10 best business tools
Is your new business in need of a boost? From finance and mobiles to accountancy and CRM, read on to learn about the tools your business needs
Starting a business can be tough. There’s all sorts of things to do, and in the early days at least, you may well be the only one doing them.
Luckily, there’s a plethora of tools out there which are designed to give your business a productivity boom – especially when starting on a shoestring.
Here, we’ve got a round-up of the top ten business tools that are going to help you get on track, so you don’t just hit your targets, you’ll smash right through them!
Read on to learn about the business tools of today, and find out what’s worth purchasing to help get your business shipshape.
In this article, we will cover:
- Website Builders
- Accounting Software
- Project Management Tools
- Business Mobiles
- CRM Software
- Digital Marketing Tools
- Coworking Spaces
- Merchant Accounts
- EPOS Systems
1. Website Builders
Over a third of people look online before deciding whether or not they’ll pay a business a visit and invest in their product or service. A business website is your first opportunity to impress your audience and entice the buyer – without a website, you could be missing out on some spectacular sales opportunities.
It’s for this very reason that website builders are a small business game-changer. They can help you get your business online quickly and easily, all for a fraction of the cost involved in hiring a professional web developer.
For example, to hire a professional, you’re looking at forking out something in the region of £30 – £50 per hour (depending on the size of the job) – and that’s not even taking into consideration the cost of a domain, maintenance, and updates.
Taking a DIY approach to website building has never been easier, or cheaper. With a website builder like Wix, Weebly or Squarespace, you get a free trial, and can then pay as little as £8.50 per month for a business website.
Worried your website building skills aren’t up to scratch? Fear not – website builders provide a wide variety of good looking templates and tools to make building your own website a real doddle. Check out the table below to see our favourites:
|Website Builder||Best For||Price Range||Try Today|
|Wix||Best all-rounder||£0 – £22 / month||Try for Free|
|Squarespace||Best for designs||£10 – £30 / month||Try for Free|
|Weebly||Best for beginners||£0 – £26 / month||Try for Free|
For a more comprehensive breakdown and full-fat comparison of the best website builders for small businesses, take a look at our dedicated page, which really gets into the nitty gritty of the website builders out there, helping you to make the best choice for your business.
From business loans to bootstrapping, there are loads of ways to finance your startup business to achieve success.
This part takes a bit of proactivity, and a touch of creativity too. You can’t rest on your laurels, hoping that your angel (investor) might appear to you in a dream – you’re going to have to do some pretty serious legwork. This involves networking, research, and of course, pitching.
The key sources of business finance are:
A sum of money borrowed from an organisation in order to fund your business’ growth.Applying is easier than you may think – and as well as financing, you can receive support and mentoring to help you get your business off the ground. For a complete guide to business financing and loans, take a look at the raising finance section of the site.
Effectively cash-based awards, given to new businesses or entrepreneurs looking to fund a startup concept.You won’t be required to pay interest on grants, and sometimes you don’t even have to pay them back at all! This makes them a highly competitive, but very worthwhile source of funding.
- Reward-based crowdfunding
Businesses offer rewards – such as discounted pre-orders, freebies, or an invitation to a launch event – in return for a pledge. The larger the pledge, the better the reward.
- Equity crowdfunding
Here, people (the ‘crowd') invest in an early-stage, unlisted company (i.e. not listed on the stock market) in exchange for shares in that company.Shareholders have partial ownership of a company, and stand to profit if the company does well.
- Invoice financing or factoring
Factoring: Selling unpaid invoices to a company, who will pay the majority of the invoice fee. Then, once the remainder of the fee has been collected from the client, this company will pay your business the remainder minus their fees.Financing: While waiting for an invoice to be paid, invoice financing enables you to borrow a bulk amount of the invoice’s value from a financial company, and receive it as a cash advance. Once your client pays you, you’ll be required to pay back the money you were lent.
- Angel investors
High-net-worth individuals, often with extensive business experience, who can provide capital early in a business’ life – in exchange for a portion of equity (just like the Dragons from the hit BBC TV show Dragons’ Den).
- Venture capital
Venture capital is a type of private equity – a form of financing that is provided by firms or funds to small, early-stage, emerging businesses that are deemed to have high growth potential, or have demonstrated high growth.
