Best small business software and tools 2021 Wondering what software you need to run your business? Find out more about the top tools increasing efficiency for UK SMEs. Helena Young October 13, 2021 8 min read Our experts We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality. This article was authored by: Helena Young Writer Business software can help your small business in lots of different ways, including simplifying tasks, generating growth, and saving you money by reducing the need for staff.There are lots of different types of software available. Most business owners are aware of some, such as online accounting systems and website builders. But there are also many other products cropping up with less familiar acronyms, like DMS and CRM software.In such a crowded market, knowing what tools are necessary, and which ones are simply nice to have, can be tricky. So what software do you actually need to run your business?Startups.co.uk has been guiding small firms through the different technologies available since 2000. In that time, we’ve learnt everything there is to know about business software and the big-name brands that make up today’s market.In this article, we’ll take you through what we think are the most important software for SMEs to invest in. We’ll be reviewing the top three options in each category so that, when the time is right, you can make an informed decision about which one to buy for your business. This article will cover: Best accounting and bookkeeping software Best project management (PM) software Best website builders Best customer relationship management (CRM) systems Best HR software Best payroll tools Best social media management (SMM) tools Best email marketing software (EMS) Best document management systems (DMS) Conclusion Best accounting and bookkeeping software Our top pick: QuickBooksCost: £5 per month for the first 4 monthsThis platform is famous for its customer support team, cost efficiency (even for sole traders) and strong range of features. Why do you need it?Spreadsheets are often the go-to tool for startups, but as your business grows, you’ll also need to invest in accounting software to make sure you’re fully compliant with HMRC and can handle large volumes of data. Accounting tasks – such as billing customers or recording transactions – are also some of the most time-consuming jobs when running a business. Automating these tasks is guaranteed to increase overall efficiency. Did you know? Research has shown that firms using accounting software have, on average, five times the number of clients compared to firms with manual accounting roles. What are the top 3 accounting software solutions for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward Price From QuickBooksFreshBooksZoho Books£8 per month (excl. VAT)£11 per month (excl. VAT)Free, or £12 per month (excl. VAT) Quickbooks 4.7 Simple to use, high-performing accounting software. Try Quickbooks Read our QuickBooks review for more. Free trial 30-day Price from £5 for first 4 months All-in-one accounting solution Gentle learning curve for new users Summary QuickBooks is an HMRC-recognised software that helps you manage your taxes, cash flow, invoicing and payroll, all in one place. There’s no contract, and its award-winning UK-based phone support is free for users. Prices start at only £5 per month for the first four months, with a maximum of three users. Show moreless Quickbooks project view Freshbooks 4 Feature-rich and refreshingly affordable Visit site Read our expert Freshbooks review for more. Free trial 30-days Price from £4.40 Generous and affordable payment plans Easily-navigable interface Great invoice creation and tracking functions Summary FreshBooks is refreshingly affordable, with its most basic plan costing just £4.40 per month. This gives you unlimited invoices, expense entries, time tracking, and estimates, although you’re limited to five billable clients. Upgrading to Plus (£7.60 per month) extends this to 50 clients and supplies more advanced tools, like late payment reminders. Show moreless Zoho Books 4 Core accounting tools for an attractive price Visit site Free trial 14-days Price from £12 for three users Super affordable payment plans Excellent user interface and mobile apps Summary Zoho Books offers exceptional value for small businesses, costing just £4 per user and strong functions in sales, time and budget tracking, and inventory management. It also has a great customer support provision, which is handy when tackling complex accounting areas. However, its payroll integration is poor, making it a bad choice for SMEs with lots of employees. Show moreless The accounting software market is incredibly crowded, with lots of variety depending on your sector or business specialism. Read our full review of the best accounting software for small businesses to learn more about the other options available. Best project management (PM) software Our top pick: ClickUpCost: £3.62 per user, per monthClickUp serves as a great all-in-one work platform, and is designed to provide SMEs with the maximum amount of PM features for the lowest cost. Why do you need it?According to PWC, 77% of high-performing projects use project management (PM) software, and it’s easy to see why