My company sells customer-relationship and financial management tools to mostly small and medium-size businesses around the country. I also write and speak frequently on technology matters both at conferences and on behalf of larger tech companies. In 2015, a few applications have emerged as excellent and critical tools to help business owners like me run our businesses. Most of these are not brand-new ... but they've all matured this year into something viable. Here are my picks for the best techs of 2015 if you're a small-business owner.
1. Zoho CRM.
Full disclosure: My company is a Zoho CRM partner. But Zoho CRM's not the only game in town. In fact, there are other great customer-relationship management tools (among them Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Insightly, Nimble, Sage CRM, and SugarCRM) that rival Zoho CRM. But the point is that CRM systems are a must for any business. Cloud-based applications like Zoho CRM ensure that your team is working effectively together, nothing falls through the cracks, and no one is out of the loop. CRM applications work off a shared database that integrates calendar, email, notes, and fields to create a platform for your marketing, sales, and service people to better perform their jobs and for your business to get new customers and keep your existing ones happy. And they create an intangible value for your business. Zoho CRM, at only $35 per month per user for its highest offering, is a great example of an affordable but powerful CRM solution.
Full disclosure: My firm is also a Xero partner and sometimes provides marketing services to the company (I'm not being compensated for this piece). Xero, which starts at $9 per month for unlimited users, is a major part of an enormous cloud accounting revolution that is taking place right now. And Xero, even with more than half a million customers, has stiff competition from other great cloud accounting applications like QuickBooks Online, Intacct, InDinero, FreshBooks, NetSuite, Wave, and Kashoo. You don't need a magic ball to predict that all businesses will soon be moving their accounting operations from their old, in-house systems to something online. And products like Xero provide a full-featured solution that not only includes billing, payments, cash management, and general ledger but also integrates with dozens of other great cloud-based applications that help business owners run their companies from any device wherever they are.
One of the applications that integrate with a number of the cloud-based accounting apps mentioned above is Bill.com. Bill.com, which starts at $19 per month per user, is part of a new wave of accounts-payable and -receivable automation technologies where vendor invoices, for example, are scanned and data is extracted into a format that managers can review, approve, and automate using workflow for immediate import into their accounting systems. Other applications that are part of this wave include Receipt Bank, Entryless, and Expensify (for expense management). These technologies are helping my clients reduce the time it takes to do data entry and, as a result, minimize overhead.
Slack ($12.50 per month per user for its "Plus" service) has grown from just a startup a few years ago into a Silicon Valley darling valued significantly north of a billion dollars. And there's good reason why. Slack is a cloud-based communications service that replaces (and integrates with) a company's internal instant/text-messaging and email systems so that every email and text is stored in a shared online database. Why is this useful? When you need to remember the conversation that happened with a group of your employees and partners from a few months ago about a client project, just enter in a keyword and boom! You have now retrieved every back-and-forth message on the topic. If everyone in your organization (just like the contributors and editors here at Inc.com) is using Slack, communications are never lost and collaboration is significantly improved.
5. Google Hangouts on Air.
During 2015 I've seen an enormous increase in the use of Google Hangouts and Google Hangouts on Air by my clients and other small businesses, and I expect to see this trend continue into 2016. Google Hangouts provides a group-based videoconferencing service, similar to Skype. But Google Hangouts on Air? That's a free TV station for your business where you can broadcast anything you'd like -- training, case studies, seminars, events, interviews -- for the world to watch live and then have your session automatically saved on your YouTube channel for future viewing and discussion. If you want to invest more, Google provides developer tools for you to create your own interface (and even a paywall). Keep an eye on Twitter's Periscope and Meerkat, which are two up-and-coming live-streaming services that may also be great alternatives to Google Hangouts on Air. Video is the future, and these services will be critical to any company's marketing and social-media efforts.
For space reasons, I'm mentioning only five great technologies above. But there are some other fantastic services for small and medium-size companies that have matured in 2015 that are also worth a shout-out. Among them are Zenefits (benefits management), Gusto (cloud-based payroll), IFTTT (a workflow/automation service) and DocuSign (mobile document management with e-signatures). And even these services have competitors too numerous to mention. The technologies that have matured in 2015 are helping companies like mine run more efficiently, and they are all affordably priced. And the smartest managers I know are investing in them.