A computer screen showing a digital software website

How to choose software for your business

One of the fun things of living in the times we do is that there is so much choice. Wherever you go, there seems to be an embarrassment of riches—but that brings about its own problems.

How do we choose from between all of the options out there?

In this article I will show you the process I use to choose software for my business. Bookmark this article so next time you have choose something for your business, you can follow this process.

The context

I’m writing this article as I start my search for automated webinar software.

One of the things I know about marketing is that webinars rock. But (and it’s a big but), running live webinars sucks, because:

  • it takes up a lot of my time
  • I can’t do it often enough to suit all my attendees’ time zones
  • I run these webinars solo so I can’t respond in real time to questions

So I want to offer webinars for my products, but I don’t want to do it live all the time, and I want to give attendees a great experience.

I need software to deliver automated webinars, record registrations, follow up with attendees, and so on.

What we usually do

The first thing I used to do is to jump into Google and start searching, in this case for “automated webinar software”. Google brings up some 12 million results.

My initial search results for "automated webinar software"

There’s the usual ads at the top, then related questions (sometimes useful to narrow down a search), and then the organic results.

From here, most people would start clicking on the links to find out more about each offering.

Why this is a problem

Diving right in is sometimes the right thing to do. We may need to educate ourselves about what the industry has to say about the topic, some of the related questions people are asking, and just generally get an idea of what this is about.

But most of the time, this can lead to endless Google-surfing. In my case, I may look at a couple of the promoted links and learn more about each of the platforms. Almost always, one of the first things I look for is price—some price points are just way beyond what I would be wiling to pay.

And before you know it, you’ve spent an hour just surfing without any real progress. At best, you may have a couple of candidates in mind. At worst, you may have just wasted your time.

Selecting the right software should take time

Choosing software to help you run your business is serious business. There are so many offerings around, and the hype around many of them is so big, that it’s easy to choose something that later on turns out to be a pain.

The biggest problem is that software is sticky—once you’re on a platform, it can be very difficult to change to another platform.

I use a whole bunch of software to run my business. This includes:

  • ConvertKit as my email marketing platform
  • Thinkific as my course delivery platform
  • Squarespace and Webflow for my websites
  • QuickBooks Online for my accounting
  • Website Toolbox for my online community

Each of these platforms cost me money every month (or every year). These costs quickly add up, and if you’re stuck on something that is costing you a lot and doesn’t deliver the goods, your business won’t run effectively (and you will be wasting time battling the things that irritate you).

So spend the time to review the software you choose to run your business on; it pays back in the long term.

How long should it take?

For a major piece of your business (like an email marketing platform), budget 4 to 8 hours to do your research and create a shortlist you will trial.

Trials are usually valid anywhere from 7 days to 30 days; but you have to plan what you’re going to do on your trial so you make best use of the free use on the platform (see step 4 below).

Step 1: Start with what you need (requirements)

I know what I want—in this case automated webinar software. I also know that there are some things I need this software to do.

The first step is to write down the things you know you absolutely need.

So I whip up a quick spreadsheet and start writing down my requirements. This starts off simply enough:

The start of my requirements capture spreadsheet

As basic as this is, it’s enough to get started. For my search for automated webinar software, I know that price will be important, and that I want to be able to capture attendee details so I can follow up with them.

Now I’m ready to start my search.

Step 2: Initial candidates and updating requirements

Now I start using the Google links to look at promising candidates and refine my requirements. I don’t have a particular preference for clicking on ads versus clicking on organic search results; I just click on promising links.

(As a side note, I try to remember to always open links in a new tab so I can go back to my search results.)

Here’s my process now:

  • Click on link
  • Take a quick browse
  • If it looks interesting, add it to my spreadsheet
  • If I find any features I think I would need or like, add it to my requirements

After a bit of surfing (it’s called desk research, by the way), this is what my spreadsheet looks like now:

Part of the way through my desk research

I now have 5 candidates in the list (and I will be checking a few more), and added some additional must-have features as well as nice to have features.

Be careful of pricing

When I list pricing in my spreadsheet, I’m careful to select the plan that includes at least my must-have features. Very often there are cheaper plans on offer, but they don’t include the features I need.

Make note of who you won’t consider

It’s easy to jump into many different offerings; keep track of who you visited and why you discounted them. I do this in a separate part of my spreadsheet.

Step 3: Shortlist, in-depth and reviews

With five or six decent candidates on my list, I sort them to find one or two that I will trial. There are three parts to this:

a) Shortlist

To create my shortlist, I know that:

  • price is important
  • the software has to have all the features I want
  • it must be easy to use
  • the attendee experience has to be great

Of the candidates on my list, eWebinar stands out because of the price and features. There’s one drawback for me and that’s that it does not support live webinars—I will have to think whether I want to use the same platform to run live webinars (or record live webinars and upload them to have repeatable automated webinars).

How many should be on your shortlist?

It’s tempting to want to have four or five candidates on your shortlist, but in practice, reviewing and trialling every candidate on your shortlist just takes too much time.

Ideally you should have two, because as you review each you will find interesting features in one that you can check in the other. I use my in-depth review to weed out those I won’t be trialling.

b) In-depth

Now it’s time for an in-depth review of the candidates on your shortlist. This includes:

  • browsing their website and looking at the information available
  • viewing any products demos
  • double-checking features
  • if applicable, who owns my data, and can I easily download it if I need to?
  • making sure that I can opt out of paid plans if/when I need to

As you do your in-depth reviews, you will find things in one candidate that you need to check in the other candidates. Make sure you add the information you find to your spreadsheet.

Are they going to be around?

