Business Loans

The Best Business Management Tools

You’ll never hear anyone say managing a business is easy. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools to help you along the way. Here’s a look at some of the key areas of managing a business, and some of the best tools available to make managing your business easy as possible.

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Accounting

Failure to stay on top of your business finances could quickly derail your business and even cause you to close doors. The SBA has a good primer on issues like setting up a balance sheet, cost benefit analyses and choosing an accounting method. Most of us don’t have a degree in accounting, but there are software tools to help. According to Capterra, a business software consolidation website, the most popular accounting tools include:

  • QuickBooks is cloud-based software that handles accounting functions such as double-entry accounting, payroll and inventory management. QuickBooks comes with free mobile apps, works with PayPal and Shopify, as well as other major banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. The software as a service (SaS) is sold as a subscription, ranging from $5 per month for a freelance version to $30 per month for a full-service version that’s more appropriate for large businesses.
  • FreshBooks offers cloud-based software tools accessible from the desktop or through mobile apps to perform accounting tasks like invoicing, time tracking and expense and receipt accounting. FreshBooks ranges from $15 per month for a “Lite” version with up to five users, to $50 a month for a full-featured version for up to 500 users.
  • Another popular online accounting option, Wave, offers double-entry accounting, invoicing, payroll and other bookkeeping tools. Their accounting, invoicing and receipt scanning software is free, but they charge fees for credit card processing, bank payment processing and payroll tools. Wave is a cloud-based software.
  • Microsoft Dynamics, the fourth most popular accounting software on the Capterra list, is a suite of software from Microsoft that covers accounting, inventory management, human resources and payroll, and business intelligence and reporting. Businesses that use many products by Microsoft, such as Excel, will like this option for its seamless software adoption.
  • Built on a true double-entry accounting platform, Xero allows you to track and manage sales, purchases and inventory. Capterra rates Xero as the fifth most popular accounting software and PC Magazine rates it as Intuit’s finest competitor. The cost of Xero ranges from $9 to $70, depending on the specific plan you choose.

Human Resources

One of the most important parts of running a business is hiring and managing employees. The SBA has a step-by-step guide covering the legal requirements for employers. The following human resources programs and software won a PC Magazine editor’s choice award for their category:

  • Bamboo HR can be used for applicant tracking, time-off tracking, employee self-onboarding and many other popular HR functions.
  • Zenefits offers hiring, onboarding and HR management software as well as payroll and time and attendance application add-ons. Zenefits offers a slick user interface augmented with human advisors.
  • Gusto received praise for its user interface and such features as calculating and submitting required taxes. Prices start at $45 per month.
  • A relatively new entrant compared to competitors such as Zenefits, Deputy offers general human resource management tools. PC Magazine says its best features involve employee scheduling. For scheduling only, the software costs $2 per employee per month.

Unlike others on this list, ZipRecruiter focuses on who you hire rather than onboarding and scheduling. The online service allows companies to post open jobs across multiple sites and helps to match them with promising candidates.

Sales/Ecommerce

Sales has gone far beyond the cash register, especially for consumer-facing small businesses. Many affordable, easy-to-use software is available to help aid in the technological evolution of online shopping. Here are some of the most popular ecommerce and point-of-sale (POS) solutions for businesses:

  • Founded in 2004, Shopify* is a top player when it comes to ecommerce platforms. Shopify provides online shopping cart software at a reasonable price, beginning at $9 per month (plus fees). Shopify can also be used to set up a POS terminal on an iPad for in-person sales.
  • Pinnacle Cart* offers straightforward shopping cart software. According to PC magazine, it comes with SEO and email marketing tools and is best for online-only shops.
  • X-Cart* offers feature-rich online shopping cart software as a hosted service or through licensing. It’s a little more difficult to set up than Shopify or Pinnacle Cart, but it is a complete platform, helping with SEO and payment collection from alternate sites.
  • Magento Commerce, which was purchased by Adobe in 2018, offers an open-source ecommerce platform with great flexibility and customization opportunities. The platform requires technical sophistication beyond many small businesses, so it may not be a good idea to get trained on the platform.

*Represents a PC Magazine editors choice award winner.

 

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Website Management & Hosting

Customers expect businesses to have an up-to-date web presence and expect a good user experience when browsing your site. That means choosing the right Content Management System (CMS) as well as a web hosting service. Here are some good CMS options for your website:

  • Launched in 2003, WordPress CMS is probably the most-recognized set of tools for building websites. It provides tools for designing a website including articles, videos, images, and supports many add-ons like tools for SEO and customer reviews.
  • SquareSpace CMS is an integrated blogging platform, website builder, and hosting service in one. It offers templates for building professional websites. The company charges around $18 per month for its services.
  • HostGator* received praise from PC Magazine for its web hosting, particularly for its cloud and virtual private server (VPS) services. The web hosting company offers multiple options for building a website, including the option to use its own tools or install other CMS platforms such as WordPress. HostGator’s services start at $2.64 per month.
  • TMDHosting* received high marks for its integration with WordPress and for its shared cloud and dedicated hosting plans. PC Magazine notes, however, that the company’s phone support hours are limited.
  • Liquid Web Hosting* received high marks by PC Magazine for VPS and cloud hosting packages, as well as its customer service.

