April 28, 2009, 11:52 AM — A reply to my post from last week “Is Your Small Business Goal to Grow or Not?” asks an interesting question: if growth is the goal of a small business owner, how do you include technology planning in your development? ArcherTC reported giving little thought beyond what tools to use today. And as software and hardware keep jumping forward, including the scary thought (at least to ArcherTC) of ever-increasing cloud computing options, how does one pick the right technology to support growth?
Small companies, especially those intent on growing, can't screw up. At the delicate growth stage, screwing up means less about picking the wrong technology but rather paying far too much for the technology you pick. That's why cloud computing, or Software As A Service, or Hosted Application Providers (you choose the term you like) can be your best friend.
Conserve cash flow. Do you need to buy computers? If so, planning on SaaS for many applications means you can buy less powerful hardware since your browser does the work, not your CPU. Laptops give flexibility you can't get from desktops, especially if you don't yet have an office where people sit and work all day. Off lease laptops provide good value for little money, although new laptop prices have fallen so much a lease on new laptops may be more friendly to your cash flow.
Conserve cash flow. You need e-mail? Check out SaaS options. Need accounting software? Check out SaaS options. Need software for turning sales prospects into customers? Check out SaaS options. Need shared storage of business files? Check out SaaS options.
These options help preserve cash flow by avoiding the purchase of servers and software to run your application. The upfront and ongoing cost for Microsoft's Small Business Server is enormous to growing companies. You can get all the same features with one to three SaaS options.
Starting with SaaS lets you make inexpensive mistakes. If you buy a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software package to help power sales and you don't like it, you still have to pay for the software. If you try a SaaS CRM application, you pay a few dollars per user per month. If you don't like that, you stop. End of expense, and your cash stays in your pocket.
Start and grow your small business as virtually as possible, paying a few dollars per user per month for needed services rather than buying hardware and software. Once you feel comfortable you're on the right track, you can consider spending money on your own hardware and software. But the better you manage your cash flow, the better chances you have to grow your business.