One of the things I always try to do is make sure that the company is going to be around for a while. There’s no guarantee that anyone will be around forever (no company is), but if I do invest in a platform I want to make sure they don’t go belly up in the next few months.

Some things to look for:

  • they’ve been around for at least a while, or (in the case of really new platforms) the founders have a decent track record
  • their website content is up to date, there are no broken links
  • they have a list of clients (extra points if you can verify that)
  • testimonials on their site seem to be relatively recent

c) Reviews

Finally, I check the web for reviews of the platform. But you need to be careful:

  • look at multiple sources of reviews
  • make sure the source is reputable
  • the more reviews, the better

There’s a lot of fake reviews out there, so make sure you pay attention to the source. To check the reviews on my shortlist, I used Software Advice, Alternative To, Capterra and GetApp.

Here's what my spreadsheet looks like now:

My comparison spreadsheet at this stage. Note that I haven't filled in all the cells—I'm just looking for candidates to shortlist so I can decide which ones to trial.

Step 4: Plan your trial

Almost all web-based software systems offer a free trial.

Unfortunately, they also make it very easy to sign up for a trial, and before you know it your trial period will be over and you haven’t trialled the software in any depth.

So, to make best use of the trial period, and test whether the software meets your needs, you need to plan what you’re going to do in the trial period.

Planning your trial will vary wildly from one type of software to the next. In some cases (bookkeeping, for example) you may need substantial setup time. Very often you will have to import existing data. And then you have to use your trial period so you can figure out if the software works for you.

How to use your trial period

You can use your trial period in two ways:

  • a feature test trial
  • a live trial

The feature test trial

The feature test trial is designed to run through the major features of the software and see how it works. In this case, planning your trial will help to make sure you don’t miss anything.

If you then do decide to continue with the software, you will have to go through the full setup process before you’re live. If you decide not to continue, you won’t have invested as much time as a live trial.

The live trial

A live trial, as the name suggests, is setting everything up so you can actually use the software as part of your business. Once set up, everything is running live, except that you’re not paying for the software (yet).

This is more work than the feature test trial, but if you like what you see, all you need to do is convert to a paid plan and you’re done.

Which should you use?

The type of trial you run will depend on:

  • the type of software you’re evaluating,
  • how familiar you are with the concepts involved, and
  • the amount of time you can spend running the trial.

If you’re evaluating something that is relatively new to you, or requires a lot of setup time (like email marketing or bookkeeping), it makes sense to run a feature trial.

In my case, I know that I want to use webinars to promote my products, so I will be creating webinars anyway. It therefore makes sense for me to run a live trial.

Planning your trial

You can break this down into two parts:

  1. Getting ready to run the trial
  2. Making the best use of your trial period

Getting ready to run the trial

Before you start your trial period, figure out what you need to do to make the most of your trial period.

If you’re running a feature test trial, make a list of the things you need to test. Keep these in a spreadsheet so you can makes notes as you work through them.

If you’re running a live trial, make a list of everything you need to do before you start your trial period.

For example, to run a live trial of my webinar automation software candidates, I need to do three things before I start the trial period:

  • record a webinar (big job)
  • add a button (or more) to my website to advertise the webinar (trivial)
  • set up webinar follow-up emails in my email marketing software (big job)

Making the best use of your trial period

If you’re running a feature test trial, you should now have a list of all the things you will need to test. All you have to do is sign up for the trial, and work through your list of things to do.

Make sure you keep notes on what you find to help in your decision-making later.

If you’re running a live trial (as I intend to do), you will need to go through any setup, test the setup and then take everything live. For my test of automated webinar software, I will need to:

  • upload the webinar recording
  • set up the webinar
  • test that everything works (including my follow-up emails)
  • take it live on my website

Use your trial period wisely

To make best use of your trial period, book time in your calendar to run the trial. I know that this is usually not the most important thing to get done, but be careful of postponing things because your trial will run out.

If your trial period does run out before you completed all your tests, ask the vendor to extend the trial. I’ve always had a positive response to my requests, and it gives you a decent idea of how good their customer service is.

Don’t waste your time. You’ve already invested time and effort into reviewing these solutions—don’t let it go to waste.

A cheat sheet for the whole process

Here’s a cheat sheet for the whole process.

Step 1: Make a list of your requirements
Use a spreadsheet. Include price, must-have features and nice-to-have features. Don’t overdo it, just what you can think of now.

Step 2: Initial candidates and updating requirements
Google for possible solutions. Do an initial check on promising links. Add candidates to your spreadsheet. Add must-have and nice-to-have’s to your spreadsheet as you go.

Step 3: Shortlist, in-depth and reviews
Use the information you have to shortlist the top 3-4 candidates. Do an in-depth review of each website. Check data ownership and stability. Review testimonials and reviews using multiple sources.

Step 4: Plan your trial
Decide if you’re going to do a feature trial or a live trial. Make a list of things you need to do before you start the trial. Make a list of things you need to do after you start the trial. Use your trial period wisely.

One final tip

You will be living with your decision for a long time—do the homework so you can make the best decision under the circumstances.

When I look for software to help me run my business, I also try to look for the leading lights in that specific area. For example, I regard Brennan Dunn as one of the leading lights in the email marketing world, and Sean D’Souza as an authority when it comes to sales psychology. And my friend Klaus Hofer is probably one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen, so his expertise on how we learn is put to heavy use in my own courses.

So my one final tip is this:

Find an expert in the area. Listen to them.

That expert doesn’t always need to be the recognized world leader. I recently asked my bookkeeper for advice on accountants—I trust her, and therefore I trust her recommendations.

I hope you found this useful. Let me know.

Previous article
Next article