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Flick the on switch with the right software
SO, YOU'VE decided to start your own business. You've arranged premises, sorted out the finances and plugged in the phones.
What's missing? A computer and, more importantly, the right software.
After having settled on a PC or laptop computer, the biggest decision the entrepreneur will have to make is what software to buy. Unlikely as it may sound, the decisions made here have the potential to make or break a fledgling company.
There's a bewildering array of packages on the market and they're all fairly expensive - so it's important to make the appropriate choices. Small businesses will typically need one or several of the following generic types of software:
AN OFFICE SUITE
The big three are Microsoft's Office 97, Lotus's Smart Suite and the WordPerfect 8 Suite from Corel. All office packages are fairly similar and usually contain the following:
A word processor - a basic requirement for any office and the application you will use to produce straightforward documents such as letters and reports. Most modern word processors have the ability to automatically create professional-looking documents like letterheads and invoices which are crucial to the image and success of a small business. The more professional your documents look, the more seriously you will be treated;
A spreadsheet - essential for organising data such as stock and price lists and for working with columns of figures in budgets or financial reports;
An organiser - useful for managing contact lists, and entering appointments and deadlines in diaries;
Presentation software - if you need to make presentations on a regular basis, this can be used to get your point across with maximum visual impact.
You may need:
An E-mail address - by far the cheapest and easiest way of exchanging information with customers, both local and international. Overseas contacts can be reached for the cost of a local telephone call;
A web browser - it's often useful to surf the web for information important to your business. Many office suites already include a web-browser but you may need to buy one separately;
Software for publishing on the World Wide Web - why not advertise your products or services to millions of potential customers on your own web page? With a well-designed web site, small businesses can look like global players;
FINANCIAL AND ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE
The automation of accounting functions is likely to be a major requirement of many small businesses. Popular packages include those from big companies such as Microsoft and Intuit, and local companies such as Pastel. These packages keep track of creditors and debtors and give your accountant an instant snapshot of your spending and income records.
A good way for a small company to save money is to install fax software on the computer. This does away with the need for a fax machine and expensive fax paper, and allows faxed information to be pulled easily into a word processor or database.
Although it's often a huge temptation to buy games software, think carefully about this. Games can be a distraction at best and downright addictive at worst. It may be better for your business to leave them on the shelf!
Remember - computer hardware and software can be enormously expensive and the cost of both must be built carefully into the budget of a fledgling business. The right choices at the beginning will ensure your business not only gets off the ground but stays safely aloft.
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