Unlikely as it may seem, small businesses and big challenges go hand in hand. From cash flow to compliance, and from staffing to product-market fit, entrepreneurs lose sleep over so many factors that impact the very survival of their business. No wonder half of their ventures close shop by the fifth year and only a third make it to their 10th anniversary.
Given the high failure rate and intense competition in just about any industry, business success pretty much depends on having the right business tools at the onset. Without the appropriate tools and a comprehensive technology stack, small business owners run their companies at a serious handicap.
That’s because business tools, such as automation and analytics, perform much of the heavy lifting businesses need to thrive, which, in turn, frees entrepreneurs to focus on core strengths and providing better value to their customers. Bottomline: if customers feel you are not focusing on them, they’ll focus their attention on other vendors/brands instead.
As you might expect, not all tools are created equal. A specific solution might be good for a particular business model, company size, or industry, but might prove inadequate, even in slightly different scenarios. To help you select the best ones for your company, here’s a round-up of the tools we think are the best options for growing and scaling small businesses:
Having the right conversations will always get the ball rolling. Here are some of the most effective solutions small businesses can use to convey their message to customers and drive collaboration between teams:
- Gmail – This is Google’s ubiquitous email service. For a cheap price, you can have your own domain address, plus access to other apps such as Calendar, Drive, and Docs.
- Nextiva – Whether you just need a simple phone service or a unified communications suite (i.e., internet fax, VoIP, and video conferencing), Nextiva provides affordable and best-in-class solutions for small businesses.
- GoToMeeting – This is an online service for real-time meetings, video conferencing, and desktop sharing.
- Slack – A millennial favorite, Slack is a messaging app that integrates well with common business solutions, such as CRMs, project management software, and productivity suites.
Poor cash flow is a major cause of business failure, according to Investopedia. Here are some tools that can help you track and optimize your profits, funds, and budget:
- QuickBooks® – Developed by Intuit®, Quickbooks is a full-featured accounting software that can handle business transactions, bills payment, and payroll.
- Wave – This is a free online financial software that includes accounting, invoicing, personal finance, and other functions.
At the end of the day, every business depends on the performance of its revenue teams for survival, profitability, and growth. Here are tried and true solutions to help you bolster your sales and marketing efforts:
- Ahrefs – Many digital marketers depend on this toolkit for building effective backlinks and conducting SEO/keyword analysis.
- Google Analytics – Launched in 2005, this is the granddaddy of web analytics services. Use it to monitor website activity, track traffic sources, and optimize your online advertising campaigns.
- GetResponse – This marketing platform helps enhance your email campaigns via autoresponders, conversation tracking, template customizations, and task automation.
- SEMrush – This is a software service for gathering online traffic data, keyword info, topic research, and other marketing intel.
- Yesware – Used by thousands of revenue teams, Yesware is a sales productivity solution that helps enhance email marketing performance via templates, scheduler, and third-party integrations (including CRMs, email platforms, and calendars).
Every business in a digital economy needs a proper website. The following platforms enable individuals and companies to build their own real estate in cyberspace, ranging from simple personal websites to heavily branded and sprawling online stores:
- WordPress – WordPress is the dominant leader in the website management software industry and is behind millions of the world’s top ranking websites, including those that conduct e-commerce.
- Wix.com – Running on a freemium model, Wix is an easy-to-use website development tool popular among non-techies.
- Squarespace – This is a hosting and domain sales service that helps bloggers and business owners build and monetize websites.
You can’t grow a customer base without the right messaging. High-quality content is your primary means to catching the attention and influence of the buying behavior of your target audiences. From industry reports and infographics, to contract management and video guides, these tools will help you install your own content as king over those of your competitors:
- PandaDoc – This is an end-to-end document automation suite that includes functions for authoring/editing, workflow management, e-signatures, CPQ (Configure Price Quote), and contract tracking.
- Google Docs/Google Drive – Google’s productivity suite consists of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms. If shelling out the subscription fee for Microsoft’s Office 365 hurts your wallet, this cloud-based platform is a viable alternative. Meanwhile, you’ll need cloud storage for better access, collaboration, and management. Google Drive provides 15 GB of free storage.
- Canva – This online service allows even individuals without backgrounds in digital art to create compelling, professional-grade graphics for their blog, website, or social media accounts. Canva runs on a freemium model.
- Pixabay/Unsplash – These two image-sharing websites provide free illustrations, graphics, and photos you can use for web pages and social media posts.
