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When is custom software the next step? After Excel?

When is a custom software application the next appropriate step after the current solution you’re using to run your department or business?

This is a question I’m asked frequently. I have also seen this situation quite frequently as well. It comes from people who are trying to run their business with tools that were easy to setup, where the business was small, there weren’t that many transactions to handle and record, and the structure of the business processes were fairly fluid.

I have seen many people start or run a business which the conditions above using a set of Excel files. One Excel file will have multiple sheets, one for each customer and the products they’ve ordered; or various Excel files which are separate invoices to a customer, where the invoices are organize by customer in customer folders; some files will list the products you sell, the lists of leads to call, the quotes send out to customers, the calls made to prospective customers with call dates and notes, etc.

It is difficult to get all of this to work. When you create a quote, it’d be nice to pull the list of products for the quote from a list of products you sell. When you make calls about the quote it’d be nice if you could record those calls about that quote. When the order becomes an invoice it’d be nice to quickly change the order form to say “Invoice”, create an invoice number, set the terms and due date, and add that report to the accounts receivable aging report automatically without doing more than clicking a single button.

But if you’re not an Excel VBA programmer or software developer it’s difficult to make all of those Excel files to work.

That’s where it is often necessary to take it to the next level. I’ll get into that next level in the next post.