The right tools can help streamline and improve your business operations. These days, there are many free or low-cost apps and software to help with everything from marketing to money management. Here are our top picks.
One of the best ways to advertise your business is through online directories. Google research has found that four out of five people surveyed used search engines to find businesses, so you want to be represented on as many sites as possible. Simply visit these directories and add or claim your business-for free!
For more, visit The Ultimate List: 57 Online Local Business Directories from the HubSpot Blog.
Data analytics is the use of techniques and predictive models to gain valuable knowledge from data. The insights from data are used to recommend action or to guide decision making in business. It sounds complex and expensive to launch an analytics program but that’s not true anymore. Here are two platforms to turn your data into easily digestible information.
- Google Analytics is a valuable tool to help business owners understand their online traffic and audience. Small business expert Neil Patel has written an article to help you use the platform wisely: 11 Ways You Can Improve Your Business With Google Analytics.
- The kissmetrics app helps you understand customer behavior across devices so you know what customers are doing, what’s working, and what’s not. Key insights are surfaced and you can leverage ready-to-go reports with the analytics you need to make better marketing decisions. You can also access all your data anytime, without limits.
WordPress is what we use for the SmartBiz Small Business Blog so it’s our #1 and only recommendation. Check out our blog here – we think it’s beautiful and it’s relatively simple to use once you get set up. The software was designed for everyone, with a focus on accessibility, performance, security, and ease of use. With minimum set up, you can focus on sharing your story, product, or services.
Ready to blog? The SmartBiz blog has a thorough article to help you get started: Develop a Blog Strategy for Your Small Business.
As you travel through the business lifecycle, , it’s a great idea to consult with professionals who have been there before. Here are a few resources:
- The Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) – a comprehensive small business assistance network. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities, colleges, state economic development agencies and private partners. There are nearly 1,000 local centers available to provide no-cost business consulting and low-cost training to new and existing businesses. Best of all, many of their services are free. Search by zip code to find your local SBDC here.
- SCORE is the nation's largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors and have assisted more than 11 million small business owners since 1964. You can find your local chapter on the SCORE website here.
If you’re ready to expand, outside funding can help. Proceeds from a loan or other sources can be used for business building initiatives like hiring, equipment or inventory, marketing, or debt consolidation, depending on the lender. Here are a few options to explore.
- Crowdfunding is basically using a little bit of money from a large amount of people to launch or strengthen your business. You can crowdfund through friends, family, or even strangers online with platforms like GoFundMe or Kickstarter. However, getting a business funded successfully through crowdfunding isn’t a slam dunk. There are other negatives to this strategy including administrative hassles and unwanted publicity, among others. If you have strong financials and good credit scores, a traditional loan is the way to go.
- SBA Loans are known as the “gold standard” in small business financing with low rates, long terms, and very low monthly payments. You’ll need to be in business for 2+ years and have good credit to qualify. The SmartBiz online marketplace matches you with the bank most likely to approve your loan so you won’t waste valuable time going from bank to bank. Pre-qualify for a business loan up to $350,000 in 5 minutes here.
- Bank term loans are issued by banks and are typically a fixed-rate loan repaid with equal monthly payments. These loans usually have shorter terms than an SBA loan and are designed for business owners who need funds faster than other options. Lenders will want to see financial documents proving that you can support the loan payments for the life of the loan. Credit scores are key. You’ll get lower rates, longer terms, and a larger loan amount if you’re seen as a low-risk borrower.
- Accounts receivable credit lines are another option if you’re not quite ready for a loan. An accounts receivable credit line can shore up your cash flow or fund business building initiatives. You’ll need to demonstrate that you have solid invoicing and collections practices in place, strong business financials, positive cash flow, and established business credit. Additionally, your customers must be “low risk”, meaning they have strong commercial credit.
Internal communication is key, especially if your employees work remotely or operate out of separate locations. Here are two very popular apps to keep your team connected.
- Asana - The SmartBiz Loans sales and marketing teams use this web and mobile app to manage and track projects. It keeps the stakeholders informed and helps to meet deadlines and goals.
- Slack – SmartBiz also uses Slack, a real-time messaging and collaboration tool for teams. In our fast-paced office, employees can get the information and answers they need to swiftly assist customers and complete projects.
Businesses need to pay attention to their bottom line to stay financially healthy and expand. However, account reconciliations and expense tracking can be a drain on resources and your sanity. Here are two apps that simplify financial tasks.
- The Xero accounting app allows you to perform key functions like managing invoices, viewing accounts, uploading receipts, and tracking expenses via your tablet. Xero also offers automatic bank reconciliation that instantly imports your credit card, PayPal, and bank transactions through a single dashboard. Save yourself from mundane paperwork by using their time-saving tools like recurring invoices, convenient batch payments and automatic update of payroll information.
- “Hate accounting? Love Brightbook.” This is how Brightbook, a free online bookkeeping system, describes itself for freelancers, contractors, and small businesses. From the moment you login, you can immediately see where you stand; who owes you money, who you owe money to and what your cashflow is. Online review site Cloudwards outlines two weaknesses. Brightbook is lacking many advanced functions and there are no bank feeds. Get more details about the pros and cons from Cloudwards here.
In today’s day and age, it is imperative that your employees have necessary information available at their fingertips. Dropbox offers the most versatile file sharing solution that also facilitates real-time communication among team members. It provides a secure platform for storing, accessing and sharing crucial documents such as invoices, leases, policies, contracts, videos, photos and SOPs by simply using your tablet or smartphone. The SmartBiz marketing and social media teams use Dropbox to organize content. It’s easy and effective.
There are a lot of time management apps out there but Evernote comes out on top. Evernote is a place to record and save all notes, photos, thoughts, and anything else you can upload. Everything is saved in the cloud so your data can be accessed from your phone, computer or tablet. The basic app is free and includes key features like task lists, idea sharing and synching.
The MyMinutes app is a personal time management app for iPhones and Android that’s perfect for the person who can’t stay focused on tasks throughout the day. Wasting too much time on Facebook or surfing the web? My Minutes helps set time limits. Use the app to set a goal (for example, “Spend 30 minutes writing proposal”) and you’ll get an alert when the time is up. Also included are daily starters, running notifications, and motivational streaks that build up as you reach a goal.