Technology has changed everything from the way consumers buy and research goods and services, to how we as business owners engage and market our business. We know that technology can be effective for improving productivity, but with all the choices it can be difficult to know what one 'really' needs.
After 10 years as an entrepreneur I've used various technologies. Here is my list of must-haves for any SMB owner.
Spreadsheets and bank account statements alone will not cut it as a business owner. Yes, I keep an eye on what's in the bank and I use excel to help me calculate projection scenarios, but at the end of the day you need more.
Here are my four recommendations for accounting software:
I've used QuickBooks for nearly 10 years. It comes with all the necessary accounting features for all types of SMBs, including freelancers, consultants, online merchants, store and restaurant owners, and service providers.
The base package starts at $9.99, though most users will need a higher-priced package. Personally, I found that QuickBooks generally offers more functionality than I needed, making the platform a bit cumbersome.
This cloud-based software touts itself as a "simple and intuitive" accounting system. If you like having the flexibility of accounting on mobile devices, the FreshBooks app is a good one, though reporting on the app may not be as good as on a PC.
While pricing starts at $9.95, most entrepreneurs will find that the $ $29.95 will be a better fit allowing for unlimited number of clients, project management, team capabilities and access for one additional staff member.
If you have a small business you don't need a complicated pricy accounting software. ZohoBooks offers all you need to: create and send invoices, track expenses, sync to your bank account and create reports.
At $24 a month, the price is a little higher than the basic versions of Quickbooks and FreshBooks, but the basic versions of those two packages limits users, transactions and capabilities.
Wave Accounting is a free cloud software that is good for micro-businesses just starting out. It has less functionality, however if you are just starting your business this may be all you need. If you want customer service help, you will need to pay for that service. This platform also doesn't have a mobile app, but if you primarily work from a pc you should be fine.
There is no excuse not to have website. There are multiple options to fit any budget or need. From do-it-yourself, to edit-yourself, to built-to-suit. Below, I'm breaking down your options.
If you don't have the money for a designer, but need a website consider one of these options. They are designed for a novice looking to develop their own site. There will be less functionality than with a WordPress site, but the price tag is more budget-friendly.
Wix is a popular do-it-yourself website builder. Also ranked as PC Magazine top pick. This is a great first step into getting something up on the web.
A competitor of Wix, Squarespace lets you build a modern, beautiful, responsive website for desktop and mobile and offers the potential for full-scale ecommerce.A popular do-it-yourself website builder. Also ranked as PC Magazine top pick. This is a great first step into getting something up on the web.A popular do-it-yourself website builder. Also ranked as PC Magazine top pick. This is a great first step into getting something up on the web.A popular do-it-yourself website builder. Also ranked as PC Magazine top pick. This is a great first step into getting something up on the web.
Are you a product-based business looking to sell from a web page, email, social media, even your phone? Well, Shopify is a starter platform for you.
A WordPress site is a good middle ground between the do-it-yourself and a site developed from the ground-up. If you are technical you may be able to develop your WordPress site on your own. Otherwise, consider having your developer create your site using a WordPress Theme that makes updates user-friendly.
Being in control of your website is important so that you can make changes without always calling a developer. It's important to not leave your site static. Not only is this a negative for visitors, it a bad mark when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization).
Here are a few edit-friendly WordPress themes:
I recently began using Thrive Themes which is a subscription model. While I pay more for the subscription than I would with a traditional theme alone, I get frequent updates and plug-ins that help with conversations on my website. The ease of use also helped me save on developer costs since I built all the back pages and landing pages on my website.
While not quite as intuitive at ThriveThemes, Divi can be edited with limited technical knowledge. I too have used Divi and find it easy to edit. While I prefer ThriveThemes, at a cost of $200 less, Divi is attractive for those on a tight budget.
If you are looking for a one-stop-shop to have your site built and hosted, GoDaddy may be a good option. The have created their own themes for WordPress, but you can't beat the round-the-clock customer service they provide.
Having a developer design a website from the ground-up in not cheap, nor fast. However, if you have a complicated selling process and are highly e-commerce, being built from scratch makes sense.
Sending one-off emails to your clients is ok, but sending out a large group of emails without the option for the receiver to opt-out is spam and illegal. With privacy laws you need to have an email service in-place. Email providers can also help you develop relationships.
Did you know that 75% of people who first engage with your brand are not ready to make a purchase? Email marketing is the best option for building the 'know, like and trust' that you need to convert a lead to a customer. Email marketing will not only help you do this, you can set up automations and drip campaigns so your email marketing is working while your busy on other areas of your business.
Here are three brands that I have used:
This is one of the more popular email service providers. It is easy to set up and easy to use. If you are a small business looking to get started with email marketing with the least amount of fuss, MailChimp is the right tool.
With more marketing features that MailChimp, ActiveCampaigns provides sophisticated automation series. This is a great option for those wanting to set different email series for difference audiences. I'm currently using this system and find it relatively easy to use, however I wish they had more online tutorials.
A less expensive option than the others, Constant Contact has been around for years. I used it for more than five years and found it to be easy to use, but glitchy. While you will find Constant Contact provides less functionality than those listed above, it's price may be attractive for those just getting started with an email platform.
A CRM system is not just for big businesses. It's just as important for small business owners to keep record of their interactions with customers. As mentioned above most customers will not buy from you on your first interaction. Keeping a CRM system will not only help you manage customer relationships, it will also provide you intelligence on your sales process.
Here are a few CRM systems developed with the small business owner in mind.
Zoho products are all specially made for small business owners. Their CRM system is a PC Magazine top pick. This system is both intuitive and affordable making is attractive for small to medium-sized businesses.
Another top pick for PC Magazine, Insightly is best suited for the sole proprietor, however it does come with some team features. It is both attractive and affordable.
If flexibility is as important as price Appitivo is for you.
I would be remiss not to mention SalesForce since it is the first CRM system that comes to mind most often. If you have a sales force and a more traditional business model you won't find a more mature, robust, highly customizable CRM platform for your business.
There will be other tools you will find that help you stay organize and be more productive, however for almost every business, the above tools are a necessity just to get you started.