Cheap Software for Novice SMBs

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted August 04, 2004
Filling a niche for the smallest of small businesses, MySoftware's offers entry-level programs that can help you manage mailing contacts, organize customer data and create and track invoices.

We take a closer look at three titles — MyMailList Deluxe, a customer name and address manager for direct mailings; Professional Database, it organizes customer and other business data, and MyDeluxe Invoices & Estimates, an application that creates and tracks invoices — to see what features they offer, how easy they are to use, and how well they address the needs of novice small business owners.

MyMailList Deluxe
For small businesses that need a database to manage customer or product lists, MyMailList Deluxe and DataBase Professional both offer basic, easy-to-use alternatives to the traditional database and spreadsheet programs found in mainstream office suites such as Microsoft Office or Corel's WordPerfect Office Suite.

MyMailList Deluxe offers a specialized mailing database that accepts customer and client information in predefined forms, and lets you quickly search and sort data and print address labels, postcards, booklets and envelopes. The program supports popular label formats from companies such as Avery and NEBS and customizes labels for content and with graphics such as company logos. Convenient database-style functions include check boxes, note boxes and list boxes for easy data entry.

The data table view with its adjustable rows and columns and similar sort tools resembles Microsoft Excel somewhat. You can import a wide variety of database, spreadsheet and text formats including Excel, Access, Outlook, ACT and comma-delimited text files — handy if a customer or vendor ever sends you information in those programs.

For bulk mailings, the program pre-sorts contact names and supports POSTNET-Certified bar coding. In a secondary feature for our Internet age, the program can merge client data and send personalized e-mails.

Keep in mind that dedicated contact managers, such as the ACT ($150, MSRP) while pricier, offer far more options for sharing and updating client data, scheduling meetings and deadlines, assigning resources, recording notes sending reminders.

MyMailList Deluxe sells for $49.95

DataBase Professional
DataBase Professional offers a basic database application to organize your data. Despite the "Professional" in its name, the program is a limited flat database, as opposed to a relational database — an important distinction for small businesses that may want more room and flexibility to grow.

A relational database — a higher-order program — can link different sets of data together. For example, you can link a customer's contact information with his or her purchases and payment history. Having all that information in one place gives you a much better understanding of your customer's behavior.


MyMailList Deluxe
MyMailList Deluxe lets you manage customer names and addresses and simplifies direct mailings.
A flat database can't do that. For more information on how databases work, take a look at our series on databases.

DataBase Professional offers 30 database templates, to help you manage a variety of administrative tasks including managing client information, employee leave, patient details, accounts receivable, invoices, memberships and job listings. It also includes consumer templates for managing home inventory, music and movie collections and more.

You can easily add and customize fields, view data in a convenient spreadsheet-style table and create your own reports. Like MyMailList Deluxe, the program imports data from a wide variety of database file formats, creates personalized e-mail and prints to envelopes and labels.

Built-in networking support offers administration-based security features (password management? and lets co-workers simultaneously view and update files in shared folders. The database can perform calculations on multiple number fields and display totals within reports or templates. A notes table conveniently tracks information, conversations and to-do items.

Although both MyMailList Deluxe and Database Professional are easier to understand than the spreadsheets and full-fledged databases found in Microsoft Office (Excel and Access) and Co rel WordPerfect Office, they still have learning curves. Unfortunately, the programs offer no tutorials or step-by-step wizards to teach novices about database concepts or walk them through common functions.


MySoftware's Database Professional
Database Professional organizes a variety of customer and other business data.

An alternative you might want to consider is FileMaker Pro, one of the most widely used, comprehensive relational databases available. Although it costs a lot more than DataBase Professional (suggested retail price is $299), it's almost as easy to use, and it will grow right along with your business.

Database Professional sells for $69.95.

Easy Invoicing
For small businesses that still rely on paper and haven't automated their bookkeeping through accounting programs such as Peachtree First Accounting or Intuit's QuickBooks, My Deluxe Invoices & Estimates offers a step in the right direction.

The program creates purchase orders, supports product inventory, converts estimates into invoices, tracks payment histories and creates customer statements. You can use the program to e-mail invoices, estimates, statements and purchase orders, and an invoice tracker window notifies you when invoices are overdue.

The program also adds and calculates taxes and creates 25 different kinds of reports to present status on receivables & aging, products and inventory and sales. Drop-down menus make it simple to select products and services.

A step-by-step wizard helps you customize invoices for style and appearance, and you can also enter customer and product information and sales tax rates. The program also lets you customize invoices with graphics. Beyond the initial wizard, there's no computerized tutorial or help feature. However, clearly written paper documentation offers novices helpful tutorial.


 MyDeluxe Invoices & Estimates
Create, track and manage invoices with MyDeluxe Invoices & Estimates.

If you maintain your bookkeeping by hand, My Deluxe Invoices & Estimates is worth a look, but you may want to consider stepping straight up to an accounting package that creates financial statements, manages finances and checkbooks, performs payroll and a lot of other functions. Entry-level versions of the mainstream accounting programs begin at around $100 and are well worth the additional cost.

My Deluxe Invoices & Estimates sells for $39.95

Conclusion
All three of the My Software programs perform as advertised — they're easy to use and provide the basic tools suitable for running the very smallest of small businesses, or for anyone who still views computers with suspicion.

If you're just starting out, and you simply can't invest the money for the mainstream applications that offer more features at a higher price, these tools will serve you well enough for the time being.

Bear in mind, however, if you expect your small business to grow rapidly, it's better to invest in — and learn to use — the more powerful database, mail manager and accounting programs available. That way you'll have what you need on hand — without having to upgrade and spend more money — as your business and data management needs grow.

Pricing
MyMailList Deluxe: $49.95: MSRP
DataBase Professional: $69.95, MSRP
My Deluxe Invoices & Estimates: $39.95 MSRP

Over the last ten years, Wayne Kawamoto has written over 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and effectively using and troubleshooting notebook computers. He may be contacted through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.

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