11 essential tools for every small business – Stuff.co.nz

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OPINION: Running a small business can be really hard. Small business owners and administrators are typically time poor, and we wear many hats.
Jack of all trades, master of none.
I can’t give you more hours in your day, but you’d be amazed at how many great software tools are available that can help you do more with less.
Here are 11 essential tools that every small business should be using.
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Category: Small business accounting
Website: https://www.xero.com/nz/
Price: $62 + GST for a standard plan per month
OK, so this one is a bit obvious, but I’m always surprised at how many companies I come across that are still using fusty, old-fashioned accounting software, or even paper-based systems and spreadsheets.
Xero is the gold standard for small businesses accounting software. It’s really easy to use, and it automates many of the mundane, repetitive tasks involved in running and administering your business.
Best of all, Xero integrates with almost everything (or everything integrates with Xero), which means it’s really easy to synchronise data between systems and to set up really cool automated processes. At Choice Technology we automatically create and send out dozens of invoices to customers every month, for example. It would take someone several days to create, check and send these invoices manually, but the process is fully automated, drawing data from multiple other systems.
And, of course, Xero is developed right here in Aotearoa.
Category: Shared calendar/scheduling
Website: https://calendly.com/
Price: Free to about $20 per user per month, depending on plan
Setting up meetings with people from outside your organisation can be so frustrating and time-consuming. When we can’t see each other’s calendar we typically have to email back and forth to negotiate a mutually acceptable meeting slot.
If you’re a time-poor small business owner it can also be a real turn-off for potential customers if it takes a day or two to just set up the appointment with you.
Calendly is a cloud-based app that lets you publish your available time via email, your website or a range of other options. People can view and book appointments quickly and easily, without the need to email each other to negotiate and agree on a time. Calendly integrates with your calendar, so it’s always up-to-date, and it creates meetings for you.
There are lots of similar calendar sharing apps, but Calendly is the best I’ve seen by far. It has a range of options for individuals and for groups, including a free option for individuals who just want the basics.
Category: Customer Relationship Management (CRM)/marketing automation
Website: https://www.hubspot.com/
Price: Prices range upwards from about $60 per month, depending on plan and features.
A good CRM system helps you to track and manage relationships with your customers, in particular potential customers. It will help you gather customer interactions in one place and to improve overall customer experience and satisfaction.
There are loads of good CRM products on the market, including many that are less expensive than HubSpot, but HubSpot is simply fantastic. It integrates with just about everything and can automate tasks at every step of the customer lifecycle – from acquisition to ongoing management.
Just be ready to invest a bit of time setting it up and be mindful that some features attract an additional charge. We use HubSpot and, although we find it a bit on the expensive side, it more than pays for itself by allowing us to do a lot more with less.
Category: Productivity and Communications Suites
Website: https://workspace.google.com/ or https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-365
Price: Plans start as low as $9 per user per month
Google Workspace (previously Google Apps) and Microsoft 365 (Previously Office 365) are the dominant market leaders in the cloud-based productivity suite market. If your business isn’t using one of them then it really should be – there’s nothing that comes close to the functionality, security and value for money that these suites provide.
Which one you choose is a matter of preference, and you can’t really go wrong with either. We think Google Workspace is the better platform, although not by much.
Remember to make use of either platform’s cloud storage functions (Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive for Business). They provide a safe and secure place to store all of your files, one that’s easily accessible from anywhere and that you don’t have to back up regularly.
Category: Project and task management
Website: https://trello.com
Price: The free version of Trello is surprisingly good. The standard version is less than $10 per user per month and has all the features we’ve ever needed.
Trello is a fantastic app for doing everything from creating and managing to-do lists to managing entire projects. It’s a true collaboration tool, meaning that everyone in your team can create and manage ‘Trello boards’ (essentially projects or streams of work) and tasks.
Whether you’re organising yourself or a team, your week or an entire project, you’d be surprised how useful a Trello board can be.
Category: Instant communications and collaboration
Website: https://slack.com or https://teams.microsoft.com
Price: About $8 per user per month for Teams or $10 per user per month for Slack. Both have limited free options.
Slack and Teams are communications and collaboration platforms. They let you chat with your teammates, hold video conferences, collaborate and generally stay in touch. They’re absolutely indispensable for organisations of any size, as they lower barriers to communication and collaboration (both internally and externally), particularly in this brave new world of working from home.
