A small business faces quite a few challenges along the way, especially at the start.
It’s usually because there is a lot of figuring out to do. There are schedules to be made, plans to be drawn up and followed through.
Another part of this process is deciding what tools you invest in. So if you’re a small business, a list of the best SaaS products would be quite a help, wouldn’t it?
There are a bunch of services absolutely necessary for any organized entity. And most of the tools that fill the gap are subscription-based.
They’ll have plans that cater to large corporations and also to smaller teams. But since this is for small businesses, I’ll pick ones that are feature-rich at a budget.
So a small business owner can come on here and find every tool he or she’ll need to provide their team for smooth functioning.
Here's what we'll cover
- Project Management tool
- Team communication tool
- Note-making tools
- Cold outreach tools
- Social media management
- Chat Integration
- Payment Integration
- Shopping cart platforms
- Your Takeaway
Project Management tool
Nothing is as important to the smooth running of a team, even a small one, as a project management tool.
A lot of the early friction in figuring out roles, responsibilities and schedules you need to stick to.
There is no solution to this but have a single place where you can define and track these. Who does what and when?
This is what a project management tool does. It is the lubricant for any business, no matter the size of the team.
What is a project management tool?
It is a centralized repository of you entire business or project. Here, you track work functions as tasks.
These are standalone functions that need to be performed by the assignee or assignees. These are given a do-by date.
The size of the organization doesn’t matter. No matter how large, running a business without one of these is a bit reckless.
Who uses project management tools?
Everyone involved in the project or organization. The limit of users is defined by the manager or team leader when they first set it up.
The employees become resources to whom tasks are assigned. They use it to keep track of their job responsibilities.
There are some absolute basics decent tools provide. This is a task list with a variety of views, ability to add team members and assign tasks to them, set deadlines, post comments and upload attachments.
My recommendations for project management tools
My personal favorite is Trello. It is certainly one of the oldest and best-ranked project management tools. On top of that my time using the tool has been very pleasant.
Much like a good car, a good tool must get the basics right. And Trello gets the basics right.
Everything from its intuitive interface, to the cross-platform notifications, the flexibility and just the feel of the tool makes it the top choice.
It starts with a clean board-view where you can get a feel of the overall progress. You’d want more task cards on the right end obviously.
If you have concurrent projects running, you can click on the ‘Boards’ button to switch projects quick.
A drag-and-drop interface that lets you move tasks from one stage to another easily.
As soon as you open the task card, you get all the relevant info straight away.
The name of the task, the status, who it’s assigned to, a description and the do-by date.
Right below this will be all the attachments relevant to the task. So you don’t have to maintain a separate folder for smaller files like documents.
Then there’s a checklist that goes into more detail about the task.
All of this can be added and viewed with the utmost comfort. This is a result of all the feedback they’ve taken onboard over the 8 years the tool’s been active.
It’s a top-down real-time view of your project, which is half the battle of running a successful enterprise.
That is all the features you’ll realistically need while running a small team. The base plan is free and it will do, but I’d still suggest upgrading to business class.
If you need your project management tool to do more, Trello has a few surprises for you.
These come under the category of Powerups. These are extra features that you can add to your team boards.
These include pretty nifty stuff like the option to host a video meeting right from your dashboard, add geographical location to your task, the time a task has spent in various columns and so on.
It has fancier options like booking travel with SkyScanner from the dashboard itself. You can add only one powerup to a board on the free plan.
This is one of the throttles placed to ensure you’re always looking at upgrading your plan.
I’d like to mention Zenkit over here too. It has a mind map view that might appeal to some.
I can see how a business plan displayed this way can appeal to some managers.
I personally used tools like Trello and ClickUp in the past. But that’s because I never had the kind of project that can really leverage the mindmap view’s utility.
Zenkit’s unique features make it a fit for large projects with complex dependencies.
It gets the basics like scheduling, task overview, notifications across all platforms and so on right.
Team communication tool
A team communication tool is another non-negotiable when it comes to optimizing the way your business is run.
