Over the course of two very different businesses (an agency and now a tech startup) I've trialled and/or purchased many tools that claim to make some form of my business easier. From accounting to customer service, here is a list of the best of the best in each category.
If you are a consultant, or small business (under 10 contractors or clients) I highly recommend using this cloud-based app for your bookkeeping needs. It's free to start and typically does not exceed $30 - $40 per month for most small businesses. The biggest bonus is that it takes less than 10 minutes to set up and connects seamlessly to your bank statements, purchases through credit cards, and auto-classifies each line item for your review.
I cannot possibly recommend this payroll/accounting tool more. They host employee and contractor pay stubs, auto-file information to the IRS, and make paperwork available for every member of your organization including your accountants. Every business, no matter the size, should have this. There is nothing better than knowing your employee taxes are on autopilot.
For larger businesses, this is a given. CPA's, accountants and bookkeepers know this software like the back of their hand, so if you plan on scaling your business quickly, this is the software you should invest in early on.
4. Zoho Books
If you are a freelance consultant, meaning you are operating solo, this Quickbooks alternative has one of the best invoicing features I've seen. I would not recommend this if you have any employees as it is not as user-friendly for part-time or full-time employee classification.
Customer Support & Lead Management
One of my very favorite and most frequently used apps is Front. Our customer support team uses Front to manage support tickets, real-time texting and emailing with our customers. The app does have a couple of small bugs but the ability to have both text and email collaboration in one desktop and mobile app is absolutely worth having to restart every few days.
Our sales team uses Hubspot to collaborate on lead generation, managing B2B business outreach and stores template emails for onboarding purposes. Not only is this tool amazingly helpful, it allows our sales teams to collaborate in a way that benefits everyone and makes them that much more productive.
Similar to Hubspot, Streak is a multi-functional CRM tool. I would highly recommend this tool specifically for entrepreneurs who are actively fundraising. They have a "fundraising funnel" specific to organizing feedback, meetings and status of close of funds.
For larger e-commerce companies, Zendesk offers a variety of customer support and CRM tools including website chat functions. If you are a company doing high volume web-sales (versus app based) I would recommend this tool. If you are like us, and you are predominantly app-based, I'm not sure this will be be as beneficial and I'd recommend Front instead.
Marketing & Social Media
I recently discovered and fell in love with this tool. Airtable is a way to organize marketing initiatives from in-app messaging, email drip campaigns to social media calendars. The interface is beyond perfect for any kind of team. You can toggle views to see calendar or list views and it allows you to upload content that is readily available to anyone on your team. This is by far the most useful tool I've found for our integrated marketing and partnerships team.
For Instagram heavy companies, Planoly makes it easy to organize your feed visually. It also prompts users to post on the calendar that is pre-set. Definitely a must for any social media manager.
While I do not advocate "buying followers" I do find value in seeing insights that are not always visible on every Instagram account. This tool allows you to target followers of competitors and/or companies with a similar audience while providing insights into your campaigns.
Influencer marketing is at all all-time high but finding the right people can be tough. Mention is one of my favorite social listening tools (see following list) but they also just launched an "Influencer Stack" that assists companies in finding the right folks to promote their business.
One of my favorite debut companies this year is Gatsby (whom I wrote about recently here). They plug into your existing user-base to let you know which of your existing customers are your best advocates using their AI software. Unlike Mention who helps you identify additional influencers who may not be currently engaged, Gatsby will help you find those who are already invested which provides a stronger ROI.
One of my all-time favorite tools, Asana is easy to navigate, has an amazingly intuitive interface on both desktop and mobile and provides a perfect at-a-glance to-do list for every member of your team. We typically use this tool for simple tasks and events that require steps to complete.
Trello is an amazing tool, similar to Asana but I've found it to be more beneficial when used for engineering projects. We use Trello for our development team as it lines up nicely with their sprints each month.
Like Asana, Basecamp is best used as a to-do list or team updates platform. If you use this tool, I'd recommend it be the only one. In order to get the best out of Basecamp, you need it to be your sun, moon and stars.
For the team that talks all the time, you can use Slack to integrate with almost anything thanks to Zapier. We set up Slack channels to report on new user sign-ups, purchases, promo code uses and customer service tickets - really, anything that requires our immediate attention. Plus, we limit all work-related conversations to this tool so that we can easily search information from prior conversations.
Public Relations & Social Listening
Whether you plan to build an in-house PR team in the new year or you have an agency, I highly recommend having Meltwater internally. Meltwater allows you to pull contact information for reporters who are currently writing about your industry, view current mentions of your company, your competitors and view overall sentiment of your brand and/or industry. This is extremely helpful for a startup as you will have an inside view on what is happening with your industry in only a matter of clicks.
HARO, or "Help A Reporter Out" is a daily newsletter owned by PR tool, Cision, that aggregates queries from reporters for stories they are working on. The basic newsletter is free, but there are much more robust, targeted paid options available here.
For companies who are breaking the internet, or those who provide press as part of their investor updates, this tool makes it easy to compile a book of all of the coverage within a certain period of time, or from the links you provide. Its beautifully done and takes a matter of seconds. It certainly beats making interns compile and create decks on Keynote!