Q: What tools should my business invest in for 2014?
A: Start with a shopping list like one you'd scribble down for the grocery store. On this list, you've got your weekly staples, plus the items you'll need for a dinner party three days from now.
For a business, staples include maintenance and support payments on existing software licenses; subscriptions for cloud software apps; computer hardware support and maintenance fees; network and internet-access costs; and scheduled computer and phone upgrades.
It's the dinner-party items on the tech list that can create budget-busting variables. But it's these items that will help you grow next year. And like dinner-party planning, you're never sure who's coming and whether you'll have enough food--or too much.
According to Godard Abel--co-founder and CEO of G2 Crowd, a Chicago-based firm that provides an online platform for business-software reviews and ratings--small businesses should focus their investment on these categories in 2014: mobile, social media and e-commerce. "As consumers continue to purchase products and services via mobile devices and digital marketplaces, going mobile is transitioning to a must-do strategy," he says.
So what should be on your shopping list? With Abel's help, we found some software and platforms that can help your business address those key objectives for the next year.
Marketing: Tools such as HubSpot help streamline business by managing all online marketing initiatives, including e-mail marketing, blogging, social media, SEO and websites.
Sales: "If you haven't explored using CRM tools such as those offered by Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics and a new one from Base CRM, you should," Abel says.
E-commerce: Shopify and Bigcommerce make it easy for a small business to set up and deploy a slick e-commerce store at a reasonable cost, whether you move 10 units per month or 10,000.
Brand management: Purchase premium listing and monitoring services for sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. Then stay on top of what people are saying about your business by employing monitoring tools such as Sprout Social and Kapow Software, which aggregate multiple social media platforms into one convenient dashboard.
Accounting: Move your books to the cloud with QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks, SurePayroll or Expensify. "There's no hardware to install, no IT support required, and software updates happen automatically," Abel says.
Human resources: HR software has also been moving to the cloud, with tools like Halogen Software and TribeHR that can simplify your recruiting processes and better manage employee records.
Yes, most of these cost money and take time to implement, but in the end, their promise of boosting efficiency, creating new business and improving customer service should pay off. It's something to consider as you set your goals for the coming year.