Poor management and inadequate cash flow are among the top reasons startups go under, according to a study by business analytics research firm CB Insights.
Fortunately, it’s very easy to reduce these problems, thanks to the power of Web 2.0 and the advent of smartphone apps. But a good business cannot work with tools alone. Combine them with your amazing team and there is no limit to what you will achieve.
Here’s a bunch of great small business tools that will get your business where it needs to be.
Social networks and email
Getting your business in front of the right eye is more important than ever, especially in an era where digital marketing reigns supreme. Therefore, a presence on social networks is essential. These apps will make you nothing less than a Twitter assistant, Instagram influencer, or email expert:
- TweetDeck is the leading in-house programming platform for everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) microblogging platform. It’s a fantastic app for businesses with multiple Twitter accounts, allowing you to navigate through both dashboards without having to manually log in and out again. This allows you to engage and connect with potential customers from a variety of brand voices. It’s easy to use, offers a clean interface, and is a boon for scheduling tweets ahead of time. And did I mention it’s free?
- Sprout Social is a robust cross-platform social media management tool that allows you to post about your brand on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram simultaneously. Combine that with data insights and you can see when, where and with whom your content is resonating best. It’s not a free service (a pro account will set you back $149), but it’s worth every penny.
- Buffer is similar to Sprout in the way it allows cross-platform publishing and analysis, but it offers a dynamic team management option that allows you to hire other employees to help you publish. It’s good for businesses that are just starting to build their social media and communications teams and need one tool that fits everyone. Small business plans are also cheaper, at $99 per month.
- Lately employs artificial intelligence to help with the delivery of content on social media platforms, giving you an edge on similar services. Combine that with its ability to automate posting, and all you have to do is compose a few tweets. The robots take care of the rest. Professional membership costs $129, but it is one of the most dynamic social media platforms on the market.
- Mailchimp is a great tool for email campaign experts and podcast listeners everywhere, and it’s great for A/B testing and monitoring what message is resonating with whom. It prides itself on providing reports that allow its users to get better and smarter with each campaign so they can continue to reach the right demographic. You can use it for free for up to 2,000 subscribers, but it costs $10 a month for unlimited use.
- Instasize takes Instagram’s already impressive photo editing tools and bumps them up to 11, allowing users to edit and crop their images to make them look their best in the app. With Instagram’s preference for a 1:1 aspect ratio when viewed on a smartphone, Instasize is a great free tool for making your images stand out on a platform already loaded with photos of dogs and food. It will cost you only $99 per month.
- ProtonMail is perfect for the more… cautious among us, offering encrypted email services and data storage. Let’s see hackers trying to break into those emails. A professional account costs $80 per year.
Whether you’re heading to a meeting across town or driving to the airport to fly in and meet investors, transportation apps are lifesavers for getting from point A to point B, especially if you’re tracking your spending:
- Uber for Business allows you to track transportation expenses per user. It also saves receipts for all trips in your online account. No more digging through old emails trying to find that receipt, it’s all in the app. The price varies depending on the length of your car trip.
- Lyft Business offers similar functionality, but it’s always nice to have options. Especially during the price increase.
- Via is a shared ride option with an emphasis on carpooling. As such, it is a cheaper taxi option than Uber and Lyft. This makes it ideal for businesses that want to offer traveler benefits at an affordable cost. Rides can be as cheap as $5 for a short distance.
- The Transit app is a solid choice for logistics planning in cities with historically unreliable transit schedules. Give your users real-time updates on train arrivals so you don’t miss that all-important meeting. Free download.
- Zipcar is the perfect car rental service for getting to an out-of-town corporate retreat or making some last-minute deliveries. Your business profile options can be adjusted to suit your (business) need for speed. That said, it starts at $99 per driver per year, with reservations costing between $7 and $10 per hour (depending on the car).
Making a plan and sticking to it while juggling everyone else’s responsibilities is always difficult. Just ask any millennial who’s been tasked with coordinating Sunday brunch. Fortunately, the following apps take some of the headaches out of scheduling your meetings:
- Deputy is great for letting employees chat with each other about business shifts, showing you the day and month at a glance so you know who’s working where. It’s a reliable alternative to the old punch card and allows employees to check in with ease. At $4 per user per month, it’s pretty much a bargain.
- Google Calendar is perfect for businesses that already use the G-Suite line of products (such as Google Drive or Gmail), as it integrates seamlessly across all platforms and devices. You can send invitations to your colleagues by email and, once accepted, they automatically appear in your calendar. Very clever indeed. Like many other Google services, it is completely free.
- Microsoft Outlook is the alternative to Google Calendar that is best suited for businesses that contract with government organizations, many of which use Microsoft’s suite for organization and productivity. As with Google, invitations can be sent via email and automatically appear on the calendar when accepted. A premium subscription costs just $12 a month for a year.