once you know what they can offer. PM software provides timelines, dashboards, and tasks, and can be used to digitally map your scheduling, organisation, and planning processes – giving you more time to focus on successfully delivering your project.What are the best 3 project management software options for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward Software Price per user: When billed annually ClickUpmonday.comWrike£3.62£7 (per seat)£7.10 ClickUp 4.3 ClickUp's full-bodied list of features means it has a solution for virtually every area of project management - even at its 'Free Forever' payment tier. Try for free Read our ClickUp pricing guide to learn more Free trial 'Free forever' plan Price from £3.62 per member High-performing freemium plan Generous functionality and feature list Summary Small business owners will get outstanding value for money from ClickUp. The platform is well known for its wealthy list of features, with even its Free tier offering advanced tools like automations, custom fields, and Gantt charts. We’d recommend it for budget-conscious users that want a low-cost solution without skimping on functionality. Show moreless ClickUp dashboard view Monday.com 4.3 Monday.com is an extremely versatile software with functions for nearly every business need, including CRM, HR and project management. Try for free Read our Monday.com review to learn more Free trial 14-day Price from £7 per seat Great customisation features Attractive interface for easy-to-grasp visuals Summary Due to its visual appeal and customisable progress tools, Monday.com has become a favourite among creative teams. It’s incredibly easy to use, even presenting templates to help with the layout of your project organisation. Monday.com’s payment plans are based on user tiers, which means greater pricing flexibility for fluctuating team sizes. It also has a great 14-day free trial for you to get to grips with the software before purchasing. Show moreless Wrike 4 Powerful and low-cost project management tool for SMEs Try for free Read more in our expert Wrike pricing guide. Free trial Yes Price from £7.10 per user Best for Project scheduling Unlimited users at any level Great team collaboration tools Summary Wrike is an excellent choice for SMEs working to tight project deadlines. Its spreadsheet-esque interface offers an easy-to-understand visualisation of your project progress and goals. Costwise, it also scores highly, with an impressive free tier and unlimited users at any level. Show moreless We know that the way you manage projects can be as unique as the way you manage your business. To make sure you find the right PM tool for your company, read our expert guide to the best project management software choices for UK SMEs. Best website builders Our top pick: WixCost: £9.50 per monthAs a first-class website builder and a strong ecommerce platform, Wix has a wide range of tools and pricing to suit SMEs at every stage of their website building journey. Why do you need it?Hiring a web designer can be very expensive for SMEs – particularly if you just want a simple place for customers to find you online. Website builders remove the need for designers, coders and other specialist job roles, and give you pre-designed templates and webpages, plus ready-to-use applications and tools. They are cost-efficient and, once your website is built, can also be used to continually maintain and develop it.Short on time? We’ve designed a simple online form which can help you to find your ideal website builder in minutes. It’s entirely free, and means you’ll spend your money on the right tool.What are the best website builders for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward Web Builder Overall Score Based on our in-depth research and user testing WixSquarespaceWeebly 4.7 4.5 4.3 Wix 4.7 Number one website builder for price, features and usability. Visit Wix Full review of Wix Free trial 14-day Price from £9.50 per month Flexible pricing plans Good balance of easy usability and complex features Customisable, 'drag-and-drop' templates Summary Wix is the most popular website builder in the UK. We think the platform has certainly earned this accolade, thanks to its unparalleled list of features and wide-ranging payment options for every budget. Whether you’re new to website building, or a seasoned expert looking for endless customisability, Wix is a distinguished choice. Its pricing is also practical for small businesses. The platform’s Unlimited plan is the best option at just £9.50 per month. Show moreless Squarespace 4.5 Ideal for professional, creative website building. Try Squarespace Full review of Squarespace Free trial 14-day Price from £15 per month Over 100 stunning prewritten templates Great e-commerce capabilities Summary Squarespace scores particularly highly for creative types, and it boasts impressive blogging tools. It has over 100 template designs which are fully adaptable to mobile devices, and visually, its websites are unmatched. At £15 per month for businesses, Squarespace pricing is similar to Wix. Show moreless Weebly 4.3 Simple, no-fuss website builder with low-cost pricing. Try Weebly Free trial Free plan Price from £4 per month Good integration with other apps