Open Source Software for Small Businesses
Small and growing businesses can’t be left behind due to technology difficulties, the most pressing of which is the rising cost of subscriptions. The majority of business technology is or has already moved to premium pricing, usually on a monthly or annual subscription model.
Some technologies can easily justify the premium pricing due to the significant value they bring to businesses. Some of these types of technology are cloud accounting software, time tracking tools to help service businesses quote accurate prices for services and operating systems such as Windows, which is a closed software but the one that most business owners and consumers are the most familiar with.
Despite many business owners operating on the Windows closed source platform, there are open source compatible services that can be used to streamline various business activities. And being open source, it means it’s free to use, but the downside to this is you don’t have technical support. For that reason, open source software is usually a trade-off between time (to learn the software) and existing technical skills to get the most out of them. For those with employees who have some technical skills, you could find some open source software brings fast improvements to business processes.
Examples of Open Source Software for Small Business Activities
OpenSource ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)
ERP software is generally expensive, and it could be even more pricey if the software isn’t used correctly, which is why most are sold as subscription models which helps provide financial support to developers who in turn provide technical support and training for your business.
However, most of the premium ERP solutions are developed for enterprise-level clients and not for the small and growing business. While your business is still in the growing stages, smaller businesses can benefit from hiring software engineers either as independent contractors for a fixed term to get projects moving along or on an ad-hoc basis by working with freelance software engineers with experience in the ERP software you plan to use.
One of the largest open source ERP software providers is OfBiz which is powered by The Apache Software Foundation.
Open Source Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
CRM software is used by businesses of all sizes to manage customer relationships. These can be used to develop sales pipelines to track KPIs and progress your customers through various marketing stages. From the initial awareness stage towards paying for a service or buying a product, to collecting customer testimonials after the sale to help persuade new customers to do business with you.
Premium CRM tools such as HubSpot and Salesforce, which have a lot of bells and whistles for enterprise-level clients to make use of, may not be able to generate enough returns to quantify the investment for smaller sized businesses unable to put the time into using the tools to help push the business forward.
When you know a CRM would help you streamline parts of your business, there are open source platforms you can use to get started that don’t cost anything, other than your time to learn how to use the different features.
Examples of open source CRM platforms using Windows (the most popular closed software for business) are the SugarCRM and OpenCRX. Fat Free CRM is another open source option, but it runs on Ruby on Rails, so unless you have someone in your business with Ruby on Rails knowledge, another platform may be more beneficial.
Open Source Platforms for Websites
Most websites are powered by a Content Management System (CMS), and many of those are open source. Three of the most common CMS platforms are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. While they are free to get started, you’ll find there are premium add-ons you can buy to enhance your website functions, but when you’re in the early stages and only getting an online presence together, most of what you need can be done for free.
E-commerce websites can also benefit from open source software such as OpenCart, which is suitable for smaller sized businesses, such as local traders selling custom made gifts, whereas PrestaShop may be a more suitable open source solution for eBay sellers as you can export listings from your site directly to eBay.
Whatever technology you feel your business could benefit from or if you see a service that you’re considering investing a monthly fee for, search online for open source alternatives. In a lot of cases, the price tag is for technical support and training and not so much for the features unless it is truly unique.
Open source software can be a good way for small businesses to keep their overheads under control while still getting some technological advantages to move your business forward without incurring potentially crippling expenses.