Ever since Square came onto the playing field a few years ago everyone has been developing great apps to help small businesses get up and running. Many new business owners have no idea where to start and often feel like they need to spend money on expensive advisers such as accountants and lawyers to get anything going. As time goes on SaaS (Software as a Service) just keeps getting better and better.
Credit Card Processing
Square started in 2009 and pretty much led the pack as far as a startup company that was helping small businesses. It was an easy way for cash only businesses to be able to allow customers to use credit cards without going through the hassle and complexity of typical merchant processing solutions. I was really amazed the first time I saw a food trucker swipe my card through their phone. Pure Crazy. Pure Awesomeness. Growth Hackers has a great write up about the value proposition of the company and why Square grew so fast.
The advantages to online accounting are many, but perhaps the most important reason to have online accounting is backup and disaster recovery. If all your books are on a desktop computer and you don’t back them up anywhere you could be in a world of hurt after something happens. If everything is online you just log on to a new computer and get going again.
Quickbooks is of course the golden standard for small business accounting, but many new players are coming into the field including Xero, their closest competitor as far as market share goes.
I think Expensify is the best thing out there since sliced bread. It was just a matter of time before someone said, “Hey, we can take pictures of our receipts with our phones, and use technology to scan them into a database and forget about all that dumb manual entry stuff.” In my previous business I spent a lot of time sending my accountant pictures of my receipts, and I am not actually completely sure whether he used this or manually entered it. I imagine he did it manually. For $5 a month this is a complete no brainer must have.
I am currently helping someone start up a restaurant and one of things she was most worried about was doing payroll. She found service to do it for $65/month which involved sending paperwork and other essentials to this company. I advised her by saying that payroll is fairly easy and we should do it ourselves because it is a very critical aspect of the business to keep an eye on.
Well here I go surfing the internet and find a great little company called ZenPayroll that would require about the same amount of work or less to outsource it and it only costs $25/month. Plus the cool thing is that employees can “onboard” themselves. This means instead of having them fill out paperwork and then reentering all their info they just go online in the first place to enter their information. Genius! Let’s go paperless baby!
With the new Affordable Health Care Act everyone is scrambling to get in line with the new laws and regulations. Many companies are deciding not to hire simply to stay below the threshold that requires you to pay health insurance for your employees. Along comes a company called Zenefits that makes the whole benefits sign up pain and hassle free and does it completely free because their benefit providers pay them commissions to keep the lights on. I think it is a win, win, win situation for everyone and worth checking out.
CRM (Customer Relation Management)
If you have clients, you need a good CRM system. End of story. I used to have a manila folder system that worked well for me, but I had a limited number of potential clients (schools), and I used calendar reminders to follow up. I guarantee you my lack of a decent CRM program caused many opportunities to fall through the cracks. I read on Forbes that having a CRM increases sales by 29%. This probably is completely random statistic but I am sure the better organized you are the better.
Surprisngly there are about a billion CRM solutions out because presumbly everyone thinks they can build and awesome database. Well most people are completely wrong. I searched around and can’t really recommend any particular one, but Capterra came up with 9 cheap and easy to use CRM solutions that can work for you.
Social Media Analytics
The only reason I found out about SumAll is because they have Square integration. That is pretty important if you are running Square. If not, the service is still free to connect social media analyatics with your sales number.
Like CRM, there are a ton of options when it comes to managing your social media. Hootsuite is free and is probably the best one to use if you are just getting started. You can see all of your feeds and post to all of your social networks at once. But the real magic happens when you setup your software to automate you posts.
I save this one for last because it might be the most important thing you can do for your business. If you aren’t capturing emails of customers these days then you simply aren’t doing the business the way you should. All I hear from the marketing gurus online is that email marketing is where the money is it. And you know what? It is very true.
At the end of the day a customer might need contacted or touched in some way a total of 7 times on average before they buy from you. This is new customer acquisition but the same goes for encouraging repeat sales. Good copy makes people buy, and you can never get that copy in front of people without an email list. Speaking of copywriting, if you have no clue what it is, then stop everything you are doing right now and google it! It is that important!
Again, there are many programs out there to setup email campaigns but Aweber seems to be the best overall pick of the bunch. It helps that they are one of the oldest of the bunch as well.