The right small business tools can save owners time, money and endless frustration. In addition to necessities like Google Suite and Dropbox, we use these five no-cost or low-cost tools every week, and they are essential to running our business smoothly.
Best tool for: project management
Cost: free for basic plan
We did our research when choosing the right project management app. Asana won us over with its free basic plan that covers up to 15 users and unlimited projects. We can control who has access to project details, which helps us keep teammates and collaborators from being overwhelmed by info that doesn’t apply to them. The hierarchy of projects to tasks to subtasks aligns with how my brain works, and I can even color code the projects. Best of all, Asana can integrate with many other small business tools including Harvest…
Best tool for: invoices and time tracking
Cost: $12/user/month for pro plan
Harvest is a small business tool with many functions. We use it primarily for time-tracking and invoicing. The free version only includes one user and two projects, so we opted to pay the $12 per user per month to have unlimited projects. We track every minute we spend working, whether it’s billable time or not. Harvest can create invoices based on your tracked time or you can create them from scratch.
The mobile version helps us track time when we’re working on the road, and we can upload receipts for business expenses using your phone camera. The payment processing has industry-standard fees, but you can turn off the online payment options if you prefer to be paid by check. The best part of Harvest is how easily a non-accountant can send invoices, and track and receive payments.
Best tool for: video conferencing
Cost: free for basic plan
We were introduced to Zoom about a year ago and now half our clients are using it. Zoom’s free basic plan gives you unlimited one-on-one meetings and group meetings up to 100 participants for 40 minutes at a time. You can join a conference call by phone or using your computer audio if you don’t have a webcam. We often use this small business tool to share screens with teammates, present to clients, and even to record training sessions. It lets us have personal-feeling meetings with clients all over the world.
4. QuickBooks Self-Employed
Best tool for: mileage and expense tracking
Cost: free with QuickBooks or TurboTax
The Self-Employed app has saved us from fraudulent charges on multiple occasions, and that’s not its main job. After syncing the app with our various accounts, we’re able to review every purchase made by any of our cards from one combined list. Mark each purchase as business-related or personal for easy tax prep. The app also has a mileage tracker that works with your phone’s GPS. After each trip you can mark the miles as business or personal to help maximize your deductions. We receive this small business tool for free with our annual Turbotax plan.
5. Microsoft Excel
Best tool for: everything
Cost: $7/month with Office 365
Excel? Like the spreadsheet software I was forced to use in high school? Yes.
Excel is one of the best small business tools we use, and you probably already have it on your computer. Don’t underestimate the power of a good digital spreadsheet. We use Excel daily for everything from tracking incoming projects to managing finances to recording research. (We might have created a spreadsheet to help us choose the right dog.) Of course, Google Sheets has most of the same powers as classic Excel with the collaborative element, so that’s a great choice too. Find some good YouTube videos and brush up your spreadsheet skills—it’ll be worth it.
Other tools and services to consider
Wave is a good free option for invoicing. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Harvest—like time tracking, but the interface is user-friendly and the invoices it produces are clean and professional.
Forecast is an additional paid tool through Harvest that allows project managers to assign chunks of time for specific projects to specific employees. You can plan whole weeks out, dividing the hours needed to complete a project among your team members.
If your small business involves multiple drivers, you may want to consider using fuel cards to reduce costs and increase accountability. Check out the iCompario website to find the best card for your business.
As your small business grows, you’ll want to connect with an IT partner, like Stepping Forward Technology for those in Colorado Springs, to discuss everything from regular tech updates to securing confidential data.
Many cities have a Small Business Development Center that offers reasonably priced services to small business owners and startups. Our local Pikes Peak SBDC offers free consulting!
What small business tools are crucial to your success? Share with us in the comments!