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3 things start-ups need to know when choosing a CRM

Claude SaulnierA blog post by Claude Saulnier - Wandsoft CEO

4th August 

In this post I am giving a few tips for start-ups when trying to choose a CRM system.

Introduction

Starting a business is all about having an idea for a product or a service and having the guts (or madness depending on who you ask) to start it.

The ability to make your idea work will partly depend on how much money you have available at the start. I will assume that you have - at least - the skills, so you have the potential to succeed.

Well, let's look at this in more details in the context of an SME, which - may I remind you - do represent over 90% of businesses.

Types of business

There are primarily 2 types of businesses:

  • Service type business is more about people (your costs (overheads) are mainly salaries)
  • Product type business: you need to buy raw materials or existing products and resell.

What do you really need to start?

When you start the business, you will hear people who will tell you need a website, a logo, business cards, an office, a computer and an accounts package.

What is the best use of money at the beginning?

  • Scenario 1: You have limited money or savings
  • Scenario 2: you have money available either from savings or through investors.

Either ways, may I remind you that your startup will become a business when you sell enough to pay for salaries and suppliers if required... ultimately, to make a profit.

Typical illusion is to think you are doing well because of the cash available (Scenario 2). I have met a number of entrepreneurs that were telling me their business was doing well because "they had people who had invested in it".

So, enough rambling, and what investment should you make when you start your business?

Accounts

At the start, you won't have too many invoices, so temptation is to do them in a word processor. An accountant I met said that then you could record the amount in a spreadsheet.

What you may not realise at this stage is that "money saved now will cost you a lot at a later stage".

Every time you raise an invoice you write the details in Word, and you copy the client name, the invoice total and VAT in the spreadsheet. There are macros, but unless you're an Office expert, you are going to waste a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel.

I will remind you that TIME is crucial when you start as you need to find potential clients and convince them to become clients. This is also true at a later stage in business, but it is easier to find clients when you are established, unless you have built a poor reputation.

The Word + Excel approach will not be an issue for the first 10 invoices, although - as your time should be spent on getting new clients - things may not happen in real time. So you end end writing your invoices in Word, but the spreasheet will not happen until you have to file in your VAT return. Then it is panic on-board, because I am sure you will have to meet this important potential client.

How about some kind of computer system that once you have loaded the address and the amount, it does the invoice and the spreadsheet. That's what some people call an accounting system.

This is not an accounting system. In fact, as you further read the post, you'll realise a pure accounting system may not be the smartest thing to make your life easier at this point in time.

An accounting system is what your accountant wants you to have to ease their life. The accountant believes it will also save you time. The problem is that you are not an accountant, and there is a significant amount of stuff that although important, should be done in the background, on your behalf. So already, you can see that you and your accountant are not talking the same language.

Let me further explain: An invoice from the accountant point of view is a legal document. An invoice from your point of view is a way to get some money on your bank account. So you are both correct, just that your priority is to get clients, while doing things in compliance with the law.

There are alternatives like choosing a app on your tablet or phone. If the business is just you, it could work, but it is not scalable, and your accountant will not be able to log on to your app to retrieve the information. If you go that route, ensure you can backup the data in case your tablet or phone is stolen. I personally think it is a short-sighted decision.

I have come to the conclusion that what is needed in that case is a software that lets you enter the invoices in a way you understand it, and that will give the accountants all they need. The system must be able to send invoices by email directly. So you don't waste 10 minutes saving them on the computer and email them after. The invoice should include all relevant information so your clients do not delay payment because they don't understand. It includes your bank details.

I also believe that you can further save time if an enquiry on your website creates all contact details of your client, so you can reuse it without re-keying all data.

You need to have the ability to load the bank statements downloaded from your on-line banking. Since the invoices are in that system and the bank statements are too, then it takes no time to reconcile. Beware of systems that claim fully automated bank reconciliation. We have seen several clients that raise an invoice, yet the client pays a different amount for whatever reason.

"Why reconcile? Our accountant does that" you may ask. Simple answer: you need to be in control of that process so you can chase late payers. Bank reconciliation is a tedious exercise, but once your system has the invoice and the statement, then it becomes a very easy task.

Once the bank reconciliation is done, your ideal system will have a list of unpaid invoices (aged debtors) with a button to send an email with a detailed list of unpaid products or services.

When your system is integrated with the web, you may offer the ability for your client to settle by credit card (Realex), Paypal, Stripe etc. Go for a system that is fully integrated with the payment processor, eg you should only need to set a username and password in the system to be up and running.

In your quest to get clients to pay you, please note that short-term finance loans can be available if you are sure your clients will pay you in time (Talk to Chris Lascor from the Interface Financial Group for instance).

There are many benefits in loading the purchase invoices in that same system. A decent system will bring you an instant overview of your cost centres, so you will be able to monitor where you spend your money: building, phone, IT, staff etc.

Outsource the payroll services to your accountant. It costs little, and it avoids anyone in the company being jealous about someone else's salary.

And to link with the next post on communication, it is amazing how a nice looking invoice or a statement will have a positive impact on your business.

Wandsoft just does exactly what is described in this article, and the entry price is €99 per month for 3 users, and all modules (we have over 30). In one central location, you can manage your website, your contacts, your invoices, your files and a lot more. As your business grows, more users can be added with different access rights to ensure segregation of duties (it means that you will avoid fraud).

Feel free to contact me on twitter @claudesaulnier