Updated: May 27
Tech for small businesses is hard. Why is there no easy way to find out what apps and systems you need to start or run your business? There is: Porter Software.
There are five types of systems that every business must have to succeed. The earlier you set up these systems, the simpler your life will be. This is 2020. Let tech take some of the burden of the business.
This is the start of a series on free or low-cost apps that you can use to make your business run itself. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but use this as a starting point. Learn the types of systems you need here, then continue to the detailed articles on the best options for each type of tech. And as always, if you have any questions or can't find an answer, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. we're here to help.
>>> One: Accounting / Bookkeeping
>>> Two: Invoicing / Billing / Point of Sale
>>> Three: Workload Management
>>> Four: Customer Management [coming soon]
>>> Five: Domain Name / Website / Social Media [coming soon]
One: Accounting / Bookkeeping
Before you even think about taking money from a customer, you have to have a way to keep track of your money. Frequently, that's called "keeping the books". It can be as simple as a few spreadsheets where you keep up with money in and money out. Ideally, however, you use a purpose built system for tracking the movement of the money in your business - and for a few reasons. These systems will not only make entering and maintaining records simpler, but they can also automatically produce financial reports to help you stay on top of your operation. You will be able to make informed decisions by quickly and easily finding critical performance indicators. And many of these systems include modules you can add over time for things like expense tracking, time entry, and more.
The top three accounting systems for small businesses:
1) QuickBooks Online - starts at $12/mo
2) FreshBooks - starts at $15/mo
3) Wave Financial - free for basic
Why do you need this? See our Account / Bookkeeping Guide.
What does this software do? See our Account / Bookkeeping Deep Dive.
Two: Invoicing / Billing / Point of Sale
Now that you have a way to keep up with the money moving around in your business, you need a way to request and receive that money from your customers. Without a way to invoice your customers, your business wont last long. Today's tech offers simple ways to send email invoices, process credit card payments, and distribute money to yourself and your employees all within the same system - with included features like reports, analytics, tax form generation, and more. All of these features are offered in exchange for a transaction fee on charges processed through these payment platforms. The blunt truth is there is unfortunately no reputable free way to process money electronically - but the various providers compete with the extra features they offer. The transaction fees are fairly consistent between the various options - around 2-3% of each transaction. And while that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that's only a fee of $30 on a $1000 invoice. For what you're getting in return - a simple and convenient way for your customers to pay you - it's worth it.
The top three invoicing systems for small businesses:
1) Square - $0.10 + 2.6% fee per in-person transaction
2) Paypal - 2.7% fee per in-person transaction
3) Clover - $0.10 + 2.3% fee per in-person transaction
Why do you need this? See our Invoicing / Billing / Point of Sale Guide.
What does this software do? See our Invoicing / Billing / Point of Sale Deep Dive.
Three: Workload Management
The next thing, now that you have the money squared away, is figuring out how you're going to keep track of all the work happening within your business. Whether it's just you or you're part of a team, you will have tasks that need to be completed, files that accumulate to support the customer, and people you need to talk to in order to get work done efficiently. It's best to go ahead and set up collaborative tools to manage files, tasks, and communication early for two reasons: First, online tools can be accessed from multiple devices - computer, phone, tablet, etc. - to make keeping up with your business quicker and simpler; and second, if and when you do grow to multiple employees, that is the worst time for you to be migrating your entire task management, communication, and file structure into a shareable format. Get things set up in a way that makes eventual scaling easy and painless. plus saving everything to the cloud means all of your work is automatically backed up.
Top three task and file management systems for small businesses:
1) Slack - free for basic
2) Asana - free for basic
3) Google Drive and Docs - free for basic
Why do you need this? See our Workload Management Guide.
What does this software do? See our Workload Management Deep Dive.
Four: Customer Management
Next, you need a way to keep up with your customers. In today's modern marketplace, it's not enough to simply keep a spreadsheet of customers and wait for them to send you orders. you need to active engage your customers to seek out new business. Luckily, modern tech makes a lot of that happen automatically. CRM systems can keep track of customers as they transition from leads to paying clients, assisting your sales team by sending communication reminders and giving insights like email read receipts. Additionally, there are now systems that can automatically collect emails and send custom responses with online help articles to give your customers access to information without you ever having to manually intercede. (We're getting to the point in this guide where you might want to incorporate multiple systems per category - keep in mind these are not mutually exclusive lists!).
Top three customer management systems for small businesses:
1) HubSpot - free for basic
2) Jira Service Desk - free for basic
3) Zendesk - starts at $5/user/mo
Why do you need this? See our Customer Management Guide [coming soon].
What does this software do? See our Customer Management Deep Dive [coming soon].
Five: Domain Name / Website / Social Media
You now have the basic systems to keep up with the basics of your business. At this point, you're ready to tell the world you exist. No company can exist today without a strong digital presence - and while the exact online marketing strategy will vary wildly between businesses, all companies must have a domain name with at least a basic informational website, as well as standard social media for your market / customer segment. While there are a variety of apps that can help in this space (as well as a host of third party consultants that will take your money), tech has made it very simple to set up your own basic digital presence to drive customers to your company.
Top three domain, website, and social media systems for small businesses:
1) Google Domains - for domain name purchasing
2) SquareSpace - for website building
3) Buffer - social media management in one place
(Prices not included in this section as domain name prices vary - basic ".com" domains can be as low as $12/year, but can also range up to hundreds or thousands per year. Social media posting from Buffer is free for the basic plan)
Why do you need this? See our Domain Name / Website / Social Media Guide [coming soon].
What does this software do? See our Domain Name / Website / Social Media Deep Dive [coming soon].