With seemingly endless software offerings for payroll, employee scheduling, payments, and inventory, the modern business owner is pursued in a way that is almost unrecognizably different to my own experience 10 years ago.

The last decade has brought about a technological sea-change on Main Street. Local business owners are now hot property in Silicon Valley and countless startups are releasing a slew of cloud-based tools targeted towards the SMBs. It’s a big change, and I speak with owners every day who are excited to take advantage. But all too often they are overwhelmed by the range of available options.

So how can business owners reduce the stress of choice, and make the right decisions about software investment? There are three key rules to implement:

One thing at a time

Anyone who tries to select accounting software, email marketing tools, and scheduling automation all at once is bound to make a bad choice. You don’t need every bit of software out there, so your first job is to prioritize tools that will really make a difference, then create a calendar of software you’d like to try out. You want tools that will give you more time, money and data. Don’t underestimate the time component in this equation.

Reduce your choices

Once you have a prioritized list of software to try, go through providers and find reasons to reduce the choices available to you. Speak with other business owners, consult third-party review sites and use app store reviews to get an initial impression of the products.

Treat everything as a test

Most business software providers offer free trials and a SaaS monthly subscription that can be canceled at any time. If you choose this kind of provider, you give yourself a chance to measure every penny you spend as an investment – not a cost. The key to a clear-headed evaluation of your available options is testing the impact each software solution has on your business in a real-world environment.

For example, you can measure the number of hours you spend doing payroll each week, and then only implement the payroll software if it saves you time during the trial period. Again, run these tests one at a time in a measured manner. And don’t forget, ease of use is every bit as important as the features offered.

Kick the tires of customer care support

Quality customer support is a huge time saver in moments of crisis and a big part of the investment you’re making. It’s not enough to test drive the product; you have to have to test drive the support services behind the product too. Some companies will tell you their software is “so simple you’ll never need to call.” but in my experience that’s just code for “we can’t be bothered paying for a customer care team.”

If you’re feeling trapped in the software jam, consider reducing the burden of too much choice. Go one at a time, reduce your list, test the tools in the real world and look for partners you can reach on the phone.

Alissa McCue

Alissa McCue

Alissa McCue has over 10 years of marketing and public relations experience working for top brands in retail and technology. As Senior Manager of Public Relations at ShopKeep, a leading iPad Point of Sale System, Alissa is focused on highlighting ShopKeep's major achievements and thought leadership in the POS and technology space for independent businesses.