- Animoto – It takes richer and more immersive content formats to influence the next generation of consumers and B2B buyers. Animoto is a cloud-based video creation tool that can help you create and publish professional-grade videos for your target audience.
- Adobe Sign/DocuSign – If you need a dedicated contract and signature management software, then DocuSign and Adobe Sign lead the pack.
Get everyone on the right page with intuitive and capable project management software. Microsoft Project has been the leader in this space for many years. but we think the following are excellent alternatives:
- Asana – This is an online service that helps teams organize projects, assign tasks, and track work progress. It integrates with third-party apps such as Gmail.
- Trello – Popular among content development teams, Trello is a highly flexible, kanban-based project management app that is easy on the eyes and easy on the budget (it has a free bundle for teams with less than 10 members).
Your buyers are on social media and so should you. However, just having active accounts on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook won’t be enough to get them onboard. You need smart social media tools to not only optimize your brand presence, but also sustain deeper engagement with your audience. Here are some of those smart social media tools:
- Buffer – Enabling teams to schedule social media posts and analyze engagement results, Buffer is one of the handiest tools a social media marketer can have. Buffer’s package for small businesses allows management of around 25 social media accounts.
- HootSuite – This award-winning social media platform comes with a dashboard that enables marketers to have full visibility on all aspects of their social media campaigns. It comes with the useful link shortener, Ow.ly.
Even with a great product, you can achieve profitability only if you have the right people behind your brand. That is why a global corporate war for talent is raging, and why you need the best talent management software for your business. Here are two of the best:
- Bitrix24 – This platform goes beyond HR, having broad capabilities including CRM, contact center, telephony, and project management. But, its HR features stand out and are effective for companies of any size. You can use Bitrix24 for employee engagement, time management, collaboration, eLearning, gamification, culture development, and other purposes.
- WebHR – Used by thousands of companies in around 200 countries, this full-featured HR platform has all you need to hire, train, evaluate, compensate, and develop top talent. It includes features for recruitment, payroll, performance analytics, leadership succession, and other HR concerns.
Editor’s note: Another option to consider is JobAdder, A fully featured recruitment software platform used by in-house HR teams and recruitment agencies. Job applicants flow directly into the system and allow you to manage the entire candidate/interview workflow seamlessly with hiring managers. JobAdder also integrate with QuickBooks.
Customer relationship management (CRM)
CRMs ensure that you have a powerful system of record that is consistent, organic, integrable, and insightful for all customer-facing and revenue-generating teams. Enterprise-grade Salesforce obviously dominates in this space, but there are excellent alternatives for small businesses. Here are two of the most popular and affordable:
- Zoho – This is a brand, covering a broad range of business apps that include tools for office productivity, email marketing, lead generation and customer relationship management. Their highly-rated CRM service provides a sales pipeline management capabilities and comes with a free version.
- HubSpot – HubSpot is the granny of all things inbound, and it offers a free CRM solution for startups and small teams. The HubSpot CRM clears up the clutter by helping teams log all customer management activities and providing visibility to your marketing funnel and sales pipeline.
Hustling your way to success sounds okay, but working without taking a break can chip away at your drive, health, and wellbeing. Everybody needs to take a breather once in a while—even passionate entrepreneurs. Reading, family time, and hobbies are excellent ways to get refreshed.
You can also spend your downtime by engaging disruptive brands and high performers who have already achieved phenomenal success, such as the following:
- Media outlets/business blogs – Get a whiff of business trends and best practices in various industries through online outlets, such as Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Business Insider, and HBR.
- Entrepreneurship podcasts – There will always be better minds and better performers than yourself. Great entrepreneurs embrace this and willingly learn from others. Some of the finest podcasts in business include Startup Nation, HBR Ideacast, The Sales Engagement Podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire, Sales Hacker Podcast, and the The GaryVee Audio Experience.
Business is tough enough as it is. Don’t make it harder on yourself by going far afield with inadequate tools and outdated technologies. Doing so just gets you on the bumpy road to failure.
The foregoing list of tools barely scratches the surface, but we think having many of the items we cited will improve your chances at success. There are other (perhaps, more powerful and appropriate) tools for your business, and it’s just due diligence that you discover what best fits your market, business model, and workflows.
What we’re giving you is just a head start for the long and grueling race ahead. Remember, the equation is simple and solid: better tools lead to better business outcomes.