Simple, easy-to-use interface Summary Weebly pricing starts at just £4 per month – its USP is simple, low-cost website building that uses drag-and-drop tools for a simple user experience. Upgrading to the Pro plan gives you a wider choice of more advanced features. However, we think Weebly is only the better choice for SMEs working with very small budgets. Show moreless Your website is often the face of your company, so it needs to perfectly reflect your brand. Our experts have carried out extensive research to pick out the top six website builders for small businesses, to help you to make your decision. What are the best ecommerce software options for SMEs?Online shopping has been steadily growing for years, but since the pandemic, it has positively boomed. In 2020, it was forecasted that UK consumers would spend £141.33 billion online in 2021 – a massive increase of 34.7% from 2019’s figures.If you need to design a retail website, Wix is also an excellent ecommerce platform, thanks to its industry-leading features and matchless customer support services. But don’t let that alone sway you – read our full review of Wix ecommerce functions to learn more.Here are some of the other most popular ecommerce platforms on the market:Shopify – you can read more with our Shopify review for small businesses.3DCartMagnetoVolusion Finding the right ecommerce platform will help you grow your retail business, and enable more customers to find you online. Learn more by reading our guide to the best ecommerce platforms for UK small businesses. Best customer relationship management (CRM) systems Our top pick: Freshworks CRMCost: £25 per user, per monthWe think this platform is the number one choice for SMEs thanks to its huge range of features and strong overall performance for all manner of CRM needs. Why do you need it?The right CRM system can perform several functions for your business, including storing and managing customer data, tracking interactions and helping you to win more customers. This makes a CRM system a superb investment for improving both your sales processes and customer relationships. To help you to learn more about the different CRM platforms available, read our guide to the best CRM systems for UK SMEs, where we review the most popular brands on the market and look at how well they perform against specific priorities for small businesses. What are the top 3 CRM systems for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward Price per month (billed annually) Freshworks CRMMonday.comZendeskFree plan, or £25 per user£7 per seat£19 per user Freshbooks 4.3 Boasting endless capabilities, Freshworks CRM is a big-name brand launched in 2011 after its co-founders struggled to find a CRM system with enough features. Visit Free trial Yes Price from £25 per user All-in-one CRM solution Fantastic visual sales pipeline Generous free plan Summary Freshworks CRM (formerly Freshsales) organises your customer and sales processes into one easy-to-use platform – from sales and marketing to data management. It boasts a genuinely impressive list of features, including an advanced AI tool, nicknamed ‘Freddy’. Freddy gives you data to back up every decision, helping you to identify leads based on how likely they are to convert. Show moreless Monday.com 4.3 Monday.com is an extremely versatile software with functions for nearly every business need, including CRM, HR and project management. Try for free Read our Monday.com review to learn more Free trial 14-day Price from £7 per seat Great customisation features Attractive interface for easy-to-grasp visuals Summary Due to its visual appeal and customisable progress tools, Monday.com has become a favourite among creative teams. It’s incredibly easy to use, even presenting templates to help with the layout of your project organisation. Monday.com’s payment plans are based on user tiers, which means greater pricing flexibility for fluctuating team sizes. It also has a great 14-day free trial for you to get to grips with the software before purchasing. Show moreless Monday.com main workspace Zendesk 4.1 Strong business support tools and high-performing features make Zendesk a good option for SMEs providing specialist services Visit Free trial 30-day Price from £19 per month Long list of integrations Excellent analytics tools Unparalleled support services Summary Zendesk is a powerful name in the business software market and it has a fantastic array of integrations, spanning across a huge range of categories including analytics and reporting, e-commerce, email and social Media, IT and project management, and tons more. Perhaps Zendesk’s best known feature however, is its excellent support tools. New users at any payment tier can utilise a vast library of handy materials including onboarding and adoption resources, guided learning paths, and on-demand training courses. Show moreless If you’re new to CRM systems, don’t worry – our expert team has built a quick and easy online form to help you tell us more about your business's requirements. It's completely free of charge and will save you time and effort as you search for the right CRM solution. Best HR software Our top pick: CitrusHRCost: £2.50 per user, per month (minimum of 8 users required)CitrusHR provides