Ten Steps to Choosing Software For Your Small or Homebased Business

    March 18, 2004

When you are buying software for your small business or your home office, you won’t have a staff of IT professionals guiding your purchasing decisions. The decisions are all yours, but that doesn’t mean you should feel intimidated or nervous about getting the software your work requires. The following tips will help you pick the right software for your business needs.

1. Know why you need the software

Many people make the mistake of purchasing software without clearly understanding why they need it or how they will use it. Those people end up spending too much for programs that are too complex and which go unused.Instead, ask yourself what you need the software to do for you: Help you keep track of your expenses? Design a web site? Create word processed documents? Knowing this will help you make a smart software buying decision.

2. Look for helpful features

Once you know what type of software you need, you should decide which features are going to help you get your work efficiently. Generally, the more features a program comes with, the more it is going to cost you. A good example are Word-Processing Suites like those sold by Microsoft and Corel. Both companies sell versions of these programs for Homes and Offices, but the difference between them is in the features included (as well as a considerable jump in price). Don’t waste money on the Office version if you don’t need the extra features.

3. Consider cost

Obviously, your budget is going to be a deciding factor in which software you choose, but don’t let it be the only one. You may save money initially, but if the program you purchase lacks good technical support or upgradability you may end up paying more in the long run. So let cost help you narrow your choices but base your final decision on other important factors.

4. Be aware of compatibility issues

Not all software works with all computers so be sure to acquaint yourself with the specifications of your system before you go out to make your purchase. Make sure you know the operating system (i. e. Windows 98) used on your computer as well as the type and speed of your processor and the space available on your hard drive. By knowing this before you make a purchase, you can save yourself the headaches of having to return software that can’t be used on your system.

5. Check about available upgrades

Software is always improving, sometimes by small degrees and other times by leaps and bounds, so when you purchase your program it may already be out-of-date. For this reason, many companies provide free upgrades for their software. If they do not, you will either have to purchase upgrades later or be content with a late-model program. Also, many pricey software programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, offer a substantial discount on the future versions of their programs to current owners. This factor may also be something you want to keep in mind.

6. Think about the software’s learning curve

Not all software was created for the same end users. Some are simple enough that anyone can learn how to master them if they have the time and patience to play around with all of the options. Others are so difficult that it can take even experienced users a long time to feel comfortable working with them effectively. Do some research and find out which programs are best for your abilities. If you’ve never done any work with web design, for example, you may not want to jump into Macromedia’s Dreamweaver software. When you purchase software that is ideal for your level of experience, you can save yourself a great deal of frustration and can be assured that your software will make you work more efficiently.

7. Pick reliable software manufacturers

When you are shopping for software at your local computer or electronics store, you are likely to encounter mostly the recognizable names in the industry. However, if you shop around on the Internet, you may find a plethora of companies producing the software you need but whom you’ve never heard of. You may be able to save a few dollars by going with one of these lesser known providers, but there could be problems. You may not receive the same level of technical support, it may not be compatible with other programs (for example, some word processing programs’ documents can not be opened by Word or WordPerfect), or no future upgrades may be made available. All of these possibilities can significantly decrease the value of going with an unknown manufacturer. In most cases, you are better off going with a company that has a proven track record.

8. Ask yourself about the program’s technology

The technology behind the software may not seem important but it is worth considering. If the program was built using outdated or soon-to-be-replaced technology, then your software may become obsolete quickly and may not be worth what you paid for it. Do your research, read some computer magazines, and make sure that you purchase software that will have a healthy lifespan.

9. Examine technical support options

Installing, running, and using software is rarely flawless and if you run into problems you want to be able to get the help you need as quickly and as painlessly as possible. So when you decide on a software program, be sure to find out what type of technical support is available. Email, real-time chat, and 1-800 number support options are the most useful. They are also usually free. If you aren’t sure what type of support is available, visit the manufacturer’s web site and check for yourself.

10. Determine availability

Finally you need to determine how and where the software is available. Some programs, such as utilities, are only available online. Others are for sale both online and at your local stores. If you feel uncomfortable buying anything online, you will want to shop around in your local electronics store. Also, don’t automatically assume that buying software from the manufacturer’s web site will save you money. Many times you can find the same product cheaper in a store.


With these ten tips on choosing the software you need to keep your business running efficiently and cost-effectively, you can feel comfortable and secure that the next program you bring back to the office will be the right one to get the job done.

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Cavyl Stewart is the author of “135 Hot Tech Tips for Small
Business Owners.” To Download your free copy, just visit: