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For most small business owners, time is a precious commodity. There are so many things to do and not enough time to get them all done. Thankfully, there are a plethora of tools available to help the time-strapped business owner stay on top of that seemingly-endless to-do list. These tools will free entrepreneurs to focus more attention on their valued customers. If customers don’t feel they’re getting tender loving care, they’ll seek that attention from another company.
Check out this curated list of software and online tools that will simplify most routine business tasks, allowing more to be done in less time.
Poor cash flow is the cause of numerous business failures. Without staying on top of all money coming in and going out of a business, there’s no way of knowing if the business is headed for a cash crunch. A cash crunch would make it difficult (or impossible) to meet payroll, pay suppliers, buy inventory, and meet other financial obligations. To maintain the financial health of your business, you want to know well ahead of time if you’ll need to seek financing to help you avoid a cash shortage.
These tools will help you track funds, avoid cash flow issues, and optimize profits.
- QuickBooks – Developed by Intuit, this full-featured accounting software has been helping small businesses with payroll, bill payment, and forecasting since 1983. Offers multiple plans starting from $10/month.
- Xero – A financial management tool that lets you create professional-looking recurring invoices and reconcile bank and credit card statements. This tool also helps small businesses with purchase and sales orders, contact management, payroll, and inventory management. Easy to use and starts at $20/month.
- Wave – Offers free online financial software and business management tools for small businesses. Handles business accounting, invoicing, personal finance, and other functions such as bill and invoice reminders. Also allows businesses to accept bank and credit card payments.
As a business owner juggling a million things, you need a calendar tool that will remind you of major appointments, events and project deadlines. The right tool will also keep you organized when handling other business tasks like publishing content to your blog. The calendar tools available online offer a variety of features; some are basic tools to simply remind you of your daily schedule while others are more robust.
These calendar tools are highly rated:
- Google Calendar – Because this calendar integrates with other Google products (Gmail, Drive, and Hangouts) and pretty much every popular app, it’s the main reason businesses love it. Collaboration and communication are made much easier because of this. It also sports a simple interface which makes it easy to create multiple calendars with color-coded events so you can see, at a glance, the nature of the event (i.e. business, personal). Event reminders are sent via email and text. Google Calendar can be shared with others and used to invite people to events. Free with a Google account.
- Any.do – Any.do’s calendar is for people who need tools to help them stay organized such as a notification that reminds you to preview what’s on your agenda at the start of each day. Existing events can be imported from Apple Calendar. A free plan is available with paid plans starting at $5.99/month.
- Asana – While it has calendar features, Asana is more than a shared calendar app. This app makes it easy to manage team projects. Its timeline feature shows all parts of a project and helps you track changes. Asana has a mobile app with over 100 integrations. There isn’t a free plan but free trials are offered as well as a lite version.
- Calendly – Calendly is automated scheduling software that works with your calendar to automatically check your availability. It also has the ability to schedule buffer time between meetings, detect time zones and it syncs with Google Calendar so it’s easy to add events to your calendar in Google without having to make changes in Calendly. There is a free and a paid version.
In our modern-day business environment, outdated internal communication methods have been replaced with tools that make communication more effective and less time-consuming. These tools are meant to keep employees on task, allowing them to make the most of their time which positively affects the bottom line.
Here are some online communication tools to consider:
- Workplace from Facebook – This team communication software enhances and streamlines communication between project teammates and internal communications in general. Live video and audio conferencing, file sharing, private and group messaging, and a simple notification system are offered in this tool. The interface shows a lot of similarity to the Facebook social media app. It can be integrated with scheduling apps and calendars like Google Calendar. Costs from $3/user/month.
- Flock – Flock is a robust communication app with a chat module that’s designed to streamline and centralize communication across different groups and teams. The app allows for turning messages into valuable resources with bookmarks. Discussions can be converted into tasks. Flock’s other features include video and audio calls, an intuitive screen sharing module, and the ability to create anonymous polls and share with teammates. You can also generate email lists of members in a discussion board which allows for quickly sending group emails. Costs from $4.50/user/month.
- monday.com – monday.com is a visually intuitive tool for tracking and collaborating on just about every type of project. The simple interface makes it easy to clarify the sequence of tasks to be completed. The communication features include the ability to upload and attach files to task boards, leave comments, and mention specific teammates. Teammates can track time, create and share reports, and send messages. Costs from $17/month for two users.
To establish your brand and build your online presence, you need a reliable content management system (CMS). Content plays a major role in educating, informing, and connecting with customers and potential customers. As the business world becomes more and more competitive, traditional online marketing methods such as pay-per-click (PPC) and banner ads become less effective. Sharing useful content is one of the best ways to stand out from competitors and establish yourself as an authority in your industry. There are plenty of CMSs out there that will allow you to create and manage the content on your website or blog.
Here are some of the best content management systems:
- WordPress – WordPress is undoubtedly the most popular CMS. This platform provides you with tools to create an impressive website or blog by incorporating text, videos, images, and other elements. You also have the ability to install any of the basic pre-made or third-party themes to your website for a personalized effect. Many of these themes are geared toward specific industries. The software can be downloaded for free from WordPress.org and installed on your server or you can get a domain and hosting from WordPress. If you opt for WordPress hosting, the business plan costs $25/month and includes full access to the theme store, unlimited storage space and a custom domain.
- Weebly – Weebly is an easy-to-use CMS that helps you create a basic website within minutes. With the platform’s drag-and-drop format, you can easily add elements and media to your website. Depending on your needs, there are a number of pricing plans to choose from. There is a basic, free option and the cheapest paid plan is $12/month.
- Squarespace – Another popular CMS platform, Squarespace is an integrated website builder, blogging platform and hosting service. It’s not open-source, so it can’t be downloaded and installed on your own server. You sign up for a subscription and Squarespace provides the tools for easily building a website from scratch. This is a great platform if you need to get a site up quickly. A commerce platform is also offered which lets you build and manage an online store without having to pay a developer to do it for you. The business-ready package is $18/month and includes your own domain, unlimited bandwidth and storage, and SSL certificate.
Customer Relationship Management
Managing relationships is an important part of doing business. Because prospects don’t always buy during their first encounter with a company, it’s often necessary to make contact with potential customers several times before closing the sale. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools provide a reliable system for keeping track of leads, contacts, and customer interactions.
Here are three of the most popular and affordable:
- Freshsales – This CRM is easy to use right off the bat even if you’re not tech-savvy. You can access in-app video tutorials, helpful articles, and support staff with a few clicks. The interface is simple and navigation is clean with descriptions for icons readily available by hovering over them. Often-used features and support show on every screen for quick access. If you should get stumped anywhere within the platform, email, phone, and chat support are included with all paid plans which start at $12/user/month. There’s also a free plan.
- Nimble – Nimble simplifies the process of prospecting by helping sales reps find accurate contact information and effectively connect with those prospects. By connecting your email and social accounts, you can manage these accounts within Nimble, making it easier to follow your feeds and interact directly with contacts. Contact records (business info, social profiles) for new followers are auto-created. Prospecting can be targeted more by using filters to segment contacts. Costs from $19/user/month.
- Zoho CRM – Features like real-time visitor alerts, lead prediction, and gamification allow sales teams to spend more time interacting with qualified leads instead of pursuing cold ones. Real-time notifications for email opens, site visits, social mentions, and other actions help you understand how and when leads and customers interact with your company. This platform also collects and analyzes data entered in Zoho on a daily basis. Lead and deal prediction is one of its core features. Past record data is used to predict the likelihood of a lead turning into a deal. There’s a free plan available for up to 3 users. The paid plan starts at $12/user/month.
