Small Business Software Powerhouses: Our Recommendations
As you likely know, technology can help your business. Perhaps you’ve considered implementing different software solutions, but are overwhelmed with all of the options and price points. By taking the time to consider your business’s needs and comparing your options, you can make a decision that’s right for your company.
Finding The Best Small Business Software for Your Needs
When you analyze your business processes, you’ll probably find areas that need improvement. A crucial question to ask during this analysis is how small business management software will improve your processes. When you are confident you have an answer, you can use that to choose from the categories below.
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Bookkeeping and Accounting Tools and Software
Accounting is said to be the language of business. Before the mainstream use of computers, companies had to book all accounting transactions manually. They didn’t even have spreadsheets available to help reconcile the accounts!
Today, accounting systems are robust and streamlined. In fact, accounting processes that used to take days to process requires only a few seconds with a software solution.
Quickbooks from Intuit is the standard for accounting software. However, business owners have more choices, with vendors taking market share from the company.
Although Quickbooks is a great choice, it has functionality that might not be necessary for smaller companies. When evaluating choices, list the functions that your business needs. This will help you determine which software and package to choose.
The accounting software industry is competitive, which translates to price-cutting initiatives by the vendors. Accounting software used to cost companies hundreds of dollars where today, monthly subscriptions can be as low as $7. In fact, one of the options that made our list is free for accounting functions.
Our Top Choices
- Quickbooks by Intuit – It’s hard to go wrong with this industry leader.
- Wave – This package made our list as it offers basic accounting features for free.
- FreshBooks – This solution caters to freelancers, but has advanced options available.
- Xero -The strength of this package lies with its invoicing functionality.
- Kashoo – This software is affordable and robust.
Website Development Software and Tools
Much has changed in the website software development world, where it’s easier than ever for non-technical people to create websites. This is welcome news for small business owners.
When creating a website, you’ll need to decide whether to use a hosting company or a website builder. The advantage of self-hosting with a company is you have control of what you put on the platform. The disadvantage is that there’s more work involved that you’ll need to manage or hire experts to handle for you.
On the other hand, website builder software options can be quite easy to use. Typically, it consists of drag-and-drop frameworks, so you don’t need website design experience to utilize them.
The major disadvantage is the lack of control. If these providers change the rules, it could derail your business. For example, some website builders discourage the use of affiliate links. If this is your primary business model, it could leave your business in a state of flux.
Our Top Choices
- Wix – A growing leader in the website builder category of software.
- Squarespace – This is a lesser-known, but robust website builder for small businesses.
- GoDaddy – This provider has options for hosting, website building, and marketing (limited) of websites.
- WordPress.org – WordPress is widely considered the best option for self-hosting websites. WordPress.com is the hosted version.
Marketing and Public Relation Tools and Software
With the growing number of websites, it’s getting more challenging for small businesses to get noticed online. In the past, tricking search engines by creating content with express keywords was the means of getting noticed, and it worked.
These days, search engines use artificial intelligence to determine which pages should be featured on first-page search results. These search engines have zero tolerance for tricks.
There are software packages that can help small business owners get the word out. These packages cover several aspects of a marketing campaign. Some of these are complete marketing solutions, while others offer robust email services.
Public relations software can be hard on small business budgets. However, the impact of the campaigns could make the costs worthwhile, depending on how the campaigns are set up. Getting the attention of the media from your announcements goes a long way!
Our Top Choices
- HubSpot Marketing Hub – This solution is considered a growth platform that’s helpful for creating full marketing campaigns.
- PRWeb – This public relations solution can increase search engine visibility and catch the attention of the media.
- Klaviyo – This growth marketing platform integrates with popular eCommerce software. It can be set up to deliver emails based on the past activity of visitors or customers.
Software and Tools for Customer Service and Client Management
Maintaining customer relationships is crucial for any business, regardless of the company size. When you can address customer concerns, they’ll appreciate it, even if they aren’t always vocal about it. Unfortunately, failing to address their concerns can lead to poor reviews, or losing them as customers altogether.
Tracking customers’ complaints and requests not only allows you to address them, but also gives you insight into problem areas. When you have data on your customer interactions, you can set up reports that alert you of patterns that must be addressed. Ultimately, knowledge leads to better decision-making for businesses.
Several customer service solutions offer functions for managing customers or clients. For instance, to reduce the occurrence of live support calls, knowledge base applications can provide fast answers. More solutions are providing live chat into the services as well.