There’s no other way to make sure all team communication is simple, properly segmented and available for review later.
Even in a small team, there will be members doing their own thing. So as someone managing it, it should all be in one place.
But at the same time a member should have access to and alerted by communication that’s relevant to them.
What is a team communication tool?
The team communication tool is a shared space where all members in a team can communicate work-related information.
These are usually instructions, updates, reminders and files. Essentially it is what keeps the process go smoothly along with the project management tool.
Who uses team communication tools?
The entire team for whom that particular tool is meant. This is defined by a manager or team leader.
They also have to segment communication using channels. Each channel will represent a team or project. Then members meant for that project or team is added.
The concept of channels makes segmentation easy. Separate channels for different sub-projects and only members involved in each included.
So one tool, many channels/threads keeping the work centralized but segmented.
My recommendations for project management tools
The #1 option is Slack and it has been quite for some time. With industry leading standards, it is the best choice you can make.
The free plan is more than sufficient for small teams. That’s the plan adopted by all these platforms.
Keep it accessible for smaller teams, then have the upgrade option ready for when they grow bigger.
Throttles, or limiting features for the free plan, include the number of messages Slack stores and app integrations.
Google Hangouts is a good option if video messaging will be a big part of your communication. Plus it makes sense if you use G-suite already.
The team I’m part of uses Twist for our team communication. They have a free plan too.
The limiting factors include being able to access messages only from the last 30 days. Only 5 app integrations and 5Gb of file storage.
I should’ve probably used a different color to scratch out the names and pictures. This looks, let’s say dramatic.
You have the separate threads on the right. The manager or admin can use it to separate resources.
You can share resources on different topics in different threads. Threads is a different level of segmentation on top of the segmentation of that from having separate channels.
This extra layer of segmentation was why I switched to Twist from Slack. Channels to separate teams, threads to separate different topics.
This means all the resources for a team are in one big pot.
They are in neat, smaller containers. What this means is that valuable info is not buried under a flurry of messages that had immediate, but short-term utility.
Slack has more integrations, but the ones on Twist were enough for me. So that was not an issue for me and my team.
I did love the way Twist was integrated with Todoist, both being products of team Doist.
Twist definitely comes across as a better fit for smaller teams, compared to the overall #1 Slack.
There will be a lot of files being passed around the office in a business. Many of them will have short-term value.
But many will be of use for much longer. So it’s always advisable to have a space where you can keep these.
Both as an asset many times later and simply as a matter of record-keeping.
Note-making tools are how you would ensure these files remain safe and easy to find much later.
What is a note-making tool?
Note taking software allows individuals to record, organize, and file important information in a single place.
All these files will be in your immediate reach. This reduces the need to search through various documents to get this important information.
Who uses note-making tools?
Everyone in the team, I hope. Not much work’s getting done otherwise.
In a course of a week, you’ll probably get at least 10 files that you’ll need urgently later. And it’ll be needed by everyone, irrespective of their responsibilities.
My recommendations for note-making tools
A month or two back, I would’ve opened with Evernote. But over the last week or so I’m starting to shift towards Notion as the best option.
It might be more of a personal preference. The majority of my files are still in my Evernote.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and give the #1 spot to Notion. Something about its interface and storage system has me hooked right now.
I think it’s the flexibility in what kind of notes I can make that’s got me particularly excited. It really is a playground and I’m barely at 20% in terms of knowledge of the tool.
The tool is built in a way that all storage is in the form of pages. And each page can hold other pages.
If we were to go into page 1, you’ll see it holds a table.
Page 2 will probably hold embedded links, instead of a list of URLs that I have to click to navigate.
So you can mix and match the content in each page. Text, rich media, embedded links, tables and many, many more. Remember I’m at 20%, maybe.
It’s an entirely different experience to other note-making tools, and I really hope you check it out.
Evernote and Google docs are what I use to store my documents. But Evernote edges it because of its organization.