- Doodle is a free online tool for scheduling unique meetings. You send a link to a Doodle form where your guests indicate when they can and cannot meet. It’s all web-based, so it works on any computer and is easy to use, a great tool for scheduling meetings outside of your organization, with people who may not use your internal calendar management system.
- Calendly is good for the external side of your business. It works well if your business revolves around making appointments with clients. You share a link, clients fill in their availability, and it’s immediately added to your calendar. To top it off, it’s super cheap, costing $12 a month for a premium account.
Your data is extremely important, not only for collaboration but also for the continued success of your cutting-edge ideas. Safely protect them with these apps:
- Dropbox was one of the innovators in cloud-based document storage, and it’s still a solid bet for cross-platform sharing, especially if part of your team uses Windows and the other part uses Apple products. You can get tons of data (a full terabyte or 1,024 gigabytes) for $9.99 a month.
- Google Drive is the industry standard bearer for cloud-based document storage, as you can store and edit documents on your drive while easily editing the permissions of who can see and edit what. It’s also $9.99 a month for 1TB of data. Wow, that’s a lot of data.
- Unsurprisingly, iCloud also costs $9.99 per month and is best suited for Apple products. If you’re a macintosh company, it’s a solid bet.
- Office 365 for business is your go-to platform for sharing and collaborating on documents if your business uses Word and Excel. It integrates well with other Windows apps (like Skype for Business) and will set you back $12.50 per user per month.
Cash rules everything around you when you run a small business. It’s essential to keep everything on the books as you look for places where you can save. Try using these tools to make your small business finances easier:
- Mint is a free web-based tool for creating budgets and analyzing expenses on a monthly or weekly basis. While many people use it to track their personal finances, it can be used for small businesses to effectively monitor how their corporate cards are being used.
- Wave is a new alternative to dinosaur accounting software like Quickbooks. It’s a free way to send invoices and account for business expenses, and for a $0 tool, it’s surprisingly dynamic. Since Quickbooks Plus costs $50 a month, it’s a great way to keep up with bills while saving some cash.
- FreshBooks is another cloud-based accounting software that features ease of use and a very clean desktop view. It’s also designed with small businesses in mind, and its Unlimited Premium plan costs $50 a month.
- Acorns is a creative way to channel unused budget funds into investment. Essentially, the app rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, automatically investing that change in your stock portfolio. It’s a great tool for freelancers and other self-employed individuals who may lack a traditional retirement investment vehicle, such as a 401(k). Acorns cost $1 a month for portfolios under $5,000, at which point it will charge you an annual fee of 0.25 percent of your assets.
- Expensify is useful for businesses with many physical receipts as it effectively scans, digitizes, and stores receipts to create expense reports. It can save you the hassle of clinging to pieces of receipt paper in perpetuity while giving you peace of mind that every purchase counts. A business account costs $9 per month.
- Honey is something everyone should use, not just small business owners. As a browser extension, it combs the web for promotional codes that you can redeem when making purchases. You can significantly reduce business expenses if you get great code. It’s especially helpful if you buy business supplies through Amazon. Best of all, it’s
- PayPal is the leading internet payment application that has been around the block for many years. It’s perfect for paying contractors quickly and securely while automatically keeping records of all your payments. You should also use its sister app, Venmo if you need to quickly pay on the go and only have your phone. Both are free.
- Square is your go-to tool for selling things fast, allowing you to connect a card reader to your smartphone to make shopping and paying quick and affordable. However, Square takes a percentage of the purchase (usually 2.75 percent per card swiped).
- Due allows you to pay your employees, whether full-time or self-employed, quickly and easily, making it a solid option for offsetting your W-2s and 1099s with ease. Transaction fees start at 2.8 per employee.
Gone are the days of ad hoc project management and tracking emails scattered throughout office correspondence and post-it notes. These productivity apps let you easily manage and delegate tasks, and offer post-completion analytics to keep improving your bizops:
- Wrike is a dynamic app for easily managing workflows and projects. You can create custom workflows that match your speed, check the progress of delegated tasks in real-time, and analyze productivity afterward. It is very suitable for creative companies that need to share progress in graphics and videos. Their professional plan is $9.80 per user, and their business plan is $24.80 per person for additional features.
- Asana is another great tool for businesses that need to focus primarily on collaboration and productivity, providing in-app scheduling, task management, and messaging. It’s a good general productivity tool for any business, regardless of industry. Plus, it’s affordable, at $9.99 per person for their premium plan.
- Basecamp streamlines productivity, file storage, and task management in a single app, avoiding the need to switch between platforms to share and collaborate on documents. It offers clean to-do lists for each team member and is probably the most user-friendly app on this list. On top of that, it’s priced at $99.99 a month for as many users as you need, making it a good option for growing businesses with a changing list.