Our Top Choices
- Zendesk – This popular suite of software tools is one of the most popular choices for businesses.
- Freshdesk – This solution supports omnichannel access and is used by over 150,000 businesses.
- amoCRM – The company offers a messenger solutions that helps businesses connect with clients. It allows businesses to create chatbots without coding.
Best Tools and Software for Team-Based Communication
Cloud computing gives businesses the ability to share information and data with real-time updates. There’s no longer any need to wait for one person to close a document before others can access it.
In addition, trying to coordinate changes in different versions of documents has become an activity for the history books. It follows suit that team-based communications solutions emerged when cloud-computing went mainstream.
Workflow is no longer a laborious process. Salespeople don’t need to wait to receive notifications via email that a manager viewed and approved a critical task. The manager can now update it live, and the salespeople can proceed. Supply chains are more efficient due to the instant communications associated with these solutions.
It pays to define your workflows before choosing a solution. When you know what they are before selecting a platform, you’ll be less likely to select a solution that doesn’t fit your needs. It’s unlikely to find a solution that can address every aspect of your operations, but try to get as close as you can.
Our Top Choices
- Slack – This team communication solution is known for its integration with other productivity tools.
- Monday.com – This site is geared towards project management but has team communication features.
- Blink – When you want everyone on your team to be on the same page, you can use Blink to accomplish this.
Project Management Small Business Tools and Software
When your team is clear on their responsibilities, you’ll be on track to get your projects completed on time and within your budget. While sophisticated solutions exist for larger companies, they carry hefty price tags. Small business owners want project management features that work with their operations, and while not as robust, they won’t break the bank.
As with most software tools, it’s helpful to list the features you desire for your project management tasks. When you do this, you can simply match that as much as possible to software solutions available.
Solopreneurs may not need collaborative project management features. It’s possible to use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel for tracking projects. However, as your business grows and you hire employees, having a more robust system in place will save you time. These employees may be already familiar with some or all of the tools listed below.
Our Top Choices
- Trello – Modeled after Kanban boards, the Japanese productivity tool, this solution offers integration with other tools.
- Asana – Project management and collaboration software that prides itself on being easy to learn.
- Monday.com – This is another project management software for small business owners that can be customized to fit your needs.
Focus and Productivity Tools for Small Businesses
How many times do you or your employees get distracted during the workday? Most likely, it’s more than you care to admit. To reduce these distractions, you can invest in software tools to help you and your team be more productive.
When you want to increase productivity, you can use time management software to stay focused. These packages can capture the activities of your teams and analyze the reports generated. Some employers (and employees) may feel this is invasive. If so, this class of software can still prove useful in timing employees for their own analysis without reporting to management.
Time management software can take some time to get used to. However, once you are used to it, you’ll learn where your time is being allocated and can make improvements accordingly. For instance, some time management tools can disable and block programs, so that you aren’t tempted to surf the Internet while working.
Our Top Choices
- Time Doctor – Supports remote usage via smart devices. It integrates with project management or team collaboration software.
- Timecamp – A free time management software tool for individuals. Team modules are available for a fee.
- Focus at Will – Certain music is supposed to help increase concentration, which is what this service is about. It provides playlists to enhance concentration.
Payroll and Employee Management Software
Payroll is a function that employers must handle with care. It’s crucial to get this process right, as mistakes can be costly. Luckily, there are payroll software programs available that are both free and paid.
For example, you might choose a software service that files your taxes for you and provides year-end reports. Of course, high-end software companies provide these services at a cost. However, these companies ensure that filings are submitted by government entities’ due dates.
Essentially, if these payroll and benefits services don’t file for you on time, they’ll pay for any penalties charged by the government entities. They’ll also resolve the filings. Due to this example, we recommend paid payroll software, because you’ll get access to more options.
Our Top Choices
- QuickBooks Payroll – Intuit offers a monthly payroll service with a tax penalty guarantee with a tiered pricing structure.
- Gusto – This is a payroll management and benefits system. There’s no indication of a tax penalty guarantee, however.
- Paychex – The solution offers payroll and HR management functionality. The pricing is based on the number of employees.
Best Software for Human Resources and Recruiting
Human Resources (HR) play a crucial role in any organization. The HR team is responsible for hiring and benefits management. They also must ensure compliance on the legal end for employees of an organization. HR duties can be complicated, and software is available that can provide HR solutions.
