“Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job.” That’s what Winston Churchill said during World War II, but it’s also true for you today. 🤷♂️
Running a small business is no cakewalk. You’ve got to be a multitasking pro. Every day you don many hats and play many roles. You design banners and run ads. You bring in leads. You manage projects, big and small. You talk to customers day in and day out—prospecting, negotiating, and troubleshooting.
It’s enough to make anyone go mad—unless, of course, they have the right tools to get the job done.
Tools . . . plural . . . because there’s no “one ring to rule them all” when it comes to small business software. But we live in a time of plenty. Whether it’s design, marketing, sales, support, or project management—thanks to the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) boom, we’ve got a variety of tools for every need, catering to businesses of every size.
The challenge? Finding software that is just right for you—tools that do exactly what you need them to, work well with each other, don’t require constant upkeep, and fit into your budget so you can multitask like a pro and set your small business up for growth.
From good old email and calendar apps to CRM and marketing automation software, here are 15 essential tools to grow your small business.
Communicating through the right channels at the right time is key to growing your business, and nothing helps you do it like business email. While many SMBs believe that a professional email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org is a luxury, it really isn’t. Free email costs you credibility and more.
You also want a robust calendar to schedule meetings and organize your day. Fortunately, most business email services come paired with a calendar app. The best ones are packed to the gills with advanced features such as multi-account support, priority inbox, and templates that help you spend less time on triage and more time building meaningful customer relationships.
Our recommendations: Gmail and Outlook need no introduction, but we aren’t biased at all when we say that Titan is the best fit for growing small businesses.
Whether it’s an email campaign, a landing page, or a social media post, a good visual makes it more engaging. If you’ve got the design chops (or you work with someone who does), you go chop chop chop. But when you can’t design your way out of a paper bag, there are plenty of tools that make creating designs for your blog banners, Instagram posts, and letterheads easy and fun.
The best design tools offer lots of templates and stock photography to help small business owners and professionals bring their ideas to life. They’re built to be fast, collaborative, and easy to use, often hosted on the cloud and accessible on both desktop and mobile devices. Some (see below) are even free.
Our recommendations: Canva is great for pretty much every kind of design, but we also love Pablo for its simplicity and Piktochart for repurposing video content—no skills needed.
With thousands of professional templates and high-quality images to choose from, Canva is the best image editor out there for good reasons. Even designers love it! Logos, banners, flyers, posters, business cards, and even resumes and video intros . . . creating stunning visual content is as easy as drag and drop.
You also get 5GB of cloud storage on the free plan so you can save your design projects. For more storage, design templates, stock photos, and collaboration features, you can upgrade to Canva Pro for $12.99 per month.
Pablo does just one thing—create visuals for social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest)—and does it extremely well. And it’s absolutely free! Built by the folks at Buffer, Pablo is especially great for creating quote art.
Infographics, presentation slides, reports, or videos, Piktochart helps you create engaging visuals or repurpose existing content for new channels in just a few clicks. You can add up to four users, create five projects, and import 20 minutes of video each month with the free plan. Or you can upgrade to their Pro plan for $14 per user per month to invite additional team members, remove watermarks, add your branding, and more
You need CRM software to manage contacts, record interactions with prospects and customers, manage deals, track sales, and more. It’s the nexus of all your marketing and sales efforts. It’s your live customer database with all contact, company, and opportunity data. As the name says, a CRM tool helps you manage customer relationships and grow your business—in theory.
In the real world, updating CRM is one of the most hated jobs ever. It’s essential, but no one likes doing it. Worse, many CRM apps look and act like glorified spreadsheets and aren’t easy to work with. The result? Poor CRM hygiene, lost revenue, and sales forecasts that go awry.
Your choice of CRM can make or break your revenue machine, so the first two things to look for are cost and ease of use. You also don’t want a CRM tool that needs a specialist to implement and manage it, so ease of implementation is an important consideration. Finally, you want to automate as much data entry as possible, so it’s crucial that your CRM integrates with your sales and marketing tech stack.
Our recommendations: HubSpot CRM is very good. It’s almost surprising that they give it away for free. Zoho CRM and Freshsales are both easy to use and offer a free plan with a few limitations.
A feature-rich sales CRM with loads of customization options for growing teams, Zoho CRM also offers add-ons for live chat, lead scoring, sales automation, and more. It can even notify you in real time when a prospect interacts with your business on social media! If you already use another Zoho product, the CRM software plays nicely with all popular sales and marketing tools.
