Updated Sept 2020


Success is often a series of choices that you make—both in life and in business.

For instance, when you’re a small business trying to spread your wings, the quality of software that you choose today determines your chances of success tomorrow.

Metaphorically speaking, growing your business is the same as building a house.

Every brick you lay is critical to the strength of your foundation—even if it feels like only one insignificant brick.

Choosing a new software to run your business is similar. It’s actually a lot like recruiting new talents in your small business—the quality of the first 10 hires will set the tone for the new ones.

But there’s one thing that most small business owners forget when they’re shopping around for software. This one consideration can save you both money and time down the road, especially if you plan to be in this business for a very long time.

We’ll get into that in the next section. First, let’s set the agenda.

In this post, we’ll cover the following topics in detail:


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The importance of choosing the right software for a small business

Choosing the right kind of software comes with its own set of challenges—especially when you’re a young company.

In the world of software, it’s more difficult to omit than to commit. Most software packages for businesses are marketed to look like they can “take your business to the next level.”

But if you fall for the temptation of buying every new software to run your business, you will soon have the problem of plenty. Pretty quickly, that will cause you plenty of problems in terms of cost, maintenance, and time.

When you’re trying to fill your small business needs, choose a software program that saves you time and cost by doing multiple things well and automating your business processes.

If you have the choice between choices A and B below, which one would you choose?

A: Paying for one tool for video conferencing, one tool for team messaging, a phone service, and another tool for file sharing

B: Paying for one tool that has video conferencing, team messaging, a phone service, and file sharing built in

If you’re like most businesses, B makes more sense. Even if all of the tools in choice A are cheaper, once you add them all up, they may end up costing you more than the one tool in choice B. And then you have to think about the amount of time and training you and your team would have to put in to learn to use all the different tools, switching between them every day, and so on… 

💡 Pro-tip: 

When you’re shopping for small business software, look beyond just the price. Take a good look at everything you know your business will need, and see if you can streamline the amount of software you have to buy.

Alternatively, you could also choose your small business technology based on what gives you the best return on investment (ROI).

Calculating the ROI of software is actually pretty straightforward. Typically, you just need to compare the goal that software yields within a given time, subtract the cost you’re investing on that software, and divide the resulting number by the cost again.

Let’s try an example to understand this better.

Say your business pays $200 per year for an email newsletter software. If the software helps you attract new customers who end up paying you a total of $500 within the same year, here’s the formula that can help you calculate its ROI:

software investment ROI calculation

When you represent that ROI as a percentage, it comes out to 150%—which means the email newsletter software did pretty well for your business!

Software integration is another important feature because it extends the value of one product beyond its limited offering. Without geeking out on the technicalities of integrations, just imagine it to be a way through which one software “talks” to another.

For instance, Gmail’s integration with RingCentral makes it easy for you to call and start a video meeting with someone directly from within your email inbox—which ultimately could be timesaver for you:

google calendar's integration with ringcentral

And we aren’t saying this just because RingCentral integrates with a bunch of other software. We did some research and surveyed business teams on how they feel about using 10 different tools vs an integrated solution.

Here are a few things that stood out in our findings:

  • 69% of employees waste an hour of their day switching between apps.
  • Businesses lose up to $ 5,000,000 in annual revenue because of poor integrations.
  • Nearly 66% of professionals prefer a single platform to communicate.
  • Integrated platforms increase employee productivity by 51%.

And the fact that more remote work has grown by 44% in the last five years makes it more urgent for businesses to adopt software programs that unify the communication across their distributed teams, rather than fragment them apart.


What types of software do I need for a small business?

Business teams today are not an island—they don’t huddle around in groups under the same roof anymore.

They are more like an archipelago, distributed teams of people connected to each other through figurative bridges, interconnecting highways, and underwater tunnels.

The software you choose should fulfill the roles of these connecting devices, enabling your teams to exchange data and ideas seamlessly without them having to scatter their brains across different pieces of standalone software.

For software to be able to do that, it either needs to be a unified platform that has all the capabilities for a business team or it needs to play well with other software you’re already using.

In terms of categories, here are the must-have software that can really help small businesses grow. We chose this list based on the most common scenarios that a small business would face daily and the types of things it would need to do to keep the business running:

  1. A document management software to help your teams be more productive and collaborate closely
  2. A marketing tool to market your brand to the right audience and acquire more customers
  3. A sales enablement software to follow up with your customers or clients and get them to buy from you
  4. A customer service tool to automate your customer support and retain more customers
  5. An accounting software to track your spending and earnings and to simplify your tax hassles
  6. A project management or task management tool to stay on top of to-dos and organize work
💡 Pro-tip: 

You can add more categories to the list, but remember—the bigger your software stack, the thinner your team’s ability to keep up with everything.