Slack and Teams are very similar, as Microsoft shamelessly copied Slack when it released Teams in 2017. So much so that Slack filed a competition complaint against Microsoft to the EU last year claiming that ‘Microsoft has illegally tied its Teams product into its market-dominant Office productivity suite, force installing it for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers.’ Copied or not, they’re both really good communications suites.
Google Chat also competes in this space, but has been well and truly left behind by Slack and Teams.
Which one do you choose? Teams is very good, and it’s tightly integrated with Microsoft 365, so if you use 365 then Teams is probably the best choice, particularly as it won’t cost anything more. Personally I prefer the power, speed, flexibility and numerous integrations provided by Slack, and the fact that it’s not heavily tied to the Microsoft Office suite.
Category: Website building and hosting
Website: https://www.squarespace.com
Price: About $20 per month for the Personal version, which is suitable for most small businesses.
Thankfully there are lots of website building and hosting services available today. Long gone are the days of having to maintain your own web server (and all the technical hassles that went with it) just to publish your company’s website.
Squarespace is our favourite, as it’s simpler than industry heavyweight WordPress, and it’s easier to produce high quality websites than with competing platforms such as WIX. It’s perfect for a small business owner who wants to manage and maintain your own website without needing a PhD in computer science.
Category: Password management
Website: https://lastpass.com
Price: About $5 per user per month for the Teams version
Everyone needs a password manager. It’s simply impossible to create unique passwords for all the websites and services we use every day, so we end up using the same passwords repetitively, which creates a significant security risk.
LastPass is the industry standard for password management. The free version is great, but can only be used on one device. You’ll need one of the paid versions to allow you to share and use passwords across all of your devices (which most of us will need), but it only costs a few bucks per month.
The Teams version is created specifically for business and includes features that allow you to create a password policy and monitor compliance across your entire organisation.
Category: Business intelligence and analytics
Website: https://www.zoho.com/analytics/
Price: About $50 per month (up to 2 users). Use the free version to evaluate it.
Zoho Analytics is one of those almost magical services that can help you turn data into actionable intelligence within minutes. I love the look on customers’ faces when we load their data into Zoho Analytics and produce slick reports and dashboards right in front of their eyes.
You’d be amazed at what insights you can derive from your own data using a BI/analytics product like Zoho Analytics. It’s powerful, web-based and easy to use, and it’s easy to integrate with a multitude of data sources, such as Google Analytics, Xero, HubSpot, etc., so you can easily combine data from multiple sources.
Category: Website analytics and reporting
Website: https://analytics.google.com
Price: The free version is all you need
Almost everyone has Google Analytics set up on their website, but how many of us use it to regularly report on and analyse traffic to our websites? Very few, in my experience.
Analytics is so powerful and easy to use. It takes a few minutes to set up and requires almost no configuration – the default reports and dashboards are all most small business owners need, but it’s easy to create custom reports if you need to.
It’s easy to forget how important our websites are when you’re busy running a business, but remember that most potential customers will form their first impressions of your business from your website. So it’s important to understand how many visitors you’re attracting, where they’re coming from, how they’re getting there (i.e. via search, ads, other websites, etc.) and, most importantly, whether visitors are converting to enquiries.
Category: Email automation
Website: https://mailchimp.com/
Price: Starts at $17 per month. Free version not recommended, as it retains MailChimp domains and branding.
Last but not least we have that old stalwart, MailChimp.
MailChimp turned 20 years old this year and, incredibly, it’s been the leader in the email marketing and automation market (a market it essentially created) for two decades.
MailChimp is a force multiplier – a product that truly allows you to do more with less. It makes it easy to build and manage your mailing list, create and send out email communications (newsletters, etc.) and to track and report on campaign effectiveness. It comes with a variety of high quality templates that make it easy to create professional-looking emails that get results.
Although we’re all inundated with marketing emails these days, email automation remains one of the cheapest and most effective ways of staying in touch with existing customers and marketing to new ones. MailChimp should be in every small business owner’s toolbag.
Damian Funnell is founder of Choice Technology, an IT services company, and a technology commentator. He is contactable at damian.funnell@choicetechnology.co.nz.
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