Get Zoho CRM for free (up to three users) with a few limitations, or upgrade to a Standard plan that costs $12 per user per month.
Another easy-to-use CRM that checks all the boxes and has a generous free plan for small businesses is Freshsales. It offers strong analytics as well as built-in live chat, email tracking, and a dialer app so you can reach out to prospects and customers directly from the CRM and streamline communications.
You can add unlimited contacts in Freshsales’ free plan or upgrade to the $15 per user per month Growth plan for advanced features such as lead scoring and sales sequences.
It’s 2022, and you can’t think of “marketing” without adding “automation” to it. How else would you reach your customers with the right message at the right time?
From nurturing leads to sending product newsletters to delivering personalized customer experiences, marketing automation tools help small businesses streamline workflows across channels and tools, with analytics to measure the impact of marketing campaigns.
When evaluating marketing automation tools, you want to look for three things: features, integrations, and pricing. That means asking questions like these:
Our recommendations: Mailchimp is a feature-packed monster that’s super easy to use, but we love HubSpot Marketing Hub more because it works perfectly with our tech stack.
Mailchimp is the OG of marketing automation. Automated messages, transactional emails, targeted campaigns, forms, web page builder . . . it’s got everything and integrates with 250+ third-party tools such as WordPress, Typeform, Zapier, Shopify, and Squarespace.
The free tier is good but limits you to 1,000 contacts. Paid plans start at $9.99 per month with pricing based on the number of contacts and subject to additional overage charges (based on the number of messages sent).
Robust and easy-to-use, HubSpot Marketing Hub is a marketing automation platform with built-in CMS (for landing pages and blogs), automated email campaigns, shared inbox, survey forms, UTM tracking, and more. It works perfectly with HubSpot Sales Hub (yay!) and also plays nicely with other sales and marketing tools, including Salesforce.
You can use some of the tools included in HubSpot Marketing Hub for free, but paid plans that start at $45 per month give you more features and customization options.
Sendinblue’s free plan has a daily sending limit of 300 emails and doesn’t include the web page builder or A/B testing features. Paid plans with automation features start at $25 per month with unlimited contacts and a higher sending limit of 100,000 emails per month.
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail” is something else Sir Winston Churchill said. That has never been truer than when you’re growing your business.
Yes, there are fewer people involved in your projects in a small business (and fewer processes to navigate), but there are hardly any project managers around. No one’s going around talking to stakeholders and coordinating work to keep everything on track. It’s all on you.
Whether you’re working on a client project or collaborating internally on one, having the right project management tool is key to organizing work so everyone knows what to do and how to get it done.
Our recommendations: Trello and ClickUp offer fantastic value, especially with the free plans. Asana’s free plan is just right for businesses that need flexibility.
Trello uses Kanban boards to visually organize projects into lists—backlog, in-progress, and completed. Cards on your Trello board are tasks you can easily drag and drop into one of these lists.
You get unlimited users, cards, and power-ups (integrations), as well as up to 10 boards in the free plan. Upgrade to the Standard plan at $5 per user per month for unlimited boards, custom fields, advanced checklists, and more.
Asana’s clean, intuitive interface makes it a breeze to use, even for newbies. You can manage projects and tasks as a simple list, on a Kanban board, or in a timeline view—whatever works for you. This flexibility makes it easy to manage all kinds of projects and gives you full control of how you visualize and organize your work.
The best part? Asana’s free plan includes all the basic features with up to 15 team members and three views, which is just right for most small businesses. For advanced features such as custom fields and timeline view or to add more team members, consider upgrading to Premium at $10.99 per user per month.
What sets ClickUp immediately apart is its customizability. There are more than 11 task views (Kanban, Scrum, Gantt, workload, etc.) even in the free plan. It also has more than 20 widgets to build your own dashboard and just as many ClickApps (add-ons) for time tracking, custom fields, screen recording, and so on.
ClickUp is free for unlimited tasks and users, time tracking, and Kanban boards. Or you can pay $5 per user per month for unlimited storage, integrations, and dashboards.
Time is money, and even more so when you are running your own business or prioritizing growth. Using these tools and being productive can rescue you when you’re faced with challenging situations. With mobile apps for every tool, you can now work on the go pretty much from anywhere on this planet, something that wasn’t possible three decades ago. With the right tools, you can catch up on important updates and get things done to make every moment count.
Did we miss a tool that your small business can’t live without? Let us know.