Email marketing software helps you automate your email marketing campaigns, track your stats, improve email quality, and build a deeper relationship with your website visitors. There are a lot of options to choose from (both free and paid) with some offering pretty impressive features in addition to managing email campaigns.
Here are some of the best email marketing services for small businesses:
- MailChimp – MailChimp is a popular email marketing tool for bloggers and small websites. It’s hard to receive promotional emails without running across their adorable little “spokesmonkey”. The free cost of an extensive basic plan likely contributes to MailChimp being one of the leading email marketing providers, with more than one billion emails sent per day. Although the basic service is free, this tool offers some impressive features like social media integration, contact segmenting, autoresponders, A/B testing and much more. There are also a variety of informational resources available. The free plan allows for up to 2,000 subscribers and sending up to 10,000 emails/month. Once you exceed these numbers you can upgrade to the Essentials, Standard or Premium plan.
- GetResponse – This online marketing platform offers more than email marketing. Additional features like landing page and webinar creation can help you grow your email list exponentially. The intuitive drag-and-drop format makes it easy to create emails. Segmentation, A/B testing, autoresponders, and software integrations are also included. The Perfect Timing feature will help you predict the best time to send your emails to get the best open rates. Support is available via email, live chat, and phone. The basic plan starts at $15/month and there’s a 30-day free trial. It’s a pay-as-you-go service.
- Constant Contact – This is considered the best email marketing service for small businesses. Constant Contact’s email automation software includes a 60-day free trial (no credit card needed) and multiple customization and integration options in addition to a simple and user-friendly platform. They’ve been around since 1995 and continually add to their offerings and offer services that their competitors don’t. If you subscribe to this service, you’ll get access to an event management tool and a social media tool that lets you create coupons to share on social media. This tool integrates with hundreds of apps so it’ll likely be easy to integrate with an app you’re currently using. With Constant Contact, you’re offered a lot of useful guides and services which the novice email marketer will find helpful. You’ll also get access to live chat, email, and phone support. There are multiple plans to choose from starting at $20/month.
Even if you have a great product, you won’t achieve profitability without having an excellent team behind your company. That’s why the competition for talent remains fierce and why you need a system that allows you to effectively manage and motivate your workforce.
Here are three of the best systems available:
- MarktheJob – This free employee performance review tool is great for small businesses as well as those with hundreds of employees. It allows managers to easily conduct employee performance reviews with objectivity and minimal challenges. Performance rating scales allow managers to easily gauge where employees need improvement.
- WebHR – This widely-used, full-featured HR platform has all the tools you need to hire, train, evaluate, compensate, and develop highly skilled employees. It also includes features for recruitment, payroll, performance analytics, leadership succession, and other employee management concerns. There’s a free version and paid plans start at $2/user/month with a free trial.
- Bitrix24 – This employee management platform has capabilities that extend beyond HR. It includes CRM and project management components, telephony and a contact center. Its HR features, however, are effective for organizations of all sizes. Bitrix24 is excellent for employee engagement, time management, collaboration, and other HR-related matters. There’s a free version and paid plans start at $39/month with a free trial.
Enterprise Resource Planning
To understand what Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is, think about all of the various processes that are essential to running a business. This includes inventory and order management, accounting, human resources, customer relationship management (CRM), and more. ERP software integrates these various functions into one complete system to streamline processes and information across the entire company. Through a shared database, ERP systems support multiple functions used by different business units and allow staff to pull reports from one system.
Here are two of the most highly rated ERP systems:
- Oracle NetSuite One World – As an ERP platform, Oracle NetSuite OneWorld receives high marks for being cloud-based which means its SaaS format makes it completely scalable and therefore appropriate for small and large companies. It also has a broad set of features that will be appreciated by many different kinds of companies, from nonprofit and service organizations to manufacturing companies. Cost is $999 upfront + $99/user/month.
