As a business owner, there are many ways web applications can be used in your business…and many ways they can help your business get organized, simplify tasks or grow in new areas. But it helps to have an idea of some of the common types of web applications most commonly used by business owners. That’s what I’m going to cover in this post.
With the right idea and a skilled developer, you can build a web application that does almost anything you can dream up. That being said, most applications fall into a handful of categories. This post is my attempt at trying to boil these categories down as much as possible.
I think I’ve done a good job of it, but if you read this and see that I left something out, leave a comment and I’ll update this post accordingly. My goal here is to give busy business owners a high-level look at the types of applications most commonly used by other businesses, with a few examples.
1. Content Management System (CMS)
Content Management Systems (CMS’s) are a staple for most modern websites. Gone are the days of just having a simple, 5 or 10 page website. One of the keys to having an effective small business website is that brings in new leads and sales is for your website to have updated content. Updated content can be in the form of new blog posts, videos, white papers, special reports, etc.
And the key to being able to add updated content to your site without being a web developer is to have your site built using a CMS. Depending on your business needs and how you go about publishing content, you may need a custom CMS. But to be honest, most businesses can get by with one of the popular CMS packages that are already available, either free or paid.
2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
Most businesses need some sort of system for keeping track of prospects, customers, referrals, vendors and other people / companies they do business with. This is where a CRM tool comes into play. There are many CRM tools available, but based on your business’s needs, you may decide to either have a custom CRM tool developed or have your existing CRM tool integrated with other tools.
3. Business Process Automation System
Most companies have specific tasks that need to be done in order to process new business. For example, what do you do when you get a call from a new prospect, or from an existing customer calling for additional services? You might process that business using paper forms, your smart phone, an online calendar, various software tools…or worst of all, some combination of all of these!
A custom software tool can be created to handle that automation, allowing your business to work more efficiently, save more money, and have your employees focus on higher-level, more value-added activities that generate more revenue.
A good example of this is in the dental industry. Dentists, like most business verticals, have specialized software they use to manage their practice. However, dentists may also want to use specialized tools that enable marketing automation – automating lead generation, follow ups, referrals, and so on. The problem is getting these two tools to “talk” to one another.
You could have staff members responsible for manually entering information in two separate tools. But that introduces user error and wastes a lot of time and money. Does it make sense to pay someone a great salary to do tasks like this? Shouldn’t they be more focused on patient-facing activities instead? This is a great example where a custom software tool could be developed to serve as a bridge between two critical tools used in a business.
4. Company-Facing / Customer-Facing Web Portals
Another useful software tool for some businesses is a user portal. This is an informational website that allows employees or customers to get information in a self-service manner. A portal could be company-facing, where only you and your staff members have access, it could be customer-facing so that your customers/clients/patients have access, or it could be a combination of both.
An example of this would be a tool for a business coach. Let’s say a business coach typically meets with clients to discuss issues in their business and gives their client a handful of action items to work on at the end of each session. The coach and client need to discuss these action items in between sessions and the coach would like to know which items the client has completed and which are pending.
A web portal could be developed to allow each of them to view the action items, leave messages, and track the status of each item. This is a much more streamlined option compared to managing everything via email and attachments and can allow the coach to help more people at the same time since information is more organized.
5. Paperless Office
A popular type of custom software application these days is the paperless office. Many industries are inundated with paper forms and other documents that drive their business processes. Certain forms need to be filled out by certain people, reviewed by others, stored for archival or regulatory purposes and everything needs to be easily searchable.
A custom software app can be created that allows a business to replace all of their paper forms with a tool that can be accessed from anywhere and that can be customized for the company’s specific workflow.
6. Ecommerce / Online Store
For some businesses, some portion of revenue might come from the sale of products in addition to providing services. An online store is a great option in this case and can be integrated with the company’s existing website.
Some simple solutions already exist, like Shopify.com. But for more complex business requirements (e.g. multiple warehouses or complex rules for products sales or returns), a custom ecommerce tool might be required.
However, even if this is the case, most of the time you can take an existing ecommerce platform and customize it versus building an entire online store from the ground up, which will save a considerable amount of money.
7. Membership Site
Finally, your might want to capitalize on the knowledge you have about your industry or other information you could teach others. In this case, a membership website is a good option. An example would be if you provide training locally to people in a certain industry, you could augment (or even replace) that with an online membership website that allows people to learn your material at their own pace.
The great thing about this is that membership websites typically bill on a subscription basis, so if you have a reasonable fee and a decent number of members, this can be a great revenue generator for your business.
These are just a few ideas of software solutions that can help your business. Not surprisingly, there are existing solutions for many of these use cases. But depending on the needs of your business and your plans for the software tool, you may find it more beneficial to have a custom software solution built for you instead.
Written by Kenton Newby. This article appeared on business2community.com