The features of these packages will vary based on what vendors choose to offer. When selecting a package for your organization, list the functions that you will need for your HR management. They typically include onboarding employees and performance reviews, integration with job listing websites, time tracking and attendance, and benefits management. For smaller companies, HR may handle payroll, too.
Many of the functions for HR software for small business may be overkill for freelancers and solopreneurs. However, if a small business has growth projections of hiring new employees, these functions will be ready when employees start.
Our Top Choices
- ClearCompany – The company touts itself as a total talent management solution with core functions, including performance, onboarding, and applicant tracking.
- Paychex – This tool is for its payroll management, but also has support for time management, onboarding, and benefits.
- Zenefits – This software has core HR functions, including onboarding and time scheduling. The higher tiers offer compensation functions and performance management.
Tools and Software for Documentation Management
If you struggle to locate necessary business documents, you may benefit from a document management system (DMS). Whether you want to search for digital documents or scanned images of documents, a DMS system may be the answer.
The pricing for this software is usually determined by the number of users and the amount of storage needed. Typically, you’ll want to concentrate on providers that are cloud-based. The disadvantage of cloud storage is that you may be storing sensitive information that could be subject to hacking. That is a serious consideration in today’s world in which hacking is so prevalent.
Before choosing a company, analyze the needs of your company regarding the number of documents you’ll need to store. Try to project future capacity. This may not seem like an important exercise when using cloud-based services. However, you may find that using an internal system could be helpful if your document storage needs aren’t extensive.
Our Top Choices
- Evernote – Although not officially considered a document management system, it could work for small businesses. Cloud-based and desktop versions are available with syncing.
- eFileCabinet – Both on-premise storage and cloud-based solutions available. This solution will grow with your business.
- Zoho Docs – Offers solutions for individuals and teams. The software creates a virtual drive for easy access.
Best Tools and Software for Tax Preparation
Small business tax preparation software isn’t as easy to find as other software categories mentioned in this article. Taxes for businesses are complicated when compared to individual tax returns. Therefore, software vendors must believe that most businesses will elect to use the services of an accountant.
The type of business that you formed complicates the issue. For instance, if you’re a sole proprietor, you can probably use individual tax return software like TurboTax from Intuit. An article in The Balance SMB, illustrates the choices and the complications that arise with the different types of company formations.
The article also suggests three software packages that could be used based on different scenarios. These will be included for reference in our list, but it’s worthwhile reading the article before choosing a package. If you have an accountant for your business, you may benefit from discussing software options with them as well.
Our Top Choices
- TurboTax Home and Business Editions – Supports W2 and 1099 forms for employees and contractors.
- TaxAct – According to the Balance SMB article, there’s no support for W2 and 1099 forms.
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Why Use the Latest and Greatest Software for your Small Business?
One of the greatest motivations to purchase software is that your competitors are already doing so, or they will soon. Another factor is that when technology is integrated correctly, you’ll have better control over your business processes. You’ll have quicker access to critical information to make better decisions.
Software can often handle mundane, complicated procedures faster than humans can. Plus, it frees up employees to handle other tasks that require a human to perform them.
For example, when your marketing team is spending time automating their processes, they’ll spend less time on attracting new customers. Even software developers can gain productive benefits from software that makes their development efforts easier.
Still, utilizing software for the sake of having it will likely hinder productivity more than help. However, if you’re convinced that having software will help your processes, you should prepare for implementation. This can be disruptive in the short-term, which is why it’s important to be prepared.
When new technology is introduced, employees may resist initially. It causes fear that those technologies will replace their jobs. It takes time to learn new technologies, and that can cause frustration.
Over time, employees get used to the new technology and find that it does indeed make their jobs easier. This improves their productivity and keeps your company in the game and gives you an advantage over your competitors.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will all the software that is needed for small businesses integrate easily?
The problem of software integration has existed since software solutions have emerged. Unless software vendors have a specific reason to integrate solutions, it isn’t likely to happen. Software created for small businesses is often written by small software companies. These companies may not have the expertise, resources, or financial incentives to offer complete integration packages.
Are there experts who can coordinate all the different software packages?
There’s a group of technologists who call themselves system integrators. These companies or individuals aim to either find various types of software that integrate well together. Or, they create custom bridges to help subsystems all play nice together. Unfortunately, these systems integrators charge fees that are beyond the budgets of most small businesses.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.