all six of the key features offered by HR platforms, and is a terrific all-round solution at a low cost. Why do you need it?According to a CareerBuilder survey, HR managers lose an average of 14 hours a week manually completing tasks that could be automated. And since many small business owners perform tasks that are typically done by entire departments at mid-sized companies, this figure is probably higher for SMEs. That’s why the right software tool can save a lot of time and money by taking care of many of the key HR processes for you.What are the best 3 HR software solutions for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward Rating out of 5:CitrusHRGustoDeputy220.127.116.11 CitrusHR 4.6 All-in-one HR solution for SMEs that want a functional system that won't break the bank. Compare Free trial 14-days Price from £2.50 per user Excellent capabilities across all 6 main HR functionalities Scalable payment plans Summary CitrusHR was founded in 2013, and is the best all-round HR solution for UK SMEs. It has zero setup fees and makes HR management refreshingly simple. Its smart features cover all bases, including time and performance management, onboarding, employee profiles, applicant tracking and compensation management. Priced at just £2.50 per user, per month, it requires a minimum of eight users. Show moreless Gusto 4.3 Stripped back HR tool with a focus on payroll tools. Compare Free trial 30-day Price from £28 + £4.20 per additional user Unlimited payrolls Comprehensive security features Summary Gusto is an easy-to-use HR solution with a strong focus on payroll tools. It boasts sophisticated paysheet add-ons like multiple pay schedules, and stores thorough employee records to make team management a breeze. Pricing is mid-range on the cost spectrum, starting with a £28 flat rate for its most basic plan (+£4.30 per new user). Show moreless Deputy 4.1 All-in-one HR platform best-suited for employee management and time scheduling. Compare Free trial 31-days Price from £1.50 per user Great template capabilities Strong scheduling and timesheet features Summary Deputy’s timesheet and time clock software allows for easy shift scheduling and real-time updates. Its thinner list of features means users will need to download add-ons for some more advanced HR functions, but at just £1.50 per user, the app is a serious bargain for businesses with lots of staff and a need for well-organised rotas. Show moreless Deputy schedule view Save money by comparing HR provider quotes. Have you used HR service providers before? Yes No It only takes one minute. Best payroll tools Our top pick: 12PayCost: £66 + VATThis easy-to-use, low-cost solution is designed to make managing the payroll process simpler and more effective. Why do you need it?No matter the size or industry of your business, as long as you’re employing staff, you should invest in payroll software. Manual payroll is an extremely time-consuming process, and delays or mistakes in paying staff don’t just cause frustration among the workforce – they can also create legal complications. That’s why it’s best to make sure you’re managing and processing your payments on time. More advanced tools can also take care of things like calculating bonuses and securing employees’ data.What are the best 3 payroll tools for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward 12paySage payrollBrightPay4.243.8 Payroll – 12pay 4.2 Easy-to-use, well-established payroll system. Compare Free trial Free plan Price from £66 + VAT Easy to use once set up Impressively functional free version Summary Competitively priced at £66 + VAT, 12Pay is a powerful software tool designed to simplify every payroll function, within budget. The app is accessible by virtually any device and also has tons of features, including specialist payslip templates and a Simple Report Writer AI tool for monthly reporting. Test it out by downloading the free six-month trial for up to nine employees. Show moreless Sage Payroll 4 Designed for effortless, automated payroll management. Compare Read our review of Sage Accounting Free trial 30-day Price from £7 per month for 5 employees SImple, 4-step DIY payroll Expert support 24/7 Good automations for saving time Summary SMEs are often working with tight budgets when purchasing new technology, and Sage Payroll is an excellent low-cost solution for such employers. At just £7 a month for 5 employees, the platform is fully HMRC compliant and takes users through an easy four-step method for payroll processing, reporting and tracking. Plus, it’s cloud-based, so it can be accessed anywhere. Show moreless BrightPay 3.8 All-in-one solution that covers every aspect of payroll Compare Free trial 60-day Price from £199 (flat rate) High customer satisfaction rate Modern, sleek interface Summary Designed for accountants as well as businesses, BrightPay provides a first-class user experience. Its modern interface and superb support services make it simple to use. Plus, it covers more technical aspects of payroll such as maternity leave, expenses and benefits. Costing £99 as a flat rate for 10 employees, it's also very competitively priced. Show moreless Find the best payroll provider for your business. Have you used Payroll Services before? Yes