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The Role Software Development Can Play in Expanding Your Small Business

Software is very intertwined with running a modern business. Existing companies tend to adopt software as a means to scale their business without hiring more people; drive new sales and revenues; or offer customer-facing, self-service options that demand has increasingly forced them to offer. Unfortunately, many small businesses assume they can’t afford custom software development. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Know When the Time is Right for Custom Software Development

Running a small business presents a unique set of challenges. Business owners have to do more with less in terms of staff, resources and revenues. They need to be efficient in almost every aspect of their operations. In order to achieve sustainable growth, they must be proactive and strategic in scaling their companies.

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So how does a small- to medium-sized business (SMB) know when the time is right to develop its own custom software development solution? Below are some of the key indicators:

  • Current staff are performing large amounts of manual work—so much that the company is not able to take on any new business;
  • The senior leadership team is working 80 hours a week because they have to complete so much admin work on top of their day jobs;
  • Software tools the business is currently using are no longer being supported and/or legacy systems are requiring more and more updates;
  • Sales are suffering because business-development personnel are mired in administrative tasks;
  • Business owners find themselves hiring more people to handle time-intensive activities; and
  • The business is unable to scale to meet marketplace demand due to manual inefficiencies.

Key Areas Where Software Development Can Help

Technology innovation and digitization are by no means limited to larger enterprises. SMBs have the same types of operational needs in order to stay competitive, for example in product development, marketing, sales, support and accounting.

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Whether it’s tracking orders, performing inventory counts, or creating and scheduling invoices, more than likely an SMB is performing these types of duties on paper. Even if they’re working within Excel, they still have to organize the information and then those documents have to be physically shared among relevant team members for decision-making purposes. It’s an extremely manual—and time-consuming—process.

Typical areas where these types of manual processes exist can be found in finance, HR, marketing, and customer relationship management. The need is universal: finding a solution to streamline these processes.

SMBs can realize a number of benefits from custom software development—all aimed at helping the company grow and prosper. Among them:

  • Cost reductions by automating business processes and workflows;
  • Increases in employee productivity and satisfaction;
  • More options to better serve customers; and
  • Enhanced security to reassure customers, partners and employees.

Answering the BIG Question: Cost

Current technology capabilities and the new functions that a small business needs will help determine whether it can afford a custom software development project. While most SMBs might not be able to afford a 100-percent custom software enterprise solution, it’s important to understand that a good software development partner should be able to present other more affordable options.

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Before any software development project starts, the company and its software development partner should go through the process of developing scope and gathering the necessary requirements. Discussions should include identifying the company’s pain points and determining the minimal viable product (MVP). Every potential feature is laid out on the table, then the key functions are honed down to what the small business really needs to do right now versus later. Start small. We like to say: Start with the bike, then purchase the motorcycle, and then buy the car.

It’s hard to build a customized enterprise software solution for less than $50,000. However, a good software development partner should be able to look at what existing platforms are available to customize in order to build more cost-effective solutions to meet a small business’s needs. By leveraging open-source tools and other key platforms, such as Zoho, Magento, Shopify or WordPress, a strong partner can build a custom package that fits smaller budgets in the $25,000 to $35,000 range. For a software solution that’s more CRM and/or workflow oriented, then building custom code, for Salesforce for example, might have costs between $50,000 and $74,000.

SMBs can save more money if they have some of the project management and requirements completed themselves so they can contract out just the design and engineering with temporary IT staffing services instead of engaging a partner for full project services.

Preparing for Your First Software Development Project

The biggest cost mistake for companies comes when they start building the software without getting the foundation right. That’s why it’s important to figure out what a company really needs. SMBs don’t want to find themselves unnecessarily spending thousands of dollars on custom software of which they only use one-third of it.

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Here are four steps a small business should take to prepare for its first (and really any) software development project:

  1. Clearly define requirements: Writing software requirements means getting into the heads of the people who will use the software. Whether you are creating a ride-share appor a solution to support a customer-service operation, you need to develop requirements that suit all the parties who might find their way into the software. These requirements become part of the project plan.
  2. Think through every feature: A good software development partner can help you think like a software engineer in order to design the solution properly. It’s important to understand what each user will do with the application because everyone has different roles (e.g. admin, back-end user, customer, etc.)
  3. Determine a budget: You can’t guess costs until it’s determined what needs to be done. And, the solution design can’t take place until your software development partner understands the budget parameters you have for the project.
  4. Set a timeline: Whether you have an upcoming tradeshow, board meeting, or are going live with an IPO, it’s imperative that the project team outline what can get done in a specific time period. On average, software development projects can run three to six months.

It’s important to understand that any additional changes downstream after the project plan is developed, might cause more delays and add costs. That’s why it’s vital to get the requirements right at the onset.

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Automation Is Key to Adjusting to the New Marketplace

Small businesses are very adept at bootstrapping their operations initially. However, when they hit the point that they’re not growing, not reaching goals in operational efficiency, or sales are suffering because owners are bogged down in running the day-to-day business, then it’s time to find a software solution to jumpstart automation. Working with an experienced and proven software development partner can help SMBs either build an entirely custom solution or a hybrid version that customizes existing platforms to meet their needs.

The key takeaway: SMBs can have the software power of large companies within a small-business budget.

The pandemic taught businesses of all sizes a good lesson in adaptability in order to adjust to new ways of working, shopping, getting entertainment, and exercising. If your small business is not online and automated, it will be hard to survive in today’s—and tomorrow’s—marketplace.