A bootstrapped business doesn’t take in any external funding. Instead, the founder uses their personal finances to get set up, and then reinvests the business’ revenues into growth and development.
Read more: 6 sources of finance for business
3. Accounting Software
Accounting software is great for those essential (yet time consuming and fiddly) tasks such as invoicing, expenses, time tracking, finance planning for projects, scheduling payments, reporting, and recording financial transactions within your business.
FreshBooks is a great accounting software provider geared specifically towards SMEs. The company hopes to help you to “spend less time filing receipts and formatting invoices, and more time building your business”.
Taking the stress out of invoicing and making the day-to-day budgeting a little more manageable, accounting software is great whether you’re self employed or running a bigger operation.
Not to mention the fact that it gives you peace of mind, knowing that your accounts are all in order and compliant with the latest legislation.
Accounting software is, by definition, a virtual tool, and is downloadable to a variety of devices. This means you can stay abreast of your accounts both in and out of office, which grants flexibility and complete accountability when it comes to the essential financial aspects of your startup. This is especially useful in those early days, when your budget is tight and you’ll need to keep a close eye on those accounts.
4. Project management tools
The day-to-day can get hectic – especially when you’ve got so many aspects of a business to oversee. Having a tool that gives clear targets and direction to any project can help you stay on track. That way, you deliver on time, and there’s not a mad rush in the process.
Gone are the days of the post-it note reminder, stuck precariously to a desk. In the digital age, even your diary has to be digitised. And what better way to make sure you and your teams’ schedules are aligned than by using an online project management tool?
Accessible via both desktop and mobile – so you can keep track of the important tasks no matter where you are – project management tools are invaluable to those striving for business success through a balancing act of tasks.
Trello (free and user-friendly)
Monday.com (full-fat services)
Netsuite (great for coordinating timesheets)
Insightly (best for CRM)
5. Business mobiles
In this day and age, you can carry out most business tasks from the device in the palm of your hand.
Business mobiles are essential pieces of kit – especially if your staff are often out-in-the field, or have regular contact with clients. Providing your team with mobiles allows you to choose a device, carrier and operating system that fits your company’s needs. It also means everyone has access to the same software and features, allowing for easy collaboration.
All small businesses need to be mobile and connected. The business world moves at an alarming pace, and not being there at the end of the line could mean you’re missing out on key sales opportunities.
There are lots of providers and contracts out there, though. If you think you’re in need of some advice regarding business phones, and want to pitch some providers against one another, then be sure to look at our guide to the best business mobile phone plans available today.
Or, have a look at the table below to compare our favourite deals:
|Device||Price Range||Try Today|
|SIM Only||from £10.40 / month||Compare Plans|
|Business Handsets||from £0 upfront||Compare Handsets|
|Business Tablets||from £0 upfront||Compare Tablets|
|Business Broadband||from £17.50 / month||Compare Plans|
6. CRM Software
As the old adage goes, “the customer is always right.” And, whether you buy into this idea or not, the fact remains that maintaining happy and healthy customer relationships is essential to the smooth running and success of your business.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is the secret to a successful and sustained business/consumer interaction. CRM tracks, records and refines your communication with clients, helping you to optimise your sales tactics and target those who are most likely to buy.
A CRM provider is able to give you a 360-degree view of every customers’ data across one simple interface – great for scheduling communications, retargeting marketing, and creating killer campaigns.
Customer data can come in many forms, and a CRM system will monitor and manage this information effectively via a database used to track a variety of things. The sort of data that can be tracked varies from system to system.
For example, the software of your choice might monitor:
- Customer information
- Sales figures
- Team information
- Goals and targets
- Business information
Ultimately, the data collected will depend on the system you choose and the information you need.
Providers such as Insightly, Zoho, or Salesforce might be familiar sounding brands – but which is which, and who should you choose?
To help you make your mind up, and for a side-by-side comparison of CRM systems, take a look at our page on the best CRM for small businesses. Here you can find out which provider is best for budget, who’s got the easiest system to use, and which system to buy if you really want to drive those sales.
7. Digital marketing tools
In today’s digital age, 89% of UK adults say they’re regularly using the internet, while 9/10 UK households have internet access. This means that when it comes to marketing, every business has to be bringing its digital A-game, every step of the way.
