You’ve defined a process and have identified who does what and where. The main question you have now is what are the right tools to use for THIS workflow. Tools that will integrate with the rest of your workflow and not force you to use and pay for duplicate tools.

You’ve defined a process and have identified who does what and where.

The main question you have now is what are the right tools to use for THIS workflow. Tools that will integrate with the rest of your workflow and not force you to use and pay for duplicate tools.

What to consider when choosing software

When choosing software you want to consider the 3 Ps:

Purpose - what do you want the software to do?

Process - what are the steps it has to go through to complete the tasks?

People - who needs to understand (and use) the software?

Getting a clear understanding of these will ensure that the software you choose to use isn’t just on a whim or because your neighbor’s cousin’s boyfriend’s sister is using it.

Trending software is trending for a reason. But that reason doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your needs and the requirements of your business.

Now let me make this clear from the start - I am not pro all-in-one tools. They will never serve you as good as specialist tools (just like your family doctor won’t go as in-depth as an ear-nose-throat doctor). They have their place in certain situations, but usually they will not fulfill your needs in the best way possible.

Look at your business and understand how each piece of software fits within the process. 

Key pointers to keep in mind

Here are a few key pointers to keep in mind when choosing the right tools for your business:

Industry-specific needs - are there key factors the software needs to have? For example, in the healthcare industry in the US, all software needs to be HIPAA compliant. This may seem limiting, but take into account that software that has this compliance has built the system in a way that supports your needs as defined by HIPAA.

Budget constraints - whether we want to admit it or not, our budget often defines what software we’ll use. This is a legitimate factor, though it should not be the only factor. 

Having said that, when you do decide to go with a tool, look at how much the cost is not just on the lowest tier, or for one user, but also the higher packages and multi-user options. Just because a tool seems cheap at the entry level or for one user, doesn’t mean it will scale well with your business. More seats often means more money or a higher package, and that can come with much higher monthly payments.

Team preferences - when your team is large, it is harder to take into consideration every team member’s preferences. But for those with small and growing teams, it is recommended to hear feedback from your team about what they like and don’t like about the current setup. What is working for them, and what would they prefer to change/improve?

The benefit of hearing your team’s voice is two fold: first, you really get to hear what they want and more importantly what they need. Second, by giving your team room to express their needs, you are enabling them to be a part of the process. This will help with getting their buy in down the road and ensuring they actually use the tools you choose.

Future growth plans - as mentioned above, when looking at a tool, don’t just consider the cost and capabilities of the tool for your current needs. Think about where your business is headed. Will you grow your team? Your capacity? Your workload? Can the new system support this? How much will it cost to expand?

Key Features to look for

Once you’ve found 2-3 contenders to use, here are a few key features to look for in each:

User-friendliness - even if the tool is perfect for your needs in terms of capabilities, if it’s not easy to use and enjoyable to work with, you and your team will probably not go into it. And definitely not as often as you need to. 

A tool should be easy to use. It should be easy to find the different elements you’re looking for. And preferably, there should be multiple ways to do the same thing. This is because not everyone’s mind works the same way. And you and your team may have different styles of working. The best tools support different ways of thinking - even for the same task.

Scalability - a tool should grow with you. It should be able to support your growing business. This doesn’t mean that capability needs to be available on the lowest tier, but there should be a way to continue using the tool as you grow. If you are limited with the number of records, users, or any other factor - then you may want to reconsider using the tool.

Integration capabilities - no tool can do it all (not even the all-in-ones). And in order to simplify your process, and potentially automate parts of it, you want your tools to talk to each other.

Many tools have native integration capabilities with other tools. This means that they speak directly with the other tool without any go-between. This is the ideal connection because whenever there are updates to one or both of the tools, you know the integration will be updated as well. 

Unfortunately, this is not always possible. And so you may need to use a third party integrator like Zapier or Make. Check the availability of these integrations before you commit to a tool. Some tools only have API connectability. This is useful, but you need to know what you’re doing and is not as easily accessible to everyone.

Mobile access - this point is optional. I work from home and often run errands during the day. But I want to have access to certain tools from my mobile phone so I can support my team. The downside to having mobile access is that it’s harder to disengage from work.  So I leave this point to you. But note, a good mobile app for a tool makes a HUGE difference for those that do decide to use it.

Customization options - I love off the shelf tools. They are easy to set up and more often than not include all the features I want (or can connect to other tools to make up the difference). But because my mind works differently than that of my teammates, I want to have the option to set up the tool in a way that works for my brain, while leaving the option for my team to set up the tool in a way that works for theirs. 

Various views of the same data, the ability to filter or color code based on tags, the option to show or hide fields based on rules - these are super important when selecting a tool for your team. If there’s a client portal - do you have the option to white label it (show your own logo and hide the app’s logo)? Can you use your brand colors?

These points may not be critical, but in the greater scheme of things, all things being equal, if one tool has this and the other doesn’t - this could be a deciding factor.

Building a test plan

With all the different tools out there, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and sucked into the quicksand of choices.

The best idea is to build a test plan that you can try across all platforms. This will give you an idea of the ease of use or complexity of a tool.

Take a standard part of your process and set it up on 2-3 platforms. 

Using the same process ensures you’re comparing apples with apples.

See how easy or difficult it is to set up the process in the tool.

Use the tool as you intend to use it down the road. Is it intuitive?

Present the set up to your team and ask for their opinion.

For example, let’s say you want to choose a project management tool.

Try creating a small project in each tool. Include sub-tasks, dependencies, milestones, time estimates, tags, and anything else you use. Add custom fields and if you need it, add budget and time tracking.

Make sure to include as many elements as you use in your day to day.

It’s important to note, there are many freemium tools that only enable some of the elements on paid plans. Most of these have a trial period. If your trial runs out, you can contact support and ask for more. Many tools will give you more time and even offer to get on a demo call.

A demo call is most useful when you have a use case to work with. Testing the software before the call will help you refine the questions you have.

And as you test more software, you’ll find there are more questions you need answers to. Don’t be afraid to get on another call with the app support.

This will give you an idea of how accessible their support will be once you purchase the tool. And that’s another important factor to consider.

Or you know… you could hop on a call with me and I’ll help point you in the right direction of the perfect tool for your needs.