Buying software for your business

Software will be one of your key investments when you're starting a business - get it right, and it'll make your life much easier, but get it wrong and you'll be left with a very expensive mistake on your hands.

Before you buy

  • Before you buy software, try it out to make sure it's right for you. Most manufacturers have free downloads on their websites which allow you have a 30-day trial. Make the most of it - it could prevent you from making a very costly mistake.
  • From web browsers to firewalls and word processors to photo editing programmes, almost every piece of software available has an open source equivalent. Open source is a relatively new idea which has built up a great deal of steam during the recession: it gives users access to the source code, allowing them to make changes to the actual fabric of the programme. Because so many people contribute to it, open source software is therefore seen as a collaborative effort, and is generally free to download to anyone who wants it. Instead, open source software companies charge you for technical support.
  • If you're buying a complicated piece of software, you'll regret it if you scrimp on the support package. While support might seem expensive when you're handing over the cash, you'll soon be glad if you encounter a problem with the software. Remember: investing that little bit more could mean the difference between being able to use it confidently and having a useless piece of software.
  • It may sound obvious, but there's nothing more frustrating than getting something home and finding out it doesn't work - so make sure your check the software is compatible with your system before you buy it. There should be a list of system requirements on the box, or on the website if you're downloading software. If you're a Windows user, you can find out which version you're using by going to your computer's search function, typing in 'winver' and double-clicking on the application which appears. If you're a Mac user, click on the Apple logo in the top left-hand corner of the screen and click on 'about this Mac'.
  • Another way of buying software is to look at Software as a Service (SaaS), which is a sort of pay-as-you-go version of software where you download the software for a certain amount of time, after which it is disabled. The advantage of SaaS (pronounced 'sass') is it's a relatively cheap way of buying software, and you usually get technical support with it. CRM and supply-chain software (see below) both work well under the SaaS structure.

Software you will need

  • An office suite is a collection of programmes which usually includes a word processor, a spreadsheet package, a database programme, an email client and a slideshow or presentation programme, but they can also include a graphics suite and even an instant messaging programme. Almost every business will need one of these components at some stage. While the industry standard is currently Microsoft's Office package, is an open source equivalent sponsored by software giant Sun Microsystems.
  • Accounting software has made the lives of entrepreneurs easier - not only will it help you stay on top of your finances, but it should help you file your tax returns as well. The world of accounting software is vast and detailed, though, and covered in another guide on Smarta. Click here to see it
  • The first computer virus emerged in 1982, and since then, they've become a thorn in the side of businesses everywhere, with almost three quarters of computers used for business affected by viruses. While most are merely a nuisance, slowing down your system or taking over your email to send out spam; some can be lethal - so don't scrimp when you buy your anti-virus software. Most new computers come with anti-virus software already installed, but it's generally only a free trial, so make sure you upgrade or install new software once the trial runs out.
  • If you need an easy way of managing your supply chain, you might want to invest in supply chain software. It doesn't come cheap, but it may help you to make your system more efficient, allowing you to forecast supply and demand and ensuring you pay suppliers on time and get paid by clients. Most supply chain software goes into one of two categories: planning software, which allows you to plan how much you will produce and the best way to transport your products; and execution software, which combines information from your inventory and purchase orders to allow you to work out what to buy and when to buy it. Be aware that most supply chains use the same software, so speak to your clients and your suppliers before you make any decisions.


  • Before you buy software, try it out
  • Always check the software is compatible with your system before you buy it
  • If you're unsure of how to use it, pay for the technical support package
  • Don't be afraid to download SaaS or open source


How do I know the open source software I want to download is reliable?
When you're downloading software, look for projects which have had frequent updates and have formed a community around them. A project which hasn't been updated for the last six months probably won't be very reliable. If you're in doubt, consult an IT specialist.


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