Doing business in today’s world without utilizing any software is like trying to drive without wheels. Automation can (and does) save businesses tons of money every year.
But with so many software solutions available for businesses, it is often difficult to decide what to use, and which business tools are simply superfluous.
Making matters worse, new software tools are springing up like mushrooms. Today, Software Tool A might be all over the news. Tomorrow, Competitor Tool B might be making the rounds.
Indeed, part of the problem with all the available business software is that it can be “Too much of a good thing.” There’s an old joke that goes something like, “I spent 6 hours automating something that would take me 6 minutes to do manually.”
The problem also lies in the area of familiarity. Because software is new doesn’t mean you have to use it. But it also doesn’t mean you must ignore it entirely. When deciding on which business software to use, it’s imperative to have a complete understanding of all the tools available.
We have extensive experience advising companies on which business software they should be using as part of our Business Software Service. The following list provides a comprehensive view of all the types of software a company might need. It’s a good starting point for companies to get an idea of where their software tools might be lacking, or where they might have overdone their reliance on software.
Business software applications that work for one business might not work for another. It all depends on your business’s specific needs, and also on your budget.
Below, we list out all the most common software required to start and run a typical business. Not every item on the list below might be for you. But every item is common enough that most businesses need them.
We also name some major players in each of the software types so that you can go and have a look at their services and decide if they are for you.
Each of the business software tools we discuss below has its product-specific details to consider when it comes time to choose it. But there are some elements that apply to all of the items below, and which you must decide on when choosing the right tool for you.
Most of the choices we discuss below are cloud-based, which means they run on the internet and can be accessed via your web browser. We feel this is the ideal choice for businesses, but some businesses are not eager to take this jump.
When choosing between any of the software tools below, consider if you prefer a cloud-based (remote) or desktop (local) solution.
Not all the software below is free. A lot of the choices we offer have a free tier that allows you to get started and then move up to a paid tier when your business has scaled up.
The price of software can be a big factor when choosing software tools, especially when you’re still small.
A typical example here is Salesforce. It does so much! But do you really need everything it does?
Tiny businesses are unlikely to require all the bells and whistles. Then again, tiny businesses might indeed want everything because it will save them from having to use multiple providers.
In either case, look to see if you really do need everything that software tool is offering. If you need only, say, 30 per cent of what’s on offer, perhaps that tool might not be the right one for you.
Okay, let’s get into the different software needed!
Although we are listing this one first, it’s not necessarily going to be the first business software you decide on.
CRM is short for Customer Relationship Management. It is used primarily for managing the sales cycle from lead to customer, and then the repeat sales cycle so the customer keeps buying.
HubSpot is a popular, free CRM.
Part of the problem in choosing a CRM is that they integrate with so much other software in your business. If you choose the wrong CRM, it might lock you into using other software you don’t want to use.
That’s one reason not to marry your chosen CRM immediately. Try various options out for a bit before settling.
CRMs are most important for companies who have multiple sales reps because CRMs consolidate all communications (calls, emails, meeting notes) into one central location so that anyone can pick up the sales cycle at any point and drive it through to a sale.
CRMs are usually highly customizable. These days, many of them have email marketing baked right in, saving you the need to use an external email marketing tool.
Some CRMs are free or have a free tier (such as HubSpot) and others must be paid for regardless of how little you use it (like Salesforce).
Some popular CRM choices are:
Bookkeeping and Accounting Software is crucial for businesses of any size, even freelancers. Often, the accounting software ends up paying for itself because it makes invoice and expense-tracking so much easier. (And, if your business is in the USA or Canada, you could even use Wave Accounting which is free.)
All major accounting apps these days come with built-in invoicing software. And they all connect directly to many popular banks, meaning you don’t have to waste time reconciling accounts (or lose out on claiming for expenses because you forgot about something you purchased on the business credit card).
Our preferred accounting tools all run on the cloud. Although you can still get QuickBooks Desktop which works offline.
Not all accounting software comes with payroll built-in. If it doesn’t, some accounting software providers offer an additional add-on to include payroll. And there are also dedicated payroll software providers.
Some of the most popular accounting software providers are:
A CMS is essential for businesses to manage their own websites. If you use a popular content management system such as WordPress or Joomla, then your website’s pages and content are entirely under your control.
This is vital if you want to stay on top of your SEO because SEO is driven by excellent content.
There’s a DIY WordPress version that is free, although it takes a bit of know-how to set it up. (There are tutorials around, and many web hosting companies also offer a “one-click” solution to easily install WordPress.) If your business is e-commerce, you can go with Shopify which costs a monthly fee but is a breeze to set up.
Other popular (and reliable) CMSs are:
An email has become so much a part of our lives that perhaps you might think that putting it on this list is a bit overdone.