Technology is always an enabler of efficiency, but efficiency will fall flat on its face if the enabling tool becomes too cumbersome for your team.

Once you’ve established what your needs are in terms of choosing the right set software, we can move on to the next big question—what is the “best” small business software?

10 best small business software that cover everything a small business needs

For your reading ease, we’ve categorized the tools by their functions.


Communication

1. RingCentral Office®

One of the biggest things that small businesses need to be able to do is still stay in touch with both internal teams and customers or clients.

And with more and more communication channels being used today, it can be tempting to use one tool for video conferencing, another for messaging, another for a phone service, and so on…

The communication aspect of running a business is actually a huge opportunity—for small businesses in particular—to streamline their tools (and maybe even pay less in monthly subscription fees for software). For example, RingCentral Office is a perfect solution for businesses that want to grow and expand without being limited by geography.

The desktop and mobile app gives you team messaging, video conferencing, and a phone service as core communication options:

Plus you also get screen sharing, file storage and sharing, and even built-in task management:

task management feature in ringcentral

Need to flip a meeting from your phone to computer because you’re on the go? Or want to switch from a phone call to a video call so you can share your screen? You can do that in RingCentral’s app:

flipping a call between devices

 

If you want to be able to run your business from anywhere, from any device, then having an all-in-one communication platform will be key. 

(If you’re in one of those lines of business that still rely heavily on the phone, you can even make use of RingCentral Auto-Receptionist or multi-level IVR aka. interactive voice response features to automate your call handling and greetings when people call your business.)

It’s easy to customize these features based on what you need—set personalized greetings in your phone system, structure the call flows to mimic your real-world processes, or customize your own voicemail.

RingCentral Office starts at $19.99 per user per month and goes up to $49.99 per user per month.

Integration options: RingCentral integrates with a wide variety of apps including Zendesk, Salesforce, Marketo, and Mailchimp!


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Document or file management

2. G Suite apps

G Suite offers a host of products like Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, etc. to help your small business teams become more productive and collaborative.

google drive file sharing app

If you’ve used Microsoft Office 365’s apps before, you can imagine G Suite apps as a more accessible and evolved state of all of the services that Office 365 offers.

For example, you can use G Suite’s word processing app (Google Docs) to create content for your business and have others on your team make real-time corrections.

Or, you can use Google Slides to create visually appealing business presentations to woo your clients.

Built by Google, G Suite apps maintain the simple, clutter-free user interface (UI) and make it super easy even for first-time customers to use its apps without a major learning curve.

💡 Side-note: 

Gmail has other contenders like Microsoft Outlook and Zoho One—but we like G Suite for its overall ease of use and clean UI.

Integration options: G Suite apps integrate with hundreds of apps within Google’s product ecosystem as well with external third-party apps,


Customer support

3. RingCentral Engage Digital™

Over the years, customer service has moved online. People prefer to call, email, chat, or even Tweet their queries to brands instead of visiting them in person.

RingCentral Engage Digital fits the bill perfectly by allowing your brand to engage with your customers in the wild, wild online world.

Essentially, it’s a customer engagement and communication management platform that unifies all your customer touchpoints—website, live chat, email, and social media networks—to respond to customers from a single place:

One neat thing that RingCentral Engage Digital can do is merge your customers’ (and prospects’) different social identities into a single profile so that you can see all your interactions with them across, for example, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. This helps you—and anyone on your team— provide a consistent level of customer service across every channel.

Let’s take another example. Say a customer contacts your brand initially through Facebook and later follows up on the same question through their Twitter handle or WhatsApp number.

RingCentral Engage Digital will consolidate those identities so that you can see that this person has repeated their question (and it’s probably better to answer them sooner rather than later).

Integration options: RingCentral Engage Digital integrates with a bunch of business communication apps, like WhatsApp’s Business Solution, to let brands interact with customers directly through WhatsApp—a quickly growing channel for customers to contact brands.


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4. HappyFox

If you manage a small business with ambitious goals to match the level of customer service that bigger brands are known for, HappyFox can give you a boost.

The nice thing is you don’t even have to be technically adept or have deep pockets. HappyFox is a well-rounded customer service and helpdesk management software—with the added bonus of having a ticket management system:

happyfox customer support tool

HappyFox has a user-friendly interface that lets you speed up your response time and helps you improve your service quality.

Its fantastic mobile device capabilities make it a great customer support tool for remote contact centers who can jump on a customer interaction at any time from anywhere.

On the ticket management front, HappyFox can turn a customer conversation into a support ticket the moment it comes from any channel, like email, live chat, phone, or a website form. This automates your ticket management and speeds up the resolution time drastically.