‘Digital marketing’ is the process of promoting products or services using technology, mainly via the internet. It can include running campaigns for mobile, display advertising, and any other digital medium. Social media plays a part in this, as does Google, or any other search engine you use to run a PPC (Pay Per Click) campaign.
Fortunately, the digital marketing minefield isn’t one you have to navigate alone. In fact, there are loads of tools out there that can help refine your digital presence, so you can market where it matters – and get on with running your business in the meantime.
The social media management tool Hootsuite, for example, has over 18 million users worldwide. It’s an exciting digital marketing tool that monitors multiple social accounts on one easy-to-navigate dashboard. This allows you to find and track your top keywords (making sure you’re at the top of the search pile), make multiple automated posts across various social media platforms, and respond to customers quickly and efficiently.
8. Coworking spaces
What’s a startup to do when working from home is too claustrophobic for running the day-to-day, but cashflow is too tight to rent dedicated office space in the city? Go to a coworking space, of course!
Collaboration, innovation, and a dogged sense of determination are the driving forces behind most successful startup businesses – and coworking spaces are often heralded as the go-to spot for a startup basecamp. From London to Liverpool, Canterbury to Manchester, it seems that cities across the UK are ready to embrace the coworking craze.
Coworking spaces are particularly great for startups. Such spaces:
- Are vibrant
- Are reasonably priced
- Provide a professional space for you to meet clients
- Allow you to socialise with other like-minded businesses
- Prevent that feeling of isolation (especially prevalent in solo business owners)
We all know that there’s more to creating a vibrant startup culture than popping a ping-pong or pool table in the corner and scattering some beanbags around.
Real hard work and dedication goes into growing a business, and when affording your own office seems like a pipe dream, a coworking space is the perfect solution – especially for startups looking to scale up into a vibrant space, without the hefty price tag.
To find the perfect coworking space for your business, take a look at our fully comprehensive breakdown of some of the best coworking spaces across the UK, which cater for a variety of budgets.
A merchant account allows you and your business to accept credit or debit card payments, whether in person, over the phone, or online.
More than just a business bank account, a merchant account is crucial to the processing part of the transaction. However, where the money ends up afterwards is your choice (i.e. into a business or personal bank account).
A merchant account is a holding/current account that lets you process card payments. When a customer pays your business, the money goes into the merchant account to then be processed by your bank.
And when it comes to the modern consumer, card really is the new cash. Smaller and smaller purchases, like a morning coffee or newspaper, are being made on card – even black cabs have card machines in the back!
it’s clear that step by step, we’re edging towards a cashless society.
But, what does this mean for the everyday business owner? As we say, “out with the coin and in with the contactless.” You need to make sure your business is ready for any customer, whether they have cash or card ready in their hand.
The benefits of a merchant account are endless. Firstly, it will protect you from fraud – when payments are processed through the merchant account, fraud is detected and dealt with, so you’re never in the wrong. Secondly, they mean you can actually accept card; because if you’re currently working on a ‘cash only’ basis, you’re probably turning some very valuable customers away.
10. EPOS systems
Especially crucial if your business requires face-to-face payments, an EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) system can really help boost your profits, and encourage sales to happen when it matters (i.e. there and then).
Businesses like cafes, bars and restaurants will all depend on an efficient EPOS system, because the payments they take are immediate and transactional.
A good EPOS system will accept and process card payments, and help to efficiently run your business from one easily accessible hub screen. The best systems will provide features such as sales reporting, inventory tracking, staff management, customer care, and more.
There are lots of different EPOS systems out there that are designed for a variety of businesses – but which is the perfect fit for you?
To help you decide, we’ve put together a helpful guide that details all you’ve ever wanted to know about EPOS tills and systems. This guide also features a side-by-side price comparison of the top EPOS providers for small businesses.
By now, you should have an idea of what tools you and your business might need, and where you’re most likely to find them.
Follow the links throughout the piece for more in-depth accounts of each tool. We’ll make sure you’ve got all the resources you need to organise, grow, and promote your business successfully and efficiently.
From website builders to EPOS systems, the tools are there to help your business function at its best. It’s our job to make sure you find the best tools for the task.