Small business owners know the need to remain agile and efficient, and working both in the office and on the go. Mobile devices almost certainly play an everyday role for most small businesses, but choosing the right apps for them can be tricky.
This is especially as you will only want to have one type of office software on your phone or tablet and not have to transfer documents between different apps just to be read them on different devices.
Additionally, your time will be at a premium, so you'll need a good range of apps to cover the most important eventualities. It doesn't matter if we're talking about calendar apps to networking apps, and a whole host of free cloud apps.
In this guide, we've focused on the most useful applications for small to medium businesses. All of these either offer a free tier or represent excellent value for money. Further premium features are often available as your business grows.
When considering new apps, take some time to reflect on current business practices. For instance, if you currently use spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel to create expense reports, consider employing Expensify instead. This automates the process for you by integrating with popular travel apps like Uber.
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Best apps for small businesses - at a glance
- Microsoft 365
- RingCentral Office
- Avast Business Antivirus Pro
- Hubspot Marketing Hub
- IDrive cloud storage
There are many different office software platforms, but despite fierce competition on price and features, Microsoft's Office 365, recently re-branded as Microsoft 365, remains the leading suite and must-buy for small business, and ranks as our best small business software.
You may remember the days when Microsoft Office was something you bought as a software package and installed on your PC. While that still remains possible, the most useful form is the web app version of Microsoft 365, as that means everything runs from the cloud and is saved in the cloud, and you can also use you mobile devices to login and use it. As it's web-based, this means you can also use it on a Mac and iPhone as well as on a PC.
Microsoft 365 includes the 3 big office software apps you're going to need: Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. OneDrive is also available for online backups as part of the part and worth using, even if you already use another cloud provider such as Google Drive or Drop Box - keeping your data safe is key and there's no harm in having multiple backup options.
Then there are the other software applications included in Microsoft 365, such as Outlook (online version), and for PC use only there are also Publisher and Access. Skype is also bundled in, though you can download and use this as a standalone product anyway.
As mentioned previously, there are alternatives to Microsoft Office, but the simple fact is that they are not so good: features tend to be limited, and there can be problems converting key office files to alternative formats, which you absolutely do not need the stress of dealing with when running your own business.
There are a couple of different editions you can buy. If you only need a package for yourself, a personal edition will cost $6.99 (£5.99) per month, or discounted to $69.99 (£59.99) if you pay for a yearly subscription. You can also buy a package for up to 6 users and therefore cover your office staff, and that is priced at $9.99 (£7.99) per month, or discounted to $99.99 (£79.99) if paid for annually.
For enterprise users, Microsoft 365 Business is available from $8.25 (£7.90) per month on an annual contract, and comes with the most common - and essential - apps, while Office 365 Business Premium starts from $12.50 (£9.40) per month when paid annually, and comes with a lot of additional corporate service and management options.
RingCentral Office is our preferred choice when it comes to the best business phone system. It's not just that it comes with a lot of features and possibilities, but also pricing can be very reasonable, too.
What you get is a cloud-based phone system that is built around business services, so it's perfectly fine to use it on any device with a browser, whether a Windows PC, or Apple iPad, or Android smartphone.
Pricing begins at just $19.99 for between 2-10 users, with call management and phone system administration, as well as phone rental options for conference phones and even desks.
However, it's the pricing tiers above this where RingCentral Office really comes into its own with a comprehensive set of features that should be integral to any modern phone service.
On top of this, RingCentral can also deliver a Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS), which means access to a developer network which allows you to use APIs to truly customize and integrate your phone system with other software you use.
Overall, though, which the cheaper plan probably delivers enough to satisfy the smallest businesses, it will be mid-sized and larger that will probably get the most from the incredible wealth of features that RingCentral Office can provide.
The package has plenty of features – invoicing, expense tracking, time tracking, a host of business reports, even an option to take credit card payments (for a 2.9% plus 30 cents transaction fee) – but a straightforward interface aimed at non-accountants ensures you'll be up-and-running right away.
Despite the simplicity, there's real depth here. You can bill in any currency, save time by setting up recurring invoices, allow customers to pay via credit card by checking a box, and even automatically bill their credit card to keep life simple for everyone.
If you need more power, the system integrates with many other services, including PayPal, MailChimp, Basecamp, WordPress, Gusto, Zendesk and more.
Management hassles are kept to a minimum. You're able to access and use the system from your desktop or its free iOS and Android apps, and because it's a cloud-based system there's no need to worry about backups.
