Developing user-friendly software for the small business market is a challenge. These customers generally fly by the seat of their pants. They may be experts in the subject matter of their business, but when it comes to accounting, payroll, developing a website, handling human resources, and hiring, they have their hands full.
Much of their time is spent figuring out how to keep their doors open and the bills paid. They don’t have time to learn a complicated software program or have the resources to hire more people. Many times, they are doing everything themselves, and some of it badly. They come to us looking for help. They need simple software that works smoothly and doesn’t slow them down and make them have to think. That’s what we try to deliver.
Why did I bother developing software and software design for small business owners, when I could have developed software for more established businesses? Well, I’m kind of partial to entrepreneurs, since I’ve been one myself for nearly three decades. All that time that I was starting other businesses, I experienced the frustration of adapting my small business needs to software designed for bigger companies. I made it work, and eventually hired people to take on the jobs I didn’t have time to do. But I knew we could develop something better to help out small business owners — so we did.
Here’s how we make it happen. It all starts with the need. We start by figuring out the bare bones of the software design, first by establishing what the business owners really require, and nothing else. We want to design software that is nimble, fast, and unhampered by bells and whistles that will just be more noise to the typical small business owner. Case in point: We knew that many small business owners would prefer a simple cash-based method of accounting to the more complicated accrual basis. We designed our bookkeeping software that we’re getting ready to launch to meet that basic need. It’s a simple money-in and money-out design, with an easy way to print invoices and keep track of 1099 contractors. That was the goal.
After months of developing the back-end functionality and testing the basic design of the bookkeeping software, we turn to our internal “Fresh Eyes Testers.” This group of employees puts the brakes on all other projects and dives into testing each facet of the software. We’ve intentionally kept them out of the development process until now. With their fresh eyes, they can see where the dots don’t connect, where the wording won’t make sense to a small business owner, and where the pages don’t flow or offer an easy path to completing a task. The testers read through every help article to make sure it is actually helpful. They essentially put themselves into the software with the mind of a small business owner and create scenarios to replicate the user experience. They write down all their observations in a long report that they share with the team.
Afterwards, our new software development team starts the painstaking process of reading all the tester comments. They take action on items that have merit and jump quickly on problems that have been noted by more than one tester. Each separate item becomes a project in Project Tracker, our proprietary project management software. Then everyone collaborates in an exhaustive back-and-forth of ideas to improve the look, feel, personality, and ease of the application. On each item, we look for consensus, and then move on to the next; this is how our software moves forward to a mature stage of development.
Once our internal testing is complete, our next step is bringing in a sampling of external users, including existing and potential customers who have expressed an interest in the software. This gives us a real-world perspective by having them use the software for their own businesses. When we finally have a new application to introduce to the small business market, we don‘t stop there. Because our customers are so busy running their businesses, they naturally require a great deal of support. Our customer support team gets up to speed in advance of the software introduction and anticipates the kinds of questions they can expect from customers. And even after the software is introduced, we continually consider new ideas from our customers (since they have the freshest eyes of all.) The beauty of SaaS is that we can continue refining the product as new ideas are born or new needs arise, with little to no disruption on the customer side.
So that’s how we work to make software and software design that’s easy for the user. If it’s simple, then we’ve met our goal. But getting there is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work from our whole team.