It is a notebook-based system. You can file it under notebooks, each notebook being exclusive to a team or project.
On top of that you add tags to make searching and retrieving them so much easier.
If you have a bunch of email templates for different people, a team leader could get all of them by just searching for ‘/email’ tag. Or whichever tag you decided to use for email templates.
The admin or team leader can control the access to various notebooks.
It’s a very well organized tool with a robust design. I will continue to use it for the foreseeable future, even though I’m excited about Notion.
Cold outreach tools
Being a small business, being hungry for growth is almost a given.
So a lot of your work will be centered around talking to people and building connections.
A large part of that is outreach. That means getting in people you don’t know and whose contact info you don’t have.
What is a cold outreach tool?
This is any tool that helps in finding and then building connections with people you had no prior business with. This can mean leads, collaborators and so on.
Who uses cold outreach tools?
The marketing or sales teams will be the ones that use the cold outreach tool.
Or because yours is a small business, whoever is taking on the marketing and sales responsibilities.
My recommendations for project management tools
Snov is an excellent tool to help you with this particular problem. It can pull email information from a webpage, even Google search results page.
Then you can add these email ids to a list. You can then use the same tool to start an email campaign to contact and get talking to the people you want to work with.
This is the best way to make things happen early on in the life of your business.
Also as a side note, the entire process of scraping emails, building a list and then setting up an outreach campaign is super-fast.
Way faster than any of the alternate methods which involved getting emails with one tool and sending emails with another.
2. Ninja Outreach
Another tool you can use is Ninja Outreach.
This is a great way to find influencers in the niche you’re working in. This might be the sort of outreach that decides how fast your company grows.
It does a similar job of scraping emails and then using those to start an email campaign to build connections.
Social media management
Sticking with outreach, your social media strategy will decide how fast your now-small company grows.
There are a bunch of tools that help you run the social media side of your business.
Getting the right tools means you can actually dispense with a social media marketing team early on. These are more than sufficient to do what you’d need to at the start.
These tools make running your social media accounts less time-consuming and far more efficient.
This is any third-party tool that lets you manage your business’s social media.
This is usually done from a dashboard from where you can schedule your content and engage with your audience.
The marketing team or whoever’s in charge of the business’s social media strategy will be in charge.
Buffer is a pretty good investment in this direction. For $15 a month, you can manage up to 8 social media accounts.
And all this management from a single dashboard. These accounts can be from any major social platform – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, pinterest, LinkedIn.
They’ve divided their services into 3 distinct ones. The first is Publish. That’s where you would plan and schedule your social media posts.
With a strong content plan, you can batch process your social media posts to be published at specific times, depending on your audience.
You can always top this off with more candid stuff as and when you get ideas.
The second is Reply. That’s making sure you can respond to replies to your social media posts.
This is done by making sure you’re alerted each time, and these are in a single inbox. In effect, centralizing your social media activity.
Next up is Analyze. This is a crucial part of your social media strategy. You can learn from the success and failure of your social media activity so far and adjust your plans accordingly.
Another tool that can help with managing all your social media accounts is ContentStudio.
Part of doing sales right, is talking to your customers, at their convenience.
You can always include the option to book a call on your website. But nothing converts like quick responses.
To this end, including a chat option on your website is the most pro-active method. Any customer who comes on and is met with immediate responses will be impressed.
What is a chat integration tool?
It is a tool or plugin you add to your website with the focus on sales conversion. It greets visitors and try to gauge their interest in your products.
If they respond, they become qualified leads.
Who uses chat integration tools?
The sales team will use the chat integration tools.
WIth a list of qualified ideals, approaching them with sales calls or sales emails will have a much higher chance of conversion.
My recommendation for chat integration tool
Drift is an excellent chat integration tool that helps conversions, converting visitors to leads and leads to customers.
It does this using a bot that greets visitors on the website. This bot then qualifies the lead and is added to your CRM. They are now part of your sales funnel.
The major difference with the chat tool being that you already know the level of interest and the exact product or service they’re interested in.
