Whether you're starting a new business or expanding an existing one, the software you use can make things much easier. There are about a zillion different programs of varying function and capability, ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars - but that doesn't mean you should necessarily go for the most expensive one.
Cost is always a factor in business management (though it may not be the leading factor), so the goal is to find software that does everything you need it to do without paying for bells and whistles or functions that don't apply to your business.
Before you even start looking at individual programs, carefully evaluate your needs - then simply find the program that fits them (don't ever alter your needs to suit the software).
If all you need is general accounting, your business type doesn't matter much when it comes to software. Heck, you could take care of that yourself with a well-designed spreadsheet on your existing software. More specialized programs, however, are designed with certain businesses in mind.
Medical offices may need something that integrates insurance coding. Manufacturers could use materials tracking and supply chain info, while service-based businesses may prefer a task-timing option.
You don't need an M.B.A. to recognize that as a bad investment. Chances are, that mega-software has entire areas of function that you just wouldn't use.
The right software investment is one that doesn't require a tremendous loan, and provides perfect functionality for your individual business. That means that there should ideally be no software feature that you're not using, but it shouldn't lack anything you need.
Many smaller or mid-range programs offer add-ons at additional cost, which allows the software to grow with your business. This is the perfect scenario, as you can use the basic version for as long as it serves you, then pay for individual upgrades as they become necessary.
If these are optional add-ons, avoid them. If they are bundled into the package and you cannot opt out, look for a more basic program.
Some of these features may seem like a cool idea, but they're only worth paying for if you'll actually use them. For example - smartphone synching - sure, it's a neat idea and very technologically sleek.
But do you really see yourself doing payroll from your phone? Mobile alerts and reminders are another - if you open the program everyday anyway (this is your business, after all), those very same alerts will pop up on your home screen. Do you really need them sent to your iPad?
If you do try to set things up yourself on a wing and a prayer, pray that you don't type anything in the tax info section - or the IRS may come calling. Mistakes have a way of screwing you down the road.
A company should stand firmly behind its product, and that means providing you with a rep who will train you and your staff to use the software to your utmost advantage, and set up any necessary networks, new terminals, etc.
Larger software companies should have local reps that will actually come to you when there's a problem, instead of forcing you to spend hours on the phone with tech support. This is part of what you're paying for. These kinds of features don't come with the cheaper programs - then again, the simpler programs usually don't warrant that kind of hand-holding.
Now that you have an idea of what you need, start looking around. Do your own research before you even speak to the first sales rep, because the pitch is hard and will throw you off track. Take advantage of trial periods before you buy, and get feedback from applicable staff before taking the final plunge.