- Minutes is the go-to app for companies that have a lot of meetings, allowing you to provide the most up-to-date agendas and documents. Allow guests to collaborate in real-time on assigning deliverables to team members. You can send a personalized to-do list to all attendees so nothing falls through the cracks. At $6 per month for a premium plan, it’s a cheap way to get work done while doing some of the chaos caused by long hours in the conference room.
- Not to be confused with the app above, My Minutes is a personal productivity tool. It allows you to allocate time throughout the day to handle key tasks, both in and out of the office. Set aside 30 minutes to check emails, 20 minutes to exercise, and an hour for leisure so you can stay focused without burning out. It’s also free.
- Clear is a productivity app for making quick lists, but its friendly aesthetic presentation (complete with customizable color schemes) avoids the eye injuries of default apps like Apple’s Notes. On top of that, the app makes a nice bell noise every time you complete a task, providing a Pavlovian mechanism for rewarding achievements. It’s a $10 piece of candy on the App Store.
- Evernote is the gold standard of note-taking apps. Seamlessly integrate meeting notes across all platforms and users while scanning handwritten ideas with technology that recognizes even a doctor’s script. Their basic service is free, with a premium starting at $7.99 per user.
- LastPass is a web browser extension that stores all your passwords automatically, allowing you to use different passcodes for different applications. This allows you to stay secure while eliminating the search for that secret Word document where you’ve written all your passwords (which you should delete, by the way). It is also free to use.
As much as we all love to awkwardly float by a colleague’s desk until they finish a phone conversation, these tools make it easy to communicate with your colleagues while freeing up your time for other business:
- Slack has quickly become the go-to communication app for startups and tech giants alike. Instant messaging, document sharing, and a selection of emojis keep you 100 percent engaged. Combine that with a great mobile app and a free basic plan and you’re in for a winner.
- Skype for Business works best if you’re using Office 365, so you can share file paths to collaborative documents when you’re not protecting your team members. It features the ability to call, video chat, or message anyone with a Skype username, and costs $2 per user per month.
- Google Hangouts is the instant messaging side of Gmail that’s perfect for when you want to send a quick, real-time message that isn’t an email. Like Gmail, it’s free to use as you see fit.
- WhatsApp is an instant messaging tool that works across all platforms, avoiding some of the pitfalls that come with communicating between iOS and Android devices. It’s well-suited for international communication as you don’t incur the usual fees that come with global texting. Plus, it offers end-to-end encryption for total security. It is also
- GroupMe dominates the group projects market, allowing you to create quick groups on the go for mobile communication. Unlike traditional group messages, you can turn notifications on and off. This way, you can log off after work without your phone constantly ringing. Free use on both Android and
Once you’ve got your small business up and running, you’ll need a stylish exterior to attract the right customers and partners. You can hire a web designer (which can cost a lot of money) or you can stay frugal with these urban site design platforms:
- Wix is a popular and easy-to-use site for designing your website, offering video hosting, web store hosting, and beautiful templates. Plus, when you sign up to host, you get a year of free domain name hosting and use of the Wix logo maker, all for less than $20 a month (or $25, if you have a web store).
- Squarespace excels at template offerings, with some of the most elegant designs in the business. It allows you to fine-tune your website in a way that Wix doesn’t, offering a fully customizable experience. However, it requires a bit more technical knowledge. It’s $18 a month and $26 for eCommerce options.
- WordPress is an attractive option if you want your site to have more of a blog feel, perfect for businesses that want to show the world how their development process is progressing. Their premium option is $8 per month and is perfect for people who want a basic content-driven site for their small business.
A picture is worth a thousand words. So a five-second video running at 60 frames per second is worth 300,000 words.
Get the right photos and videos on your website to make a lasting impression, with the help of these tools:
- iStock has one of the largest databases of royalty-free stock images on the web, making finding the perfect image a breeze. It has scaled the prices to suit your needs, with 10 photos a month costing you $70 for a one-year subscription.
- Flickr offers free photo hosting and a wide range of images under Creative Commons licenses, many of which you can use for commercial purposes, as long as you reference the author. It’s good if you want to host your company images externally, thus reducing data usage on your website while still gaining access to user-uploaded files on the site.
- Wave Video is a simple browser tool for making eye-catching videos, offering footage and music for easy content creation. You can export your videos in proper aspect ratios for all social media platforms. A Pro account costs $16.50 per month, which makes it much cheaper than most professional video editing platforms.
- Lumen5 is an effective tool for businesses that want to post a large number of videos on different social media platforms. Its built-in Artificial Intelligence automatically generates images to fit your script, reducing the amount of time it takes to get photos and a b-roll. Lumen5 can also automatically create videos from web links and offers a large library of stock photos and clips. A basic account costs $29 per
- Snappa is a graphic design platform for creating compelling images, complete with text overlays and photo editing. Their in-house templates are diverse and a great option for making quick, social-friendly designs. A premium account costs $10.
Put into practice the tools of your small business
Once you have all the tools you need for your small business, it’s time to get to work