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Small-Business Software

Streamline your business tasks by using these bestselling programs.

Streamline your business tasks by using these bestselling programs.

Once the domain of only large companies, software that takes care of business needs has become a mainstay for small businesses. Thanks to constantly updated and improved software packages, today's small-business owner can efficiently complete such tasks as making computerized sales projections, running inventory reports, creating mailing lists, and developing professional newsletters--all without leaving his office.

To choose the right software for your business, first determine exactly what you need your computer to do, both now and in the not-too-distant future. Do you need a program that will help you keep track of your current and prospective clients, generate invoices, and create mailing labels, as well as provide a way to track your financials? Is a standard word processing program sufficient? Or will you also need desktop publishing capabilities?

Other questions to consider when you go to buy a program include the following:

1) Do you need an office suite, or will a single software program dothe trick? Suites are a group of real programs--such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel--that are packaged together and work as a unit. "With an office suite, which includes several software programs in one package, you get a level of integration that you don't get from buying separate bits," says Linda Mitchell, group product manager for small-business marketing in the desktop-applications division for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. "Not only does an office suite localize all programs in one, it's usually less expensive to buy a suite than the products individually."

2) Will the software be able to run on your computer? Make sure your current computer is powerful enough to effectively run the program you are considering. Most software programs clearly state their minimum system requirements on their packaging.

3) How easy is the software product to use? "A high-quality software program is intuitive and adapts to you," says Mitchell. "What you must do to reach a desired result should be clear. This is especially important for the small-business owner, who is usually working alone and doesn't have a resident expert on call to answer computer questions."

It is important that the program is user-friendly and doesn't require you to speak "Computerese."

Good software programs also come with onscreen tutorials, CD-ROM training courses, and ready-to-use templates or onscreen examples of common business reports and forms.

4) Is the new software compatible with your existing programs? For instance, if you are buying mailing-list software, will it work with your word processor? If you have to re-enter information, consider purchasing a different software--one that links with your current programs.

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This article was originally published in the May 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Small-Business Software.

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