No Complete our short form to save money Best social media management (SMM) tools Our top pick: ContentCalCost: £22 per monthAs a multi-purpose tool, ContentCal can fulfil all your content needs, and its built-in approval flows can help streamline your process. Why do you need it?Social networks provide a particularly strong opportunity for SMEs when it comes to generating brand awareness, given that they are low-cost and attract huge online audiences. However, the ins and outs of a good social media marketing strategy can be confusing to understand. The right management tool makes it much easier to navigate the key pillars that make up social media marketing, such as content production and publishing, social media tracking, advertising, and traffic analytics. To learn more about the costs, benefits, and options available, read our guide to social media marketing. Did you know? Over 53% of the world’s population uses social media. What are the best 3 social media management tools for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward ContentCalHootsuiteSprout Social18.104.22.168 ContentCal 4 The content calendar that makes your workflow more efficient. Compare Free trial 14-day Price from £22 per month Simple to use, but powerful Good UI helps manage multiple clients Summary The ContentCal platform is colour coded for easy access to and organisation of your content and objectives. It has user-oriented features such as the time-saving ‘Snippet’ tool, which creates prewritten strings of text for you to copy into pages. Priced at just £22 per month when billed annually, it’s also low-range on the cost spectrum. Show moreless Hootsuite 4.1 Hootsuite powers social media for organisations of all sizes. Compare Free trial 30-days Price from £39 per month Strong brand building tools Excellent social media engagement capabiltiies Summary Hootsuite integrates with every major social network, including YouTube. It has intelligent analytics tools for a quick snapshot of your content performance, as well as unparalleled content scheduling features. However, while Hootsuite works well for social media novices, established marketing or PR teams will need something more powerful. Show moreless Sprout Social 3.7 A superb platform for managing multiple social media channels, simultaneously. Compare Free trial 30-day Price from £65 per month Clear, well-structured dashboard layout Excellent reporting tools Strong data analytics Summary Sprout Social is incredibly intuitive and also boasts lots of convenient customer feedback channels, including a comprehensive online knowledge base. Priced at £72 per team, per month, it’s not cheap, but we still think it ranks highly for small businesses because of its strong SMM features and expert guidance. Show moreless Get provider quotes and save money. Have you used a digital marketing agency before? Yes No It only takes a minute Best email marketing software (EMS) Our top pick: MailchimpCost: £7.30 per monthMailchimp is the dominant player on the market, and for good reason – it offers impressive integrations and smart automation capabilities. Why do you need it?Is there anything more time consuming than sending emails? Email marketing software allows you to contact large groups of potential customers at once, which is incredibly useful for generating new business leads and supporting marketing campaigns. Plus, according to Litmus, email marketing generates £26 for every £1 spent on it, giving this type of software a valuable return on investment of 2,600%.What are the best 3 email marketing solutions for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward Rating /5MailChimpGetResponseConstant Contact22.214.171.124 MailChimp 4.5 This easy-to-use email marketing platform is designed to attract business and grow your client base. Visit Free trial Free plan Price from £7.25 Affordable pricing plans Easy to personalise Good functions for targeted messaging Summary Mailchimp sells itself on its generous payment plans, with its freemium version allowing 2,000 contacts and 12,000 emails per month. The app also comes with a Facebook Ad Campaigns feature, to help you build a larger email list. SMEs can purchase the lowest-tiered ‘Essentials’ plan for just £7.25 per month to get more advanced tools. Show moreless GetResponse 4.1 Smart investment in marketing automation for small firms Visit Free trial 30-day Price from £11 per month Visual campaign builder makes complex campaigns easy Funnel Builder tool helps to improve customer workflow Summary GetResponse lacks most of the advanced features seen in competitors like Mailchimp. However, it makes up for this with its user-friendly interface, strong auto response tools, and basic automations for everything from welcome to birthday emails. It also has lots of payment options, making it great for scalability. Prices start at just £11 per user, per month. Show moreless Constant Contact 4.1 E-commerce-focused EMS that generates high-quality business leads. Free trial 60-day Price from £14.50 Excellent e-commerce integrations Convenient drag-and-drop interface Summary Constant Contact covers all the essential EMS tools, as well as social media inbox monitoring, Facebook, Instagram and Google Ads integrations, and