A huge advantage this gives the salesperson is that valuable time they would’ve spent figuring this out has been saved.
Also, the customer is saved the time and mind-numbing task of filling out forms on the website.
If you’re offering products and services right off the bat, you want to make sure you pick the right payment integration.
What is a payment integration tool?
This is the tool that makes it possible for you to accept payment for your products or services.
It can be accepted from a variety of payment methods using these tools. The tools also have a list of geographical regions where they will work.
Who uses payment integration tools?
The programmer responsible for the website will work with the payment integration tools.
They’re the ones to integrate the tool API into your website. The same if you’re using an app for sales.
I don’t have products of my own to sell so I have to take my friend’s recommendation for this.
My (friend’s) recommendation for payment integration tool
He recommends Stripe and that’s what I focused on when researching.
I checked a lot of review sites and it is pretty unanimous. It is the best SaaS product for accepting payments.
A good payment tool will cover all the basics. That’s accepting one-off payments, recurring payments and even set up a marketplace if needed.
The really good ones also makes sure that it is an option for businesses around the globe. After all, reach is a very important factor for online businesses.
According to a report from an analyst firm, businesses using Stripe attribute a 6.7% increase in revenue to the platform.
That indicates a superior checkout experience for the customers. That in turn means less abandoned carts and a smooth checkout process.
And integration on your website is also very simple. 30 minutes is the time Stripe claims it takes for you to integrate the payment gateway.
You can even customize the UI to better suit your website’s design. This ensures it all looks seamless and that elps conversion.
Their resources are also top notch. This makes it a lot easier for a first time user, like say someone starting a new business, have a smooth integration.
In terms of security too, Stripe is a cut above their competitors like PayPal.
Shopping cart platforms
Even if you have the payment integration tool integrated, your job’s not done.
You will still need a shopping cart platform if you’re selling products and services on your site.
Here too, the choice of tool makes a huge difference in your sales. The right choice will ensure you maximize the sales from the traffic you’re already getting.
What is a shopping cart platform?
It is a piece of software that lets a visitor select items for an eventual sale.
It’s something we’ve all used while shopping online. The payment integration takes care of the secure payment part.
Who uses shopping cart platforms?
The person responsible for the site will be integrating this to the website. The same for an app if you have one.
My recommendations for shopping cart platforms
The recommendation comes from a friend. It may or may not be the same friend who recommended the payment integration tool. Guess you’ll never know.
So Thrivecart is the top pick. And a side note, this post has been for SaaS tools so far. But ThriveCart are running a lifetime deal right now, so it’s not strictly SaaS at the moment.
One of the things it does very well is setting up upsells and downsells. It can be done with a single click using ThriveCart.
This is an important part of setting up a successful sales funnel. It can be the difference between a sale and an abandoned cart.
So making it easy is one of its many triumphs. It has an Affiliate centre that makes setting up an affiliate program a breeze.
Then there is the Behavior rules available to pull the entire thing together. This is how you would set up your site’s reaction to pre-determined customer behavior.
CartFlows is a good alternative to ThriveCart. And I have to mention their excellent WP plugin.
In fact it is the top pick if you’re using a WordPress site. The setup time is also a big plus. It takes around 20 minutes to set up your in-site store.
I’ll also have to mention LeadCart as one of the top shopping cart platforms. Although it is the priciest of these 3 options.
Its features show good thinking on the makers’ part. It makes setting up features like Coupon codes and subscription savers quite simple.
Another little touch is the addition of pre-filled checkout pages, making the whole process faster. That’s always something that helps convince a buyer make the right decision.
I hope I’ve made clear how each of these tools can be a big asset for your business going forward.
These are learnings from my experience and that of others. Instead of getting to the same destination a few months later, you can give yourself a head start now.
Adopting these tools will be a big boost to your team and be a big factor in your continued growth.
Let me know if you’ve used some of these tools already and what are your experiences with them.
That’s something me and other visitors to this post will enjoy.