But it’s important to remember that a business email is not the same as a personal email. And if you have employees and team members, having a centralized location to manage everyone’s email accounts is crucial.
There are two factors involved here:
If you use a cloud solution such as Outlook Online or Google Workspace, then you don’t need to install any special software on your computer to view your emails.
Popular (and recommended) choices for business email providers are:
An office suite is a collection of software required to carry out routine tasks in the office.
Google and Microsoft are the two biggest players in the Office Suite arena.
This definition is a little outdated, seeing as what is considered a “routine task” these days was not routine thirty years ago.
But, when we speak about Office Suites, we’re generally referring to a Word Processor, Spreadsheet program, presentation software, database program, etc.
In the days before everything went on the cloud, the only choices for writing a document were Microsoft Office and…Microsoft Office. (Okay, we’re being unkind, there was also LibreOffice and OpenOffice, but they really were terrible in comparison.)
Since Google released Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, and Google Slides, Microsoft was forced to bring its desktop-only suite to the cloud.
Both companies offer a formidable cloud option now.
These two giants remain the biggest players in the Business Office Suite area.
MailerLite is a popular Email Marketing Tool
We feel that every business, no matter the size, should sign up for an email marketing tool.
Even if you’re a one-person show, slowly building up an email list can work wonders for your future prosperity.
Fortunately, there are a lot of good (and free!) choices around for those who have small lists. Also, many CRMs offer some in-built Email Marketing features, so you might not even have to sign up for anything additional.
Email Marketing software usually comes with pre-designed marketing templates to make your email marketing look sleek. They also provide list management features, unsubscribe features, and the necessary compliance tools to stay within the various countries’ privacy regulations.
Popular choices for email marketing software include:
This is another tool that is suitable for businesses of all sizes. It is especially important for people who work with a lot of clients in different time zones.
Meeting scheduling software allows you to send people a link to a scheduling page that lets them schedule themselves in for a meeting, directly into your calendar. You can set available times, and have it sync with our business calendar so that no meetings conflict.
Many of the popular tools send meeting reminders, and they are all highly customizable, also offering an option for you to approve any meetings scheduled, and setting a minimum buffer time between meetings.
“Zoom” became a household name in 2020, rapidly exploding in growth from 10 million daily participants to over 300 million in April 2020.
Life without Zoom seems unheard of now.
But Zoom is not the only video conferencing tool around, even though it seems to be the one on everyone’s lips.
There’s no longer any need to get into why video-conferencing tools are so essential these days—they save time, they’re crucial for remote work, etc.
But we do have some suggestions of other tools you might want to use if you’re not a fan of Zoom:
If you do a lot of international phone calls, VOIP software can save you a lot of money.
A lot of the video conferencing tools mentioned above include a VOIP package and/or dedicated phone number.
Even if you’re a solopreneur, being able to access all your files from any device is imperative in today’s fast-moving world. Should your clients need something urgently, a file hosting solution will allow you to access your files without having to lug around all your work gear.
This is even more important when working in a team. The ability to collaborate on files remotely can only be achieved easily through some type of cloud file syncing software. The alternative is a gazillion emails back and forth, and a lot of confusion!
Dropbox was one of the trailblazers in this field but is no longer the only solution available.
Almost every large tech company offers some degree of file hosting services these days. But few match the smoothness with which Dropbox (or its close competitors) operate.
Some popular choices for file hosting services are:
And if you’re worried about the security of your files should your file hosting ever be hacked, you could encrypt sensitive files using BoxCryptor.
Too often, people don’t think about backups until it’s too late!
The other great thing about file hosting software is that it automatically doubles up as a full backup system provided you put all your files in there.
And then there is software that is not as widely required by all businesses, but which is still essential in many businesses. Here is a brief list of them:
Essential for companies with many people working on multiple projects.
Popular choices are:
For companies that work on an hourly basis, time-tracking software can save a lot of wasted time keeping track of hours worked.
Some of the tools we mentioned above already include time-tracking software, such as FreeAgent, but here are some dedicated time-trackers that might be worth looking at:
But social media can also be a bit of a time-suck.
Utilizing a popular social media management tool where you can schedule posts and track your brand name might be an option if you work extensively across many social media channels.
Some good choices are:
Smaller businesses and freelancers might be interested in a DIY marketing material creator. Eye-catching images and powerful videos can greatly improve your social media presence. And not having to pay a marketing company for any and every new piece of marketing material you need can save you tons of cash.
In this arena, there really is only one choice, and that’s Canva.
Of course, if you’re in a niche market, you’ll require niche software for your area. This is as varied as there are industries to work in.
Ultimately, you have to decide what software is essential for your businesses based on:
Enormous learning curves that don’t pay off might also be a deal-breaker.
Just because software exists doesn’t mean it has to be used. But failing to use software that increases your efficiency could be the difference between beating your competitors or not.