Choose the right software

Choose the right software

If you’re self-employed or own a small business, the software you choose can make all the difference to productivity and online security

If you own a small business, getting your office kitted out with the latest tech is only half the story. The software you install can help your team work efficiently, safe in the knowledge that the network is secure. Here’s our guide to the essential software that every small business needs.

Maximise productivity

If you’ve ever been anywhere near a computer, you’re bound to have heard of Microsoft Office. For business owners, the Home and Business Suite includes programs for email management and organisation (Outlook), word processing (Word), spreadsheets (Excel), presentations (PowerPoint) and note-taking (OneNote). The complete package for one user includes a licence for installing it on a desktop PC and a portable device such as your laptop. There’s also a secure online version, Office 365, which is available for a monthly subscription.

Although Microsoft may be the default choice, viable alternatives do exist. LibreOffice is 'open source' software, which means it’s completely free to use. It also contains a word processor , spreadsheet, and presentation software, as well as a database and graphics tool. If you want the features of Microsoft Outlook without paying a penny, install the free, open source email client Thunderbird, along with the free Lightning calendar add-in, and you should have everything you need to run your business.
In a similar way, Google Docs offers a free online alternative to Office 365, allowing you to work (and collaborate with other people) on documents from any internet-connected computer. 

Money matters

Gone are the days when your business accounts meant dusty ledgers and manila folders clogging up filing cabinets. Modern accounting software allows you to take a peek at how your business is doing at any time.

One of the most popular accounting packages is QuickBooks from Intuit. New versions are released every year and there are a number of options. SimpleStart (PC World Business) gives you branded invoices, sales, expenditure and profit tracking plus a number of basic reports. Quickbooks Pro (PC World Business) takes everything a step further with stock control, the ability to handle foreign currencies and help calculating VAT returns.

Some packages also come loaded with advice. Sage Instant Accounts (PC World Business) has all the usual tools for managing your business, but it also includes a free e-learning course. The series of four online lessons shows you how to get the best out of your accounting software, as well as tackling trickier topics like filing a VAT return and getting your clients to pay on time!

Talk the talk

There are a number of tools available to help you communicate via the internet. Download Skype and you can text message or talk to other Skype users for free. If you like, you can also buy credit so you can call landlines and mobiles at a cheap rate. It’s even possible to set up video conferences for face-to-face meetings with clients and colleagues without leaving your desk.

Things get a little complicated when you want your whole team to be on Skype. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Tools like Skype Manager help you set up accounts for your team, monitor usage, allocate funds and deal with things like call forwarding or answerphone.

While Skype is currently the most popular internet chat device, there are alternatives. ooVoo is a conferencing application that lets you set up video conferences with up to 12 users at once. And only one of the users actually needs the downloaded package and the monthly subscription.

Project-sharing

Video conferencing is one thing, but what if a lot of people are working on the same project in different locations? What you need is an online collaboration solution like Huddle. This virtual workspace lets you share and edit documents, create tasks and have meetings over the web or even brainstorm together on a virtual whiteboard – without the need for special software. You can have a free 14-day trial then, if you decide to sign up, you can choose from different price plans, depending on what you require.

If the company coffers are low and you only want to manage one project, Basecamp offers a never-ending free plan. You’ll only get 10MB of storage for free but you can upgrade to a paid package if you decide you need more space. Even then, you won’t be tied into a long-term contract and you’re free to cancel at any time.

Safety first

In 2010, 79% of small businesses in the UK suffered an online security breach. Luckily, the recent explosion of cloud computing has provided lots of new options for online security.

McAfee Total Protection for Small Business (PC World Business) offers an 18-month subscription service. It checks every protected computer for malicious attacks, installs a firewall and provides up-to-date anti-virus protection. Just remember to renew the software at the end of the term for peace of mind.

Back up your files

Backing up your data is also essential. The Symantec Backup Exec 2010 for Windows Small Business Server, from PC World Business may involve a significant monetary outlay. But when you consider that the 2010 Information Security Breaches Survey revealed the cost of recovering data can be up to £55,000, it’s a small price to pay. The package includes backup support, disaster recovery and one year’s system support.