How making the right software choices can make scaling up your business pain-free

Sep 17, 2020

By making the right software decisions for your startup business now, you can save yourself a lot of future pain.

When dreaming about our startup business, and before it becomes a reality, many founders are focused on the horizon and what their business will look like in 3, 5 or 10 years time when they’re successful. There’s nothing wrong with that and, indeed, the dream can be a key motivator in getting us to commit to the side-hustle, give up our day job or invest our life-savings.

As soon as trading starts, that vision is often pushed to one side by day-to-day challenges and the fulfillment of customer wishes. Again, no bad thing in itself, as customers should certainly be a priority. However, sometimes strategic decisions can suffer and when the business starts to scale those on-the-fly decisions taken while your eye was off the strategic ball can sometimes cause inconvenience and, even more significantly, limit your growth.

Through delivering software to different kinds of business we often see how past strategic decisions - or lack thereof - affecting current operations. From a software perspective there are certainly things that a business can do in the early stages of setup to reduce the amount of inconvenience they’ll have from technology further down the line.

The onboarding of new processes and systems within the business is sometimes done at the same time as picking up software solutions. There can even be a viscous feedback loop where the best internal procedures are not adopted simply because the chosen software solution doesn’t do it. Over time, these become evident as friction between business processes that are evolving and software systems like CRM and ERP that aren’t fit for purpose and can’t be modified.

Avoiding the embedding of these limitations to your business from software can be as simple as not rushing to bring software on board. Indeed some of the most successful startups I’ve seen initially worked with pen-and-paper to close their first deals and collate their first marketing lists. Only when they knew what was working for them and what wasn’t did they make software purchasing decisions. They were then able to seek out software solutions that were right for their evolved business model. In other words they took a strategic approach.

Looking at the picture of software adoption at an even higher level, it will become apparent sooner or later that systems need to talk to one another. The act of gluing software systems together so that they’ll talk nicely to one another is never easy. Instead, unless you have a particular reason to move quickly, hold off on investing in “time saving” software until you’ve completed a few customer sales, at which point you’ll have a much better understanding of what data you need, could have done with collecting in retrospect and what outcomes are possible. Then, you can easily identify your software data silos and know what system can cover off your needs.

When your business finally gets around to investing in any software, my experience tells me that the world tends to be split unevenly into two different camps; those that want to build their own solutions and those that buy into an existing solution. Each have their own merits and deserve an entire blog post in their own right but for now let me be concise by saying that you should only consider a bespoke build as an early stage company if your needs are very specific (that is, more or less unique), it’s is part of your value proposition or there are other considerations such as security.

For the rest of business, most early stage founders adopt some kind of software-as-a-service application (SaaS). These SaaS products are normally easy to buy into and can be up and running with minimal effort. That’s great for your day-to-day business activity but longer term this is where we see some mistakes being made.

With SaaS there are usually many, many options available. No matter what research or requirements document you prepare I’m pretty sure that price is going to be one of the things that you pick to look at in order to help make the decision. Aside from the obvious benefit to your bottom line of a low price, this is the easiest - and I would go further to say the only - point of direct comparison between many of the different software systems on offer. Each will have their own features, implemented in slightly different ways and in different proportions. All of this is delivered through a marketing gloss that can spin the least useful feature into this month’s must have add-on. Therefore, be very wary in comparing by price alone.

You’ll no doubt find a number of free options out there, and perhaps they’ll be fine. Be cautious about what add-ons will be chargeable in the future and that you can scale-up on their platform. For anything that’s free, always make sure you can clearly identify their business model so that you know when the costs will kick in and - take it from an old synic here - that they’ll be making enough profit to be around when you need them in the future.

Again, there’s a deep dive that can be done on this but in this article we’re focused on decisions that will take away pain from future scaling, so consider this: You should prioritise those solutions that offer you good, long term value, will minimise future disruption as things change within your business and that should offer you a converging fit to your business process needs.

To break that down a little, let’s take Cambridge Software’s own CRM system RealtimeCRM as an example. This is a straight-forward sales CRM that is what we call an “off the shelf” system. You can visit the web page, sign up and be up and running in less than 10 minutes. Pricing is transparent and fixed. Again, great for the day-to-day commitments but what about long term?

Well, this particular product offers a CRM customisation route that any business that has “outgrown” their off-the-shelf CRM and needs custom features adding or that to integrate with other software systems can move to, RT Enterprise. Are you dealing with the same team? Yes.Can you migrate your data with no downtime? Yes. Is this a low risk move? Yes.

More broadly, and on whichever choice you make, you must ensure that there would be no problem in getting access to your data at any time. Reputable SaaS companies including RealtimeCRM make it easy for you to get your data out but a few proprietary systems could torpedo your scaling up ability by making it either contractually or technically impossible to move systems.

So when making the decision on SaaS software, be sure to consider what scaling-up options are available in the future. This protects your business from significant disruption when a switch needs to be made in the future.

If, like many businesses, you’re focused on your day-to-day work and need help and advice with this kind of thing then virtual CTO services are a good option. Like a retained IT consultant, there people can advise strategically on the best options for your business.

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