Probably the most important tool for any Small Business Owner! If you are not tracking at least your income and expenses, tax time becomes a nightmare, not to mention – how do you know how you are doing? A good bookkeeping system will also manage your invoicing and in some cases, will automate that for you if you have reoccurring charges! Bookkeeping software doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, you can get by with an Excel Spreadsheet for instance. My advice with any software, however, is to think about your future plans and your growth for your company. Moving bookkeeping systems when you have lots of transactions already entered is time-consuming and complicated especially when moving from a manual based system like Excel. Also, think about whether cloud-based or desktop solutions are right for you. My top pics for cloud-based software, designed with Small Businesses in mind are Quickbooks Online, Wave Accounting, Xero, and Sage One.
Customer Relationship Management Systems are where you hold all of your customer and potential customer information. They come in all different shapes and sizes (and costs) and can do many different tasks. Choosing a CRM is, in my opinion, the toughest software decision to make. As with the bookkeeping system, it pays to choose a system that will grow with you, but it’s also hard at the early stages of business to fully understand your needs. The primary function of a CRM is to provide you with a tool that allows you to communicate easily with your existing clients and those that have shown interest in your products or services but have not yet purchased from you. Sending information to your customers and following up in a timely manner is key to driving growth in your business and the right CRM can not only help with this but also save you time and money by automating much of your follow up process. CRM’s can also perform many other functions, such as managing sales funnels, providing critical sales data, managing E-mail campaigns, Project Management, Invoicing & Bookkeeping and Contract Management to name but a few. A few of my favs for small business are Dubsado, Agile, and Timely
Social Media Tools
If you are in business, you need to have a Social Media presence. From building your brand and reputation to communicating with customers and creating Super Fans, Social Media is a critical part of any business marketing plan. The sheer number of social media marketing tools available make this a difficult choice for business owners, however, unlike the previous categories, it is very easy to move between social media platforms if you don’t gel with your existing platform. Key tools to look out for in a platform are the ability to schedule or queue your social media and have it post automatically to your platforms. A system that can “listen” or monitor responses from your audience is a good advantage, as well as one that can help generate content ideas. My recommendations are E-clincher, Post Planner, and Social Pilot.
From writing letters to creating marketing materials, all small businesses need some kind of document creation software. If you have the budget I always recommend that you get your key marketing materials produced by a qualified Graphic Designer to ensure brand continuity. That said, not every business is in a position to do that so having tools available that can help you with document creation is necessary. The Microsoft Office suite of tools is probably the most popular and widely used option and gives you everything you need for Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Desktop Publishing, but it does have a steep learning curve f you are a beginner. Canva is a great tool for creating marketing materials and social media posts and is much easier to learn with plenty of tutorials and help available. If you already have your business e-mail running through Google, then you have access to Google’s take on Document Tools with Google Docs.
You know when you wake up in the night with an epiphany, or when you have a genius moment in the shower? You need a place to store those thoughts until they can be developed. The trouble is that usually, those thoughts happen when you are away from your notepad or computer, so it’s essential to have note taking software that you can take on the go, i.e on your phone or tablet. As with most modern software thought, note taking apps are so much more that just a place to store ideas. Many have the ability to integrate with other applications and allow the automation of certain tasks. From helping you to plan out your social media to storing key business information, processes and ideas, note taking software has become a key tool to small business owners. Evernote, OneNote, and Trello are probably the biggest players in this field right now and I have used and loved all three!
From client projects to in-house projects, managing the individual tasks and deadlines that make these up has become a complicated process. Knowing which part of the project is due next, what your time restraints are, who is involved, and what the costs are, along with many other details can be hard to keep track of. Note taking apps are generally not robust enough to keep you on time and budget when it comes to large projects so it may be that a larger project management application is required. Some CRM systems come with Project Management Built in and some Project Management Tools can double as a CRM. There are also standalone Project Management Tools that are easy to move between until you find one that suits your needs. As always, budget plays a role and often you get what you pay for in this category. Great costs effective tools for small business, includes Asana, Basecamp, Zoho Projects and Trello. With a little bit if work in setting up correctly, Evernote and One Note can also be used as effective project management tools.
Every business owner needs an effective way to communicate with staff, teams, and customers. With more people being mobile, it is essential to be able to communicate “on the go” and many prefer the option of instant messaging for quick questions and decision making answers to be able to move on immediately with tasks. Probably the most widely used Instant Messenger application outside of Facebook Messenger is Skype. Skype is downloadable on any cell phone and tablet as well as Mac’s and PC’s. It is a better option than Facebook Messenger as it is more secure and the notifications from people who are not your Facebook Friend, don’t tend to get lost. You can send documents through skype as well as host video meetings with multiple people. Hot on Skypes heals is Slack which is becoming a preferred communication tool amongst teams. Zoom Web Conferencing also has an instant messaging feature that works well.
Whether or not you are comfortable with software applications, it is the way of the world and many will choose to do business with you or work for you based on how easy you make it to do so. These 7 types of essential tools are a great starting point to bring your technology, systems, and processes into the 21st Century! Bear in mind though that there are no one stop shop solutions for business software and all of the solutions out there have different pro’s and cons dependant on your individual business needs.
If you need help choosing technology solutions for your Small Business, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can work together to find a fit for you!