ecommerce segmentation (so you can customise emails based on customer purchase history). Try its basic Email plan for just £15, at a maximum of 500 contacts, per month. Show moreless Email CRM software is another smart way to utilise your customer data to drive more effective marketing campaigns with substantial return on investment. So how does it work? Read our guide to Email CRM to learn more about the benefits and the different tools available. Best document management systems (DMS) Our top pick: Zoho DocsCost: £3.20 per userPerforms well for security, reporting, and collaboration, all with affordable payment plans. Why do you need it?DMS are used to manage, store and retrieve information from any documents that your business might need. They are a means of organising your paper copies digitally, to keep them more secure and easier to view from any location you might be based in. Plus, they often have features for team collaboration, which massively improves efficiency for brainstorming and planning. If your business requires any kind of filing system, you need a DMS. Did you know? On average, 64% of office workers experience issues searching for information found in company documents. What are the best 3 document management systems for UK small businesses? 0 out of 0 backward forward Rating /5Zoho DocseFileCabinetBox (For Business)126.96.36.199 Zoho Docs 4.1 Efficient and low-budget DMS solution for small firms Free trial Free plan Price from £3.20 per month Excellent integrations with Microsoft Word and Google docs Comprehensive and generous feature list - even at the lower tiers Top security features for data protection Summary Zoho Docs is a user-friendly and low-cost option for SMEs, particularly for those already using other software from the Zoho Office suite. It’s difficult to sum up Zoho Doc’s generous features list, but even the freemium version permits admin controls, an in-app chat, and file versioning. You can upgrade to the Standard plan (£3.20 per user) for handy security features like password protection. Show moreless eFileCabinet 4.1 Secure and powerful storage solution for SMEs with specialist document management needs. Free trial No Price from £40 per month Unique feature list for specialist industries Offers both on-premise and cloud-based plans for more flexibility Summary eFileCabinet and Zoho Docs rank similarly, as they are both easy-to-use platforms with low-cost pricing. However, eFileCabinet stands out for its many feature categories, which include HR, Finance, Legal, and IT. This means that you can make use of tools specific to your industry, such as invoicing and receipts for finance. Show moreless Box (For Business) 3.8 Security-focused choice for SMEs wanting to simplify their document file storage and workflow. Free trial 14-days Price from £12 Superb collaboration features for organisation-wide working Great security tools including data loss protection Summary Box strongly emphasises security, with even its lowest tiers offering password enforcement, multi-factor authentication enforcement, and offline access restrictions. It is fully compliant with a global list of standards, and has integrations with over 1,000 apps – but it isn’t as good for basic requirements like file versioning and viewing, which explains its affordability. Show moreless Did you know? In 2019, the Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report estimated the average cost of a cyber attack to be £11,000. ConclusionThis guide has taken you through what we think are the must-have business software tools for UK small business owners, as well as the best choices for each category.The best accounting and bookkeeping software is: QuickBooksThe best project management (PM) software is: ClickUpThe best website builder is: WixThe best customer relationship management (CRM) system is: FreshworksThe best HR software is: CitrusHRThe best payroll tool is: 12PayThe best social media management tool is: ContentCalThe best email marketing software (EMS) is: MailchimpThe best document management system (DMS) is: ZohoDocsIf you’re feeling overwhelmed by the huge range of business software on this list, don’t worry. There are a lot of tools that have been designed to help you run your business, but remember: you don’t need to buy them all to generate success.Instead, we recommend you think about how your business is run, and what your current priorities are.To compare each software provider more closely, and learn more about whether they’re right for your business, read our full guides below:Best accounting software for small businessesBest project management software for small businessesBest website builders for small businessesBest ecommerce platforms for small businessesBest CRM systems for small businessesBest HR software for small businessesBest payroll software for small businessesBest collaboration tools for small businesses Share this post facebook twitter linkedin Tags News and Features Helena Young Writer Helena is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has previously written for a popular fintech startup covering everything from money-saving tips to cultural reviews. She is particularly interested in project management software and the films of Peter Jackson.