by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 19 September 2011
At GetApp.com, we help small business owners discover and choose the best options of business software solutions for small businesses that can make their company more productive and competitive. Knowing that each geography is different, we are analyzing small business needs for multiple geographies, including the USA, Canada, UK and Australia.
Based on economics, vendor support and customer preferences, we provide a list of SaaS (Software as a Service) options for small business needs in your geography.
This post features the cloud-based software for SMBs in Canada that are most popular with GetApp.com users.
Canada has not escaped the recession trap
According to the latest Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses monthly barometer, small business confidence dropped to 61.7 last month from its July level of 68.3. This is the lowest reading since July 2009. In addition, the Canada Small Business Financing Program took a hit of $113 million from companies that defaulted on loans. What's more, only 7400 businesses took advantage of small business loans last year - the lowest number ever.
Much like the United States, small businesses are an integral part of the Canadian economy. Between 1997 to 2007, small firms accounted for 37 percent of all jobs created on average in the private sector. According to Statistics Canada, 75 percent of all businesses employ fewer than five employers and 95 percent employ fewer than 50. Continued uncertainty about the world economy coupled with a drop in consumer demand have been identified as major factors contributing to the drop in index reading.
Given similarities in culture and economy, it would be natural to assume that small businesses in Canada face the same set of problems as their counterparts in America. In fact, that argument might be largely true for in-demand sectors such as technology.
However, small businesses such as manufacturing units and retail chains face a different set of problems. For example, a February study, commissioned by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, studied problems for small businesses due to red tape and bureaucracy. The vast majority of the study's findings were related to accounting and tax filing problems. According to the commission, growth of small businesses in Canada was hampered by expensive and complex filing processes, lack of flexibility in filing taxes or handling fines, and cost of audits.
The past also holds pointers
Remember the 2001 dot com bust and the subsequent recession?
A study conducted in 2001 identified knowledge management problems such as lack of resources or staff training as major problems for Canadian small businesses.
What do these findings have to do with cloud computing
Plenty, if you think in terms of relationships among the components of your business.
The key to integrating cloud based applications in your business is to think about your business strategically. For example, look at the interconnected parts of your business and their communication channels. How does information flow between these components? Can you smooth or streamline the information flow using software solutions?
Productivity problems are software problems
For starters, lets look at the findings of the Red Tape Commission. You lose an opportunity cost and decrease your firm's productivity for each bureaucratic bungle or repeat accounting entry. In times of decreased consumer demand, that is an expensive price to pay for your small business. Investing in scalable cloud based accounting software could save you time, resources and effort. Similarly, internal wikis and blogs are nothing but knowledge management solutions. Social media applications are cheap solutions for marketing and connecting with your customers.
You can also think in terms of permutations between different components to your business. For example, you can connect your marketing and sales departments using an inexpensive web-based CRM application. The good part of Software-as-a-Service solutions is that they are scalable and, in some cases, free. For example, you can use customer service software such as Assistly, free of cost for one user.
Free and inexpensive software can also open up vistas to new markets. Canada is the largest trading partner for the United States. And, howsoever the naysayers put it, the US economy is still the largest in the world. Using an inexpensive productivity solution, you can streamline your operations and target new markets.
The possibilities, in short, are endless.
A brief primer on popular online software categories and applications in Canada
Some web-based business applications to enable better process productivity can be found in the Collaboration, HR, Accounting and ERP categories:
Online collaboration tools help you connect online internally and externally. You can scale your requirements based on a very large set of features.
Online HR software enables you to connect and account with your employees in a much more efficient and modern way. Online HR tools simplify the process and make it transparent for you as well as for employees and applicants.
One of the most popular online HR tools is: TribeHR
Online accounting offers quick and easy integration with the offline avatar. This means you can do your accounting on-the-fly and integrate it with your offline books.
Enterprise Resource Planning was a revolution when it was first connected because it connected different units of a business. The cloud-based version is an evolution of sorts because it enables your workers to log in from anywhere and, also, integrates extended communication and collaboration tools such as messaging and groups. The cost-savings in paying per license as compared to multiple licenses trumps all other reasons why you should consider an ERP solution to improve your business core processes:
Conventional CRM tools are time-consuming and complex to install and maintain. Web-based CRM apps are fast becoming an alternative. The focus of this form of CRM is on customer interaction, including in social media. Online CRMs also represent less costs as you end up paying per user, instead of using a single system.
This is an inexpensive and effective form of marketing for small businesses. Investment costs are extremely low while returns (in an age of e-commerce) can be pretty high:
In an age of Facebook or Twitter, one the best form of communication medium is social media. Social media marketing strategies enable you to connect, complement, and sell your products to customers, almost for free.
Online project management tools differ significantly from offline tools. They cost less and can be scaled based on project requirements. Because they are cloud-based, they enable workers to collaborate and remain productive 24X7, wherever they are and on any device.
Cloud-based customer support comes with a twist. In addition to regular channels, you can integrate social media into your customer support activities using SaaS software. This means you can track references to your business or brand on social media and respond to requests accordingly.
Popular tools in the customer support and help desk category are: Assistly, TeamSupport
The tools listed above are opportunities for small business owners to improve productivity and scale their business based on consumer demand. As the economy adjusts to a new normal, cloud-based tools are your best bet for weathering the downturn.