HappyFox also allows you to manage your support team workflows. For instance, you can use HappyFox to assign a staff to a ticket, monitor their recent ticketing activity, or give them role-based team privileges.

As a helpdesk software company, HappyFox also walks the talk. They have an excellent customer support team that’s on top of responding to each customer questions quickly.

Integration options: HappyFox integrates with over two dozen apps across 14 software categories such as accounting, email marketing, e-commerce, and social media.

🌟 Bonus: HappyFox also integrates with RingCentral, allowing your support team to make inbound as well as outbound calls right from your HappyFox dashboard—without the hassles of switching between multiple browser tabs:

happyfox ringcentral integration

Marketing (website and email)


5. WordPress (website)

WordPress is a brand that needs no introduction, partly because it’s one of the oldest content management systems (since 2003) but mostly because 38% of web pages on the internet are made with WordPress.1

wordpress daashboard

And there are a few reasons why WordPress is so popular—especially among small businesses. It’s free for the most part, highly customizable, and integrates with all kinds of business software.

With WordPress, you can either create a new business website, start a blog, dress up your existing landing pages, run interactive marketing campaigns, or build your own online store.

Let’s break down the cost part first. WordPress itself is a free tool, but that’s just a smart customer acquisition strategy by the software makers.

Realistically speaking, there are many premium costs associated with building a WordPress site like buying a domain name, getting a web hosting plan, buying a website theme, and getting a few plugins.

WordPress is highly customizable because you can choose from thousands of themes and templates to create powerful, high-converting landing pages for your business.

It’s also an open source software, which means you can customize WordPress’ source code to your liking without any risks of legalities or censorship.

Integration options: WordPress has the widest-ranging integration options on this list. As an example, it has over 57,400 plugins (built-in integrations) available in its official plugins directory as of this writing.

WordPress also has a RingCentral plugin that allows you to set up cool stuff like a Call Me widget on your website. When someone visits your appointment booking page created on WordPress, for example, they can use the widget to call you using RingCentral’s RingOut feature directly from your website!

(And if the phone goes unanswered or gets disconnected, RingCentral will save the caller’s details on the admin account for later use.)


6. Mailchimp (email)

Email marketing is a big part of your growth if your marketing goals are to acquire more customers and convert them into repeat buyers.

And Mailchimp is cool for the growing diversity of services it offers—which are no longer just limited to email marketing. (Which, if you remember, we recommend for small businesses that need a streamlined set of tools.)

Mailchimp offers a wide range of email marketing templates, campaign personalization capabilities, customer relationship management (CRM) features, audience segmentation, and website building—all rolled into one:

mailchimp email marketing tool

Mailchimp is exactly the kind of multi-purpose software that growing businesses with a tight marketing budget need.

It’s also easy to use and set up Mailchimp to start running powerful marketing campaigns. For example, if you’ve just started a business blog and you send a new one out to each subscriber through email, you—as an admin—can see who opened, read, or deleted your emails.

That kind of direct feedback loop allows you to differentiate who your highly engaged leads are and run more personalized campaigns for them.

By the same token, you can segment the least engaged people, make changes to your previous marketing strategy, and run an alternative campaign to tap into their needs as well.

While Mailchimp’s UI is very straightforward, its analytics and reporting features are sophisticated and granular.

For example, you can run an A/B testing to see what email copy is likely to get more people to click on the “Buy Now” button and look at the results to tweak your campaign for a better impact next time around.

This lets you absorb all the critical metrics that reflect on your campaign’s performance—without distracting you with a lot of complicated technicalities.

Integration options: Like RingCentral, Mailchimp integrates with scores of different apps across 20 separate categories like marketing, payments, and social media.

Mailchimp’s integration with RingCentral, for example, lets you get updates on your marketing campaigns directly in your RingCentral app. For example, Mailchimp can notify everyone in your marketing team right in your RingCentral group channel every time a new person subscribes to your blog:

mailchimp ringcentral integration


Sales

7. Agile CRM

A CRM software is a must for every small business because it helps you organize your sales processes, keep a tab on important schedules, and automate critical follow-ups. It’s like getting a virtual assistant on auto-pilot—but for sales teams:

agile crm RingCentral integration

Agile CRM is a great sales software that allows you to create reminders, set timelines to contact your prospects, and track important customer conversations within just a few clicks.

Agile CRM’s strength lies in its contact management features, which allow you to organize your prospective clients’ information the way you want to. You can access the customer data at any time and from anywhere—making it easy for your sales team to work more efficiently and close more deals.

You can also create notes for other people in your team to view, set milestones for your team, create projects, assign tasks, and track progress—all from within the Agile CRM’s intuitive dashboard.