*Represents a PC Magazine editors choice award winner.

Other notable web hosting services include Hostwinds Web Hosting, GoDaddy, and DreamHost Web Hosting.

Marketing

Marketing is an immense and complex subject, but there are a myriad of free online tools that can help you gain insight into- and effectively market- your brand. These tools can help you handle everything from how much traffic your website is generating to measuring the effectiveness of your social media. Here’s a look at some popular marketing tools for your small business:

  • For basic market research, the Small Business Administration’s online SizeUp tool is a quick and simple way to compare your business with similar businesses in your market and region. It’s not all encompassing market research tool, but it’s a good place to start. The SBA also includes a sample marketing plan on its site that’s worth reviewing.
  • MailChimp* claims to be the world’s largest marketing automation platform. This business marketing tool allows businesses to communicate with subscribers (customers) about company information and even collect data. It received high marks from PC Magazine for ease of use, an important consideration for small businesses.
  • Campaigner* offers advanced email marketing tools. According to PC Magazine, some of those helpful tools include Salesforce.com contact uploads and the capacity to create email autoresponders that will send emails to contacts based on user behavior.
  • Just as customers expect businesses to have a standalone website, they also expect an consistent social media presence. But there’s no question that keeping up with social media updates is time-consuming, especially when it comes to measuring its impact. Luckily there are tools like Hootsuite and Buffer that both allow for automated and scheduled posting across multiple platforms. Both programs also provide analytics on the performance of your social media posts.
  • There are a number of tools for learning what your customers think. Two of the most commonly used are Survey Monkey, which calls itself the world’s top online survey company, and Google Surveys. Survey Monkey says it gets the answers to 20 million questions every day for organizations around the world, with 99 percent of the Fortune 500 relying on Survey Monkey to help guide their decisions. Google Surveys is also used by large companies such as BuzzFeed and Orbitz for real time insight into how advertisements are performing or users are behaving.

*Represents a PC Magazine editors choice award winner.

Customer support

Keeping up with customers can be a challenge. But a number of tools can help businesses keep up with their most important relationships and provide solid customer support to every customer.  The following programs and software won a PC Magazine editor’s choice award for their category:

  • Freshdesk is an editor’s choice for top helpdesk solutions by PC Magazine. The magazine singles it out as a strong option for small businesses that need to serve customers directly.
  • Software maker Zoho provides a number of business solutions. Zoho CRM is considered one of the top in the customer relationship management field by PC Magazine. The magazine praises Zoho CRM for a user-friendly interface and solid data gathering function, among other features.
  • Another popular CRM and helpdesk software choice is Zendesk. Customers included in a Capterra review praised Zendesk’s tools as organized and easy to navigate, with solid tools for multiple team engagement.
  • No roundup of CRM software is complete without touching on Salesforce, one of the dominant companies in the field. Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional is the big kahuna when it comes to lead generation and CRM software, according to PC Magazine, which includes it as an editor’s choice in its list of best CRM software.
  • According to PC Magazine, HappyFox helpdesk software provides a solid list of features for supporting customers without requiring a great deal of technical knowledge. That combination makes it a solid choice for small businesses looking to provide big business customer support.

Legal

For really sticky issues, a business owner’s best bet is to consult with an attorney. However, some basic legal documents can be handled with relative ease, and a number of online services have sprung up to help with your legal needs.

  • LegalZoom is probably the most well-known online legal service, offering self-guided documents as well as available attorneys in all 50 states.
  • RocketLawyer offers tools to create legal documents and also connects users to lawyers for advice and document reviews.
  • Founded in 1997, U.S. Legal Forms offers state-specific legal documents, such as incorporation papers, wills, and DBA registration.
  • LawDepot, provides downloadable legal documents for setting up a business, managing property and other common business functions.

Operations

The list is almost endless when it comes to the operational and organizational needs of a small business. Gone are the days of sending documents, images and other files back and forth as email attachments. At least they should be, given the wealth of file-sharing options.

Giant, established tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft all have file storage and sharing options through Google Drive, Microsoft Sharepoint and iCloud. Businesses can do more with specialized programs such as Dropbox and Box. Check out our list of other handy tools and programs to help keep your business on track.

  • Zoho Projects* has a wide array of project management features, including task and milestone trackers and allows for chats within the app.
  • Another solid choice for managing multiple projects is Trello, which can be used to collaborate on multiple assignments. The platform is extremely user friendly, with drag-and-drop features and color-coded labels.
  • For business chat, Slack* has become the standard for team and one-on-one messaging. Slack makes it easy to have multiple conversations going at once and makes attaching docs and images a breeze. Other solid choices include HipChat and Microsoft Teams.
  • Evernote is also a handy operational tool, providing an easy-to-access place to store bits and scraps of information to organize thoughts.

*Represents a PC Magazine editors choice award winner.

When possible and when it makes sense, it’s best to try out a program as a free trial, or to go with a free program. That way if you find you aren’t happy with your decision, you haven’t lost any money or locked into any agreements.

 

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