Numerous management software programs are available to operate your business, but how do you know which one will suit you best? You could start by looking at the program you currently use and evaluating your likes and dislikes, including the best features, what tasks take the most time and what you’d like to change. Now, go through the following list and check off which applications you’d like included in a program:
- Single or multi-site management
- Customer details management
- Manual and automatic customer billing
- Penalty charging for late-payers
- Debtor control
- Sales-ledger accounting
- Bank-account reconciliation
- Customer-relationship management
- Interfaces to third-party programs such as access control and accounting
- Stock control
- Real-time or offline website integration
- The ability to change existing reports or write new ones
Once you have your wish list organized and a bank of questions to get to the nitty-gritty of what programs might offer you, ask prospective suppliers to arrange a demonstration with a consultant to walk through the program’s features. If it’s not possible for an onsite demonstration, ask for an online one. Most software suppliers should be able to arrange such a meeting via your web browser and a telephone representative.
Choices and Prices
When reviewing what a program can do for you now, consider what features you will need as you expand operations and the costs you may incur. Some suppliers sell a basic program in which added features are extra. For example, if you add more units or need the software to interact with gate access next year, extra fees may be tacked onto your initial purchase price. Some manufacturers may charge more upfront, but not add on fees if you expand your business. Make sure you know which package you’re getting at what price—now and for future operations.
When you “test drive” your software, don’t always judge a program by how easy it is to learn. It can take practice to click your way quickly through tasks, and you may stumble a few times using new software. Instead, judge programs based on how comprehensive they are completing important tasks. It may be easy to keep track of renters’ addresses using simpler software, for example, but will your program instantly charge late fees and/or track gate access for security purposes?
Having said that, inquire about technical support. What happens once you have new software and things go wrong or you need help? What kind of service will be provided to help you stay on track or learn how to use a newer version? In addition, does tech support cost more or is it included in the sales price?
And what about the future? Industries evolve, computers change, technologies move on, sometimes at an alarming pace. Making the link between your management system and your website might seem like a dream at the moment, but in six or 12 months you may see it as a necessity. Does the supplier’s upgrade policy work for you? Are you entitled to them or do you have to pay for the program all over again? Can the upgrades be done by you, or will you have to pay someone to visit you onsite?
Lastly, ask the software company for referrals to users who’ve nothing to gain by talking to you but can give you insight regarding their experiences in working with the software and company. Call them for feedback before making your purchase.
Rip Bucks started RADical Systems (U.K.) in 1992, supplying space management and sales-accounting software to the self-storage industry in the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond. The company developed its Space Manager, space management and sales accounting program for Windows and client/server environments. For more information, visit www.radicalsys.com.