If you need some basic marketing capabilities, like creating custom landing pages or setting workflows, Agile CRM does have some of that. But these features are not as great as they would be in a dedicated CMS platform like WordPress.

Integration options: Agile CRM integrates with a lot of marketing, sales, and scheduling software to make it easy for your sales team to add opt-in forms on a web page or schedule appointments.

For example, Agile CRM integrates with RingCentral to allow your sales team staff to call prospects directly from Agile CRM’s contact list, customize your phone number before making calls, take notes on the call, and generate detailed call reports.


Accounting and invoicing

8. Wave Accounting

As a small business owner, you’d need to keep tabs on all your incoming cash flow, forecast expenses, and avoid late payments.

Wave is a financial software that lets you organize all of that in an easy and automated fashion. And unlike the majority of accounting and invoicing software out there, Wave’s no-nonsense UI makes you fall in love with the process of sending and receiving invoices:

wave accounting app

Wave reduces the hassle of manually entering financial data in a spreadsheet or separately scanning and attaching thick wads of receipts to process payments. It also automates your data entry and lets you scan your receipts directly through its app—saving you a ton of time and effort.

For small businesses, Wave is a software tool that can double as your collection department. Instead of personally following up with clients for pending invoices, you can automate the process so that your clients get reminders on or before the scheduled payment date.

One of the best things about Wave is that it’s easy to set up and use. For example, you can easily integrate Wave with your payroll software to manage employee salaries or simplify tax-related nuances.

And the other best part about Wave—especially for solopreneurs and freelancers—is that it’s absolutely free to use!

Yes, Wave makes no secret of its intention to keep its software 100% free—without any hidden fees, trials, or feature limitations. And their free offers include all of their services—receipt scanning, accounting, and invoicing.

Now that’s a small business software that saves you real money.

Integration options: While Wave offers built-in accounting and invoicing features, you can also integrate the app with a host of other apps like PayPal, Google Sheets, Etsy, Mailchimp, and Zapier.

These integrations make it easy for you to import or export your financial transactions, neatly categorize them, and streamline your payroll even if you’re using any third-party apps.


Project management

9. Notion

Every now and then, there comes an app that creates an irresistible hype among its user base. Notion.so is one of such project management apps that has taken project management circles by storm just a few years after it was released.

Notion is a small business software that helps teams organize their projects, take notes, manage knowledge base, and manage tasks. Basically, it’s an all-in-one virtual workspace to make your life easier:

notion note taking app

Notion’s biggest unique selling point (USP) is its ease of use—complemented by its playful yet minimalist interface.

The app broke through the crowded market of project management domain mostly because it made managing projects fun again.

Notion’s fanatics claim that it’s an app that has the potential to replace all other apps like Airtable, Evernote, Google Sheets, and Google Docs—because Notion allows its users to do everything on a single platform.

Integration options: Perhaps because Notion is a still-emerging product, its biggest pitfall is its limited integration options. At the moment, Notion hasn’t opened its application programming interface (API) for other products, which limits its utility among the users.

However, the company has made public announcements about opening its APIs soon. Currently, the software allows users to make use of its embed features to integrate with apps like Abstract, Figma, GitHub, Google Drive, Twitter, and Typeform.

10. Asana

Loved by businesses of all shapes and sizes, Asana is one of the most popular project management tools out there.

To say that Asana’s UI is clean is an understatement. It leverages the white space generously to offer a distraction-free user experience:

asana project management

Asana has several features like drag-and-drop to-do lists, visualized project boards, team projects and calendars, and workflows built within the app.

Together, these features make Asana a powerful must-have software for any business team to keep their projects running smoothly and on time.

Asana keeps releasing new features and updates to help its users make the most out of the tool, which makes it a reliable bet for businesses who are looking for a long-term solution to manage their projects.

Integration options: Asana integrates with over 42 other business apps across 10 different categories.

Asana also integrates with RingCentral’s team collaboration app. The integration triggers real-time Asana notifications in Glip’s team conversations so that you get updates as soon as they happen instead of following up on status updates through email.

Small business software: The key to your growth?

Adding a good software in your business has a powerful network effect on all your processes. For instance, using an all-around software like RingCentral Office from the get-go allows you to set a culture of transparency, accountability, and affinity across all teams.

And when a tool like that can “talk” to other specialized software that a certain team uses, it promotes those traits in your staff even deeper.

So here’s our parting message to you:

Don’t just jump into a new piece of small business software. Take your time, look at your options, and see if you can use fewer tools that are more versatile in order to streamline the amount of monthly fees you have to pay (and the amount of time your team will have to spend learning to use those tools).

 

 


1a16z.com/2011/08/20/why-software-is-eating-the-world