Small business owners are no strangers to operating on a shoestring. Any small changes you can make in terms of efficiency may transform into a huge advantage over your competitors.
While there is no shortage of comprehensive business solutions and services online offering all manner of diverse features, these are often overkill for managing small companies.
In this guide, we've focused on five of the most useful applications for SMBs (small to medium businesses). All of these either offer a free tier or represent excellent value for money. Further premium features are often available as your business grows.
When considering new apps, take some time to reflect on current business practises. For instance, if you currently use spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel to create expense reports, consider employing Expensify instead. This automates the process for you by integrating with popular travel apps like Uber.
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Kashoo has been kicking around since 2008 and is designed to be an ideal accounting solution for freelancers, entrepreneurs and other small business owners. The platform supports easy creation of invoices, auditing, taxation and more.
The multi-currency invoice feature is particularly praiseworthy, allowing you to issue invoices in any number of currencies. Current exchange rates are downloaded automatically. Kashoo supports connection to over 5,000 bank data feeds out of the box.
Users can accept credit card payments via Kashoo's own payment gateway. Square, Stripe and BluePay are also supported. Subscribers can pay $19.95 (£15.20) per month or $199 (£151.28) annually. This works out at $16.65 (£12.66) per month. There is also a 14-day free trial and a money back guarantee if you are not satisfied.
The main dashboard displays all relevant business data. Kashoo has also received online praise for offering unlimited support via phone, email and chat.
The mobile app, which sadly is only available for iOS, offers similar features such as invoice creation. Users can also track expenses by taking and uploading photos of receipts.
Kashoo is constantly updated which makes for a modern platform but the UI has received some online criticism for being rather complex. The platform also doesn't support hourly based billing, forcing users to create a bespoke invoice each time.
Expensify is the creation of developer David Barrett, who in his own words wished to create “expense reports that don't suck!” One of the ways that Expensify does this is by integrating services like Uber and HotelTonight to record expenses on the fly. Such expenditures can then be consolidated with others, allowing managers to review trips as a whole and work out where costs can be cut.
Expensify offers a generous free tier which supports up to 5 free smart scans per month along with a free mobile app and unlimited storage for receipts. The 'Collect' tier costs just £4 ($5) per month per active user and allows for unlimited smart scans, basic expenses approval, as well as integration with QuickBooks and Xero.
The 'Control' tier costs £7 ($9) per active user and includes all the features offered in the 'Team' package, as well as advanced policy enforcement, corporate card reconciliation and integration with more powerful accounting software such as Sage. There is a free trial for premium features to allow you to decide if Expensify is right for your company.
The platform is popular with small business owners due to its competitive pricing, but it takes time to master as there's little online documentation. Some users have also complained that chat support takes some time to respond.
Slack (Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) is a handy cloud-based tool that keeps all messaging and files in one place. This application is available for all mobile devices and can also be accessed via the web page itself.
Slack was originally brought to life to be used as an online tool for the game Glitch, which is now defunct. It was officially launched in 2013 as a way of helping people collaborate together online.
The Slack channel system enables businesses to divide up work based upon teams, clients, or in whatever way they need. Employees can join and leave the chats as they see fit so that they do not have to be subjected to in-depth conversations that are not relevant to them. It also has a handy video feature where you can speak to members of your team face to face no matter where they happen to be.
The Slack directory integrates with over 1000 apps which include Dropbox and Google Drive. You can drag and drop files, images and videos directly into Slack if needs be. Screen sharing is also another handy feature incorporated into the app.
Slack has three tiers, with the first tier being free, but that can seem to be quite limited depending on the size of your team. The Standard tier, billed at $8 (£6.08) per month has more features available such as 10GB storage for each team member and priority support. The Plus tier, billed at $12.50 (£9.50) per month, comes with 20GB of storage and has 24/7 customer support that guarantees a four hour response time.
It has received some criticism online for not being user-friendly and there's a steep learning curve.
There are many different office software platforms, but despite fierce competition on price and features, Microsoft's Office 365 remains the leading suite and must-buy for small business.
You may remember the days when Microsoft Office was something you bought as a software package and installed on your PC. While that still remains possible, the most useful form is the web app version of Office 365, as that means everything runs from the cloud and is saved in the cloud, and you can also use you mobile devices to login and use it. As it's web-based, this means you can also use it on Mac as well as on PC.
Office 365 includes the 3 big office software apps you're going to need: Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. OneDrive is also available for online backups as part of the part and worth using, even if you already use another cloud provider such as Google Drive or Drop Box – keeping your data safe is key and there's no harm in having multiple backup options.
Then there are the other software applications included in Office 365, such as Outlook (online version), and for PC use only there are also Publisher and Access. Skype is also bundled in, though you can download and use this as a standalone product anyway.
As mentioned previously, there are alternatives to Microsoft Office, but the simple fact is that they are not as good. Features tend to be far more limited, and there can be problems converting core office files to alternative formats, which you absolutely do not need the stress of dealing with when running your own business.
There are a couple of different editions you can buy. If you only need a package for yourself, a personal edition will cost $6.99 (£5.99) per month, or discounted to $69.99 (£59.99) if you pay for a yearly subscription. You can also buy a package for up to 6 users and therefore cover your office staff, and that is priced at $9.99 (£7.99) per month, or discounted to $99.99 (£79.99) if paid for annually.
Intuit QuickBooks was originally founded as a software package geared towards individual financial management. However, after seeing how successful this was, the company decided to offer a solution for small to medium-sized businesses.
QuickBooks can be downloaded onto each computer within your firm but it is also available as a cloud-based solution. Businesses can use it to manage and pay bills as well as to accept payments, along with being a useful resource for payroll.
The 'Simple Start' package ($20 or £15.20 per month) allows users to track income and expenses, capture and organize receipts as well as run basic reports. The next tier, 'Essentials' ($35 or £26.61 per month), includes all of that plus the ability to manage bills and have multiple users.
QuickBooks has also included a payment tier suitable for the self-employed user that is $20 (£15.20) per month and incorporates all that the basic tier has to offer along with the ability to track mileage. A free 30-day trial is offered so that you get plenty of time to decide if this is the app for you.
The app uses Apple Pay and Paypal for easy payments and invoicing. This is definitely a resource suited for smaller businesses as it does not have very detailed reporting and most company's find that they outgrow it.
It has also been criticized online for not being user-friendly, and it takes a bit of getting used to.