Small-Business Software

Questions to Ask the Salesperson Before You Buy

With your software needs clearly in mind, venture out for some price and feature comparisons. Before laying down cash for any program, be sure to ask your salesperson the following five questions:

1. Is the software specially designed to serve the needs of small-business users? Many of the popular business applications on the market today are designed for use by Fortune 500 companies with deluxe in-house support teams and significant expertise, not for entrepreneurs lacking such resources. Therefore, you should seek out software that avoids technical jargon, operates intuitively, and is designed to fill the needs of smaller ventures as well as larger ones.

2. Will the program be relatively easy to learn and use? Many software programs now regularly come with on-screen tutorials, elaborate printed and on-screen documentation, CD-ROM training courses and the like. They also typically offer some combination of no-charge technical phone support for a limited time, advanced documentation by fax or Internet, and/or a money-back guarantee. If the program you're considering does not include such features, perhaps it's not as great a value as it may seem.

3. Does the software include ready-to-use templates or on-screen examples of common business reports and forms? Predesigned templates are most desirable, because they allow a new user to jump right in and start creating professionally formatted documents right away. Although better than nothing at all, on-screen examples are not nearly as useful. Programs which contain neither should be avoided.

4. Will the software still be useful as your business grows? Although technological advancements keep coming every day, it is best to select a software program that can serve your needs both today and in years to come. Shy away from programs so simplistic that they are ideal for your current needs, yet inadequate for your growing needs as your customer base and business expand.

5. Will the software be able to run on your computer? Last, but clearly not least, make sure your current computer is powerful enough to effectively run the program you're considering. This is especially of concern if you purchased your computer more than 18 months ago and haven't since expanded its memory and other capabilities. Most software programs clearly state their minimum system requirements on the box. If you're at all uncertain, the salesperson should be able to tell you whether the software you've selected is compatible with your hardware.

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