- Acumatica – This is also a cloud-based system with strong manufacturing and distribution modules. The Product Management module lets you plan and follow projects and tasks within the business. As part of the Financial Accounting module, Time and Expense management is an easy-to-use feature. Service requests can be balanced with available resources. Staff dashboards can be emailed to employees to show scheduled bookings. License fees are based on resource consumption.
File Sharing & Storage
With the bevy of file sharing and storage solutions available, there’s no reason to waste valuable storage space on a PC or phone. These solutions allow you to store documents and media in the cloud and effortlessly share them across multiple devices.
Here are three top-rated solutions to consider:
- IDrive – This full-featured online backup service is the best you’ll find for the price. It’s easy to set up and supports unlimited devices per account. It allows for disk image backup and folder syncing. Bulk uploads and restores can be performed via email. IDrive backs up your data using the Continuous Data Protection option by default. When this setting is enabled, IDrive looks for updates to your files and uploads the changes after a specified amount of time. Cost starts at $69.50/year for 2TB of storage.
- Microsoft OneDrive – Microsoft’s default online storage and syncing service for Windows 10 and Office 365 offers a plethora of powerful features and apps. This solution has an excellent interface and strong online photo management and presentation. Free users get 5GB free storage space, but if you’re a longtime OneDrive account holder (since April 21, 2012, or earlier), you get an extra 10GB free.
- Google Drive – Google Drive offers generous free storage space and is one of the fullest-featured cloud storage and syncing services available, with outstanding productivity suite collaboration capabilities. Includes desktop-to-desktop file-syncing. Supports cross-platform apps and many third-party integrations.
It’s impossible to sell goods without always knowing how much you’ve got to sell. Inventory management solutions help businesses stay on top of stock levels and optimize ordering and storing processes. They can also be used in the manufacturing industry to create a work order, bill of materials and other production-related documents.
Here are three tools that get the job done:
- Cin7– Cin7 is an automated inventory management platform for companies with revenue exceeding $1 million. Cin7 synchronizes inventory with sales and orders across all physical and online sales channels. Order processes are automated for greater efficiency, to keep costs down, and to optimize margins and cash flow. This solution ensures that stock is always at the right level. Cost starts at $299/month.
- Finale Inventory – Finale Inventory is a highly adaptable and flexible inventory management system that supports the workflows of growing businesses. This system integrates seamlessly to many eCommerce selling platforms to prevent overselling. Reorder points are dynamically calculated based on the rate at which sales occur and supplier lead times. Complimentary training / consulting is offered. Finale Inventory uses a subscription-based pricing structure which starts at $99/month.
- QuickBooks Enterprise – This comprehensive business management software can grow with your business and provides all of the tools you need in an easy-to-use format. In addition to managing inventory, you can organize your books, track sales, and run payroll. It’s a powerful and flexible solution that’s available in industry-specific editions. Cost starts at $1,155/year.
Marketing & Sales
Every business needs solutions for bolstering its sales and marketing efforts. Without customers, there’s no revenue and without revenue, there’s no company. But what kind of solution? The ideal solution not only boosts sales but also improves efficiency and organization.
Here are a couple of the top sales tools:
- HubSpot – When it comes to sales and marketing tools, HubSpot is considered the cream of the crop. Through its free solution, marketers can gain access to tools that boost every aspect of their inbound sales strategy. To manage prospects, you can collect visitor-related data as well as the pages they’re viewing. This gives you greater insight into who’s interested in your product or service so that you can target prospects most likely to purchase your offerings. Cost of HubSpot’s Sales hub starts at $50/user/month.
- Ahrefs – Many digital marketers depend on the tools at Ahrefs for building effective backlinks and conducting SEO and keyword analysis. Ahrefs constantly improves algorithms to provide users with the freshest backlinks data. Tools like Site Explorer help you easily analyze your site’s backlinks and those of your competitors. Content Explorer will help you find the most shared content for any topic having the largest amount of shares on social media. Cost starts at $99/month.
