Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Small Businesses

There’s been a trend developing over the last few years to offer software applications that you can use from just a web browser. I’m typing in one right now, WordPress. GMail is another. They have gotten very sophisticated in recent years. Quite a few benefits are provided too. The software is constantly upgraded without your need to do anything, your data is backed up (hopefully! this might be good to verify in the terms of service now and then), you can access your program and data from any computer and there’s no need to save the information on the computer you’re on to see it.

How does this relate to a business? There are many business-related software programs that now charge a monthly fee and provide their software. From an entrepreneurial view point I totally respect that business model. Subscriptions are the way to go. Especially if they auto-renew. They’re stable, and even if people aren’t using your service they have to remember or make an effort to stop paying you.

From a user standpoint, I don’t like subscriptions. I’d rather pay once and be done with it. Same reasons, just from the opposing view. 🙂

From a business point of view though, there is software that you generally must pay for. A Bookkeeping program, for example. Quickbooks costs $200 and gets upgraded probably every year. As a Mac user I haven’t heard many good things about the program so I was looking for alternatives.

Most of the Software-as-a-Service websites cost at least $20 a month. Some are as low as $8 a month. I would love to be able to use Freshbooks for invoicing, but their free version isn’t usable (limited to 3 customers), and their cheapest pay version is $19/month. I can’t afford that much just to send out invoices.

Lately I am using the free versions of Zoho.com’s CRM and Invoice programs. The CRM program lets me capture customer information from a web form and import it into the Invoice program. The Invoice program lets me automatically create the PDF version of the invoice, emailing it along with a link to pay through my Authorize.net Payment gateway (which costs too much, I may drop it and just use PayPal). I’m close to the limit on the free Zoho Invoice account (5 invoices per 30 days) and may try to find something I can host myself for free (or switch back to just PayPal’s built in Invoicing).

The best solution I have found from all this is the bookkeeping program I’m using now.  It’s called Outright.com and is similar to Mint.com in that it’s set up to import your expenses from other accounts.  The difference is it is business focused, so it has reports and tax information built in.  The best part?  It’s actually free.  (I think their business model is to partner with other SaaS solutions (which aren’t free) and make money that way.)

In order to get more customers, Outright is currently offering me $5 for each person who signs up and uses the service.  I’m only a fan of affiliate programs like this for products I actually do use and would right about anyway.  And since it’s free there really isn’t a reason not to try it out.

I wrote about my business before here: Slides In A Flash

I’d be curious if anyone has any great apps they’d like to share or stories about businesses, record keeping, etc.

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