While starting a business can be daunting, for small businesses it’s even harder. Limited manpower, finances and time can seriously scupper your plans. With bills flooding in and operational demand outstripping supply, it’s no surprise that so many small business fail.
Luckily, the software market is saturated with tools designed to help small businesses; the hard part is choosing the right ones. To help you along, we’ve put together our choice of small business software – from streamlining communications and project management, through to managing time and taxes.
Effective communication is just as important in business as it is in your personal life, and streamlining it brings a world of benefit. Small businesses are blessed in this sense, since day-to-day operation shouldn’t involve too many channels of communication. But as your clients, suppliers, employees and contractors grow, you need to be able to manage multiple projects and interests quickly without overlooking a single detail.
Enter Slack – an instant messaging platform that lets your team communicate, share files and quickly search their message history. It’s become the industry standard for start-ups and small teams for good reason – it’s light-weight, simple and super easy to use. Remote teams in different time zones can quickly catch-up on new project developments, with notifications and colleague tagging making it easy to keep communication fluid and accountable.
Good time management is essential to every successful small business. Aside from improving productivity and self-management, it ensures you bill clients accurately for all your work. But no one likes time tracking – it’s fiddly, time intensive and interrupts your flow. Thankfully, there’s a new way of tracking time, and it’s completely automated.
AI-powered apps like Timely can now capture everything for you while you work; you don’t have to consciously think about time tracking at all. By tracking every detail, they help business owners unlock valuable insights: you can identify struggling processes, see how long project phases take, estimate and price work for a guaranteed profitable return and optimize workflows. It also means all your business efforts are accounted for – both billable and non-billable – allowing you to stay in control of how your time is spent.
While collaboration is key to every successful business, it can be one of the hardest features to nail. Client feedback, individual tasks and group projects all depend on effortless coordination, but it’s an unwieldy mixture of competing inputs. The answer? Invest in a robust single platform for all file sharing and task communication.
If you’re able to streamline all forms of task communication – be it email, instant messaging, phone, or via the site itself – through a single system then you’re winning. Any decent communication app should allow you to create different channels for projects to easily share documents, files and notes with members of that team. GoogleSuite offers a comprehensive cloud-based package for business, allowing colleagues to communicate and collaborate in real-time from anywhere in the world. It’s also highly secure, with two-factor authentication and encryption at rest and during transfers.
Realistically, if you’re going to succeed as a business, your customers will be at the centre of everything you do. You need to be able to respond quickly and meaningfully to all your customers’ needs, from requests and suggestions, to complaints and praise – and act proactively to anticipate needs before they occur. As before, a single flow for all of this customer support makes your life much easier.
Intercom is leading the field when it comes to customer connectivity, acting as an all-in-one lead acquisition, sales, marketing, customer support and CRM solution. It’s three-part platform lets you set up automated email flows to manage different user segments, systematically respond to in-app or in-web customer support queries, and create resources to educate and inform customers. As your user base grows, you can use helpful automation to keep customers happy without overwhelming your staff.
Now for that unending list of projects and tasks. It’s easy for small buisnesses to lose sight of the bigger picture by becoming fixated on the tiny details – so project management tools are a must. One of the most popular is the “digital whiteboard” Trello, which lets you brainstorm ideas, store “to-dos” in one accessible location, and arrange tasks according to priority.
Simplicity is definitely Trello’s winning feature, but dig a little deeper and you’ll soon appreciate just how powerful and versatile the tool can be. Beyond color-coded task lists, you can leave notes, amend briefs and deadlines, collaborate with other team members and ensure that all project revisions are observed and acknowledged. As a highly visual app, Trello is an easy yet effective way to handle project management.
Keeping on-track of budgets, invoices and payments can be exhausting – particularly if you haven’t had much experience with bookkeeping before. If you’re someone who struggles with numbers, meticulously tracking figures – let alone understanding the differences between personal and business taxes – can be overwhelming. But the cleaner your financial processes are from the start, the simpler they’ll be to manage down the line.
Happily, there is a ton of small business accounting software. QuickBooks Online is one of the most popular, enabling you to track expenses, send out invoices on time and (very importantly!) pay your taxes. Tracking all finances – even that cup of coffee you expensed during a business meeting – is essential if you want to ensure every transaction is accounted for. From financial reports tailored to your business’ requirements to payroll processing and getting paid online, QuickBooks is one of the most comprehensive accounting tools around.
Try before you buy
Before you jump into investing in any software, always give it a full test drive. Don’t just rely on reviews and recommendations alone – you need to physically have a go at using each tool to ensure it fits naturally into your workflow and you actually enjoy using it. Any reputable small business software should offer the option of a free trial.
Remember, these tools are here to save you time and money – if they take too much energy to manage or you don’t see any return for your efforts, it’s not worth it.