Team & Project Management
Intuitive and capable project management software helps get all team members on the same page. Project planning software can be expected to provide information to various people or stakeholders and can be used to measure and justify the level of effort required to complete the project(s).
Here are three excellent options:
- Trello –This highly-flexible project management tool is popular among content development teams. A visual overview of what’s being worked on and who’s working on it helps you stay connected with your team. It’s comparable to a whiteboard filled with post-it notes. The free version (for teams with less than 10 members) is robust enough for most users and paid versions start at $9.99/month.
- Basecamp – Basecamp is a collaborative project management and daily task tracking application. It provides a way for teams of all sizes, from small businesses to large corporations to keep track of priorities and actionable items through the use of to-do-lists, calendars, due dates, and file-sharing. Its simple interface helps teams stay on the same page. Cost starts at $99/month.
- Asana – This is a free cloud-based project management tool that allows you to create workspaces for different teams, organize projects, assign and manage tasks, track conversations, and keep track of each team’s progress. Asana integrates with third-party apps like Gmail.
Time Expense Tracking
If you operate a service-based business and need to create invoices for clients, you likely track your work/billable hours. You may also want to track time to see how long different tasks take to complete in order to arrive at a flat rate for a project. This ensures that the project doesn’t cost more to complete than it brings in. Whatever the reason you want to track time, recording it while tasks are in progress is the most effective way to do it.
Here are two affordable tools for tracking billable hours:
- Replicon – Replicon’s project time and expense tracking solution seamlessly aligns your entire client billing workflow in one unified platform. It helps your company optimize project delivery by giving you total insight into client project progress, maximizing utilization, and enhancing billing. Replicon has an impressive client list which includes Facebook, USDA, and Moody’s. Cost starts at $5/month.
- BQE Core – Time & Billing – BQE Core uses one integrated platform to let companies effortlessly track time and manage expenses. The friendly interface and native mobile apps boost efficiency and eliminate the hassle of dealing with cumbersome spreadsheets and paper receipts. Cost starts at $7.95/month with an available free 15-day trial.
Managing vendors manually can be a cumbersome and time-consuming endeavor. Vendor management tools provide a way for companies to use technology to manage their vendors effectively and consistently. The process of managing costs, tracking quality, and measuring the performance of third-party vendors is streamlined.
Here are three tools worth checking out:
- SAP FieldGlass – This cloud-based, open vendor management system helps companies find, engage, and manage their external workforce which includes independent contractors, freelancers, and temporary staff as well as services providers like consulting firms, IT outsourcers or marketing agencies. The aim is to enable companies to optimize their use of these resources. Contact the company for a quote.
- Gatekeeper – Gatekeeper is an intuitive, cloud-based Contract Management and Vendor Management solution. It’s designed to help companies gain maximum value from their contracts and supplier relationships. Through the use of AI and automation, Gatekeeper saves companies time and money while minimizing risk. All supplier and contract data is stored centrally. Cost starts at $695/month.
- TradeGecko – This cloud-based inventory management platform was created to make commerce easier for retailers, wholesalers, and distributors. Its easy-to-use system lets you manage your entire inventory, purchasing, and sales by simply connecting your offline or online sales channels to TradeGecko. Easily integrates with accounting software like QuickBooks Online or Xero. Cost starts at $39/month for a basic plan.
Final Thoughts – The Best Tools for Managing & Growing Your Business
There are so many factors that can contribute to a company’s success — or demise. Given the high failure rate and intense competition in most industries, small business owners need all of the help they can get. From cash flow to customer relationships, and from staffing to content management, business owners should constantly be looking for solutions to make their business and employees more productive.
Business tools such as automation and analytics make use of technology to perform much of the heavy lifting and streamline processes. This allows business owners to save time and money and offer better value to customers. The right business tools will undoubtedly lead to better business outcomes. However, not all business tools are created equal. What may work for a particular business model, company size, or industry, might be inadequate in another situation. It’s wise to do your due diligence and find the solution that works for your market, business model, and workflows.