be done to get it rolling. What kind of paperwork do you need to fill out? How are you going to find your employees- designers, developers, sales, recruiters? Where will your office be? Where can you find advice from those who have already gone through this chaos? What if you have a patent to submit? How will you collaborate with your contractors? How can you keep track of money, prepare for taxes? What about business cards, business plans, PR initiatives and exit strategies?

These are just a fraction of the questions a small business owner needs to answer when forming a start up. Fortunately, there are a host of new and cutting edge Web 2.0 software tools that have been created to help answer these questions. Today’s entrepreneur can utilize a variety of enterprise software applications that will help them get on their feet without giving away an arm and leg of their nest-egg. I’ve created a list of some of my favorites- feel free to contribute with any others that you know of.

Basecamp: For your project management and collaboration needs, basecamp is a web tool that allows a small business to interface with clients and collaborators. It has an incredibly intuitive UI that allows an entrepreneur to keep their head on straight while managing several projects at once.

Dropbox: A nifty web application that rids you of need to carry around USB flash drives or larger external hard drives. Dropbox allows you to synchronize various computers to common accessible folders. Its as easy as drag and drop, and allows several collaborators to share files wherever they are, without the hassle.

Google Docs: Google Docs provides a suite of online MS-office-esque applications that all are extremely accessible and easy to utilize. Whether you want to create a spreadsheet that tracks potential clients, or an online word-doc business plan, Google Docs allows multiple collaborators to contribute simultaneously, instead of the tediously sending a document back and forth via email.

Odesk: Odesk is an online web tool that allows a small business employer to outsource work to freelancers around the world. While an entrepreneur must be weary about those bidding to do work from overseas for a fraction of the cost, very often Odesk provides a great interface for a variety contract jobs. The online application allows an employer to adeptly track their freelancers, from up-to-date progress updates to an actual live webcam feed of their hire.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the most popular and free social networking tool for business professionals. You can essentially post your online resume and qualifications, as well as list your current business venture and why its great. One useful feature on the social-networking side of things is the ability to get in touch with other local small business owners, who may have helpful advice for you. It also provides a great forum to let your client’s tell the world about all the great work you’ve done for them through the recommendations engine.

Newton On Demand: Newton provides an online software service for your company’s recruiting and applicant tracking needs. Easier to use than many of your favorite websites, Newton’s online recruiting software enables your entire hiring team to access, manage and share recruiting information across your entire company. The great thing about this piece of software is that it is extremely intuitive to use, allowing hiring managers and recruiters to easily collaborate from wherever they are.

Zazzle: Whether you want to design your company’s business cards, coffee mugs, or kickball Tees, Zazzle provides a great online tool for enterprise branding. Although things like these may seem ephemeral when trying to make deadlines, some branding can go along way for your small business identity and marketing.

What Future For Enterprise Software Vendors?

What do all the other merges and acquisitions in the past few years mean for the enterprise transaction document industry? Are software vendors facing extinction or it is just the down portion of a larger cycle?

Although the hardware vendors have always been the largest companies in the industry, the past two decades have seen the founding and rise of many smaller independent software vendors (ISVs). ISVs helped drive the market by enabling more hardware functionality and by enabling functionality driving line of business applications. For example, the current Transpromo revolution -traceable to Rogers & Pepper’s 1993 introduction of the 1 to 1 marketing revolution – was driven by a combination of falling prices for data storage and processing along with advances in databases, data mining, and sophisticated document composition software which could take advantage of the data collected and stored. Even today’s newest Transpromo functionality – cheap color – requires more ability to gather, store, analyze, and compose documents before they can take advantage of the new color printers. Under the covers, it requires more sophisticated software to handle not only color objects but also other color-related issues such as conversion between different color spaces. And the rise of creation, storage and finally display of electronic documents is almost purely software driven, including new advances in marketing which accrue strictly to online documents, such as targeted URLs, and those shared with hardcopy, such as electronic inserts. Finally, the added functionality and flexibility from other software, such as Document Re-engineering, conversions and transforms permits companies to leverage their hardware investments with better load balancing and higher production efficiencies.

But little is left of a once thriving ISV field within the industry. After the Exstream acquisition, the high end (measured by annual revenue) document composition software field has no independent ISVs left; all absorbed by larger hardware companies except Docucorp going to Skywire/Hall Financial Group. The conversion/transform field is shrinking after the GenText, Emtex, Streamweaver and Transformer acquisitions. And even the larger mixed software/hardware players are being gobbled up – InfoPrint by Richo, and rumors of OcĂ© possibly being next.

So what do all these acquisitions foretell? Is the ISV a doomed creature in the industry? Perhaps not. Instead, a review of history shows that it is part of a cycle that is playing out yet again. Small, nimble software firms are founded and grow quickly, inhabiting emerging niches in areas too small to be considered by the larger players, or in areas of new technology where quick response to launch a new product can pay off. As these companies grow, they themselves slow down due to larger company size, and become attractive targets to the large hardware corporations. After they are purchased and assimilated, their focus shifts to supporting the parent company’s needs. This certainly benefits the parent company, but frequently means the original ability to quickly respond to changing market trends is diminished, leaving an opportunity for a new start-up ISV to again enter the fray. An excellent example of this is the Exstream sale – Davis Marksbury and Dan Kloiber, serial entrepreneurs, have now successfully ridden this cycle three times, first with PDR Information Services, then with PDR Advanced Technology, and now with Exstream.

So what does it mean for the enterprise transaction document industry? It means the cycle is still going. The end of the acquisition cycle heralds the start of the new ISV growth cycle. It means watch out for that next generation of small, nimble ISVs coming up; see where they take us next. Attend conferences; listen to the sessions, and walk the floors. Read the industry blogs and news feeds from Xplor and AIIM. Google our industry keywords. See for yourself what the small ISVs are offering and where the market may be heading in the next few years.

How to Choose an Enterprising Software Supplier

To survive in the global marketplace you need to provide unfaltering service again and again and to do this you need enterprising software solutions that deliver day after day, supporting your business at every turn. It perhaps goes without saying that choice of software provider is crucial, so first and foremost ensure your provider knows what your business entails to ensure that the most suitable solution can be offered. Indeed, an in-depth understanding of how an organisation operates is central to developing and providing the software which supports and complements all business functions.

Choosing an enterprising software provider that is prepared to truly understand all aspects of your organisation and its day to day requirements means software can be tailor-made to suit needs that are perhaps specific to only your business. Industry specific software is one thing but having in-built functionality for specific business processes is something else altogether and will propel organisations forward into a new realm of customer satisfaction. As it goes, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to software solutions for any business competing in the global marketplace.

The software itself is paramount, but of equal significance is the knowledge available to support the technology used, as well as to help drive your business forward into continued future success. From a purely practical point of view it is essential to choose a provider with an expert support team who will ensure the implementation and use of new software is as efficient as possible. This is also critical from a profitability viewpoint as downtime is bad news for business.

Furthermore, potentially leading to lost revenue and custom, downtime is best avoided and this can be done by having a qualified support team in place to help all software users whenever necessary.

Another facet of support lies in your provider’s ability to optimise the solutions they provide through ongoing consultation and education. A software provider worth their salt will support your business well into the future – not simply implement new software and then disappear.

In addition, a global network of experts with local presence and understanding is hugely important for those companies that are trading internationally and it is this sort of information that leads to continuing success no matter what country you trade within. Therefore, get the best possible return on investment by choosing an enterprising software provider who can give you the full picture – not just part of it.