If this sounds appealing, you can try FreshBooks for 30 days without using a credit card.
The Lite plan gives you invoices, estimates, time tracking, expenses, plus the ability to accept online credit card payments and import expenses from your bank account. It's $15 a month, but only covers you for five clients.
The Plus plan supports a more reasonable 50 clients, adds the ability to send proposals, and saves you time by providing recurring invoices and the option to automatically send payment reminders. It's decent value at $25 a month.
The $50 a month Premium plan lifts the client limit to 500, and further users can each be added for $10 per month.
Avast Business Antivirus Pro is an excellent business endpoint security software suite, giving you various tools such as antivirus, Firewall, email protection, anti-spam and the ability to sandbox applications for complete security. Avast Business Antivirus Pro (as opposed to the standard Avast Business Antivirus) also includes Sharepoint and Exchange protection, as well as a number of tools for your servers, and ranks top of our best business antivirus.
The AV protection you get is generally rated as good by independent testing, with Avast's engine blocking 99.7 per cent of threats in AV-Comparative's Real-World Protection report.
The free version of this security package has long been considered one of the best, but If value for money and simplicity are key factors, Avast Business Antivirus Pro could be a sensible choice.
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PayPal has made integration into payment gateways simple for major e-commerce platforms, often requiring little more than a couple of clicks and an email address – often the most complex part of setting up PayPal processing is copying and pasting a supplied API key to get started.
There are no monthly fees for the small business product, Web Payments Standard, with transaction fees of 1.9% to 3.4%, depending on sales volume. Although many shopping carts are built to accommodate PayPal from scratch, it can even be used as a standalone service for taking individual payments from clients, just by pasting a payment button code into an email. Subscription payments are also available by default.
PayPal also offers additional features to grow into, such as taking in-store payments through a card reader. With no hidden costs or monthly charges, PayPal is one of the most accessible options for startups and small businesses.
Hubspot is a platform that provides a range of tools for content management, sales and marketing, and social media advertising. Hubspot goes way beyond simply setting up a website and editing its content, as much as delivering a wide-ranging toolkit to help improve conversions, and ranks as our top pick for best content marketing tools as well as features in our best CRM software.
It does this by offering options for split testing, content hosting, communications within a sales team and with customers, along with goals and targets that can be tracked using Hubspot's analytics software.
There are also a number of additional integrations available, not least Salesforce, G Suite, and Microsoft Office.
All in all, Hubspot probably isn't the best at any individual feature that it offers, but the comprehensive set that it does offer makes it a clear market leader, and the best at what it does.
Even better, there's a free tier for trying out Hubspot, with paid-for plans starting from $50 per month, though this does rise steeply for additional features to $800 per month for the Professional package.
Asana is a project management solution you may have heard of – even if you haven’t used the service in the past. While it offers a ton of handy features to boost productivity, there’s a bigger emphasis placed on tracking, and ranks as our best project management software.
The app lets you create to-do lists and reminders so you always meet deadlines, plus you can add due dates, colleagues, instructions to tasks, and comment on items. You can even share images from other apps (like Google Drive) directly to Asana. And more importantly, you can actually track everything you and your colleagues work on in a bid to ensure the project is running smoothly and to schedule.
If you’re concerned with who is working on certain projects, then you can bring up a list of teams and individuals, and there’s also a search functionality so you can find completed tasks easily.
Asana offers a free Basic tier, with limited functionality and dashboards. Step up to the Premium tier, and for $9.99 (£9.49) per person per month billed annually, you get unlimited usage with no team member limit, and more functionality including the new timeline feature as well as custom fields.
IDrive offers continuous syncing of your files, even those on network drives, and ranks top of our best cloud storage solutions. The web interface supports sharing files by email, Facebook and Twitter. Cautious or click-happy users will be pleased to hear that files deleted from your computer are not automatically deleted from the server, so there's less danger of removing something important by accident. Up to 30 previous versions of all files backed to your account are retained.
Another thing to note is that IT admins have access to IDrive Thin Client application, which allows them to backup/restore, manage settings, and more for all their connected computers via a centralized dashboard.
For photos, you have a neat facial recognition feature that helps you to automatically organize them as well as syncing them across all your linked devices. IDrive also offers IDrive Express which sends you a physical hard disk drive if you lose all your data, allowing for the swift restoration of all your backed up files. That applies to the newly introduced disk image backup feature.
A business version exists and offers priority support, single sign-on as well as unlimited users and server backup. Furthermore, IDrive Cloud, an enterprise-class cloud object storage is also available.
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