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1 March 2019

Great software to manage your small business

There's a huge choice - here's how we found our perfect system.

We are a web design company and a few years ago we were struggling with managing our business. There were so many areas of the business – sales, accounts, contacts - that didn't talk to each other and even simple information like customer's contact details were hidden in disparate systems or even pieces of paper. We knew we had to do something.

Of course, like most people we started searching online, but then, we thought ‘what are we actually searching for’? “Apps to manage business”, “customer software”…? The problem with search engines is that you need to know what you are looking for – and we didn’t!

There are so many online and downloadable apps that purport to solve a particular problem – sales leads, email marketing, accounts, projects – that the holy grail; something that does it all for your specific business and the way you work seems impossible – or very expensive.

25 years ago, off-the-shelf software was pretty much the only thing you could buy and, once you’d handed over your money, you’d find it didn’t do something essential for your business. Damn. The alternative was to go out and get a developer produce the system for you, but this was fraught with negatives – primarily it was expensive and potentially business-threatening if you fell out with your developer…

Many businesses, even the large ones, started to make use of online system to handle their requirements. Generally speaking, the software was cheap and reliable and, with the advent of high-speed broadband, could be accessed from anywhere in the world. It worked.

So, back to our story. We had made one decision – go for an online system, other than that, we didn’t have a clue which one made the most sense.

After lots of to-ing and fro-ing, we settled on CRM as our start point. Customer Relationship Management handled everything from initial contact through to accounts – or did it? No, not really. The problem with accounts is that it’s very complicated - accruals for handling stock entries, double-entry bookkeeping, journals, balance sheets – how could one system handle the whole lot?

Well, of course, some can. Great big enterprise systems were able to handle everything, BUT, they were a nightmare to use. Phone up any large company in the noughties and they wouldn’t have a clue who you were, what you’d ordered or where you lived. These systems, produced by large software houses produced comprehensive systems that covered the basis but were a nightmare to run, learn and, most importantly, customise.

We were making the decision in 2017, so what has changed and how do we benefit from the small, lithe, online systems that now littered the landscape?

We started searching and trialling.

First, we looked at the big boys – Salesforce, Dynamics, SAP, Oracle – all ridiculously expensive and, frankly, uninspiring. Even if they did the job, would we enjoy using them? No was the answer.

Next, we moved to the middle rank software – Insightly, Infusionsoft, Zoho, Monday – and that segment life was a lot more interesting; the software was intuitive, user-friendly and even integrated with other systems. On the basis that we didn’t think a CRM/Project Management system could offer a decent accounts system, we needed to find an app that could work with our accounts.

We tried them all. Some were great, some were cool at integration, some were fun, but none of them did everything we wanted.

Then we found Pipedrive.

There were five major draws to this system:

  • You could set it up any way you liked.
  • The fields were completely customisable.
  • You could have as many ‘databases’ as you wanted.
  • It integrated with other accounts software.
  • It was intuitive and fun to use.

This last point was a major point for us. I used to sell accounting software and I remember the angst of putting a great system in to a company only to find the users didn’t like using it… The more we customised it to do the things the customer wanted; the more they didn’t like it. (And, ‘not liking the software’ is embarrassing to the buyer and management!)

We trialled Pipedrive, then bought it.

Over the coming months, we discovered the system can do loads more than cover our basic requirements; it can link to dozens of other apps allowing calls from the screen, links to email software like Mailchimp and, important to us, a link to integration software like Zapier. It meant that we could move data to and from the accounts systems we adopted – Quickbooks.

As time goes by, we are finding more to like about the system – like integrating emails relating to the customer – or potential customer – from the email system we use (Postbox) straight into the ‘deal’ in Pipedrive. We also set up the integration with Google Calendar, so appointments and tasks are shared between both systems. The fact that Pipedrive support is also excellent was a big plus for us.

Finally, you may find there are other systems that better suit your company, but we have found our go-to system and we are sticking with it.

Best of luck with your search!

Hywel Thomas web designer

Author: Hywel Thomas
Web Design and Google Ads person
Email: hi@zigger.co.uk
Tel: 07875 096483