Google Workspace : Collaboration + productivity apps
There are many different office software suites but Google Workspace formerly known as G Suite remains the original cloud one and one of the best business office suites, offering a huge range of features and functionality that rivals can't match.
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Starting up a small business can seem a scary proposition, and it's often difficult at first to know what software you will need.
While there are obvious basics, such as productivity suites and accounting platforms, it's always possible that something can take you by surprise. That's why it's good to have a general idea of what different types of software are out there, so that the moment you identify a need, you can also identify a solution.
This is especially the case when you start to grow and find yourself wanting to communicate and collaborate with new employees, customers, or suppliers.
Luckily, there is a lot of competition online in the software market, and while there are big name products priced for big name clients, there are always smaller and cheaper packages which can be just as good. The challenge is to find not just the type you need, but the one that comes in at the right price for you.
However, even some of the more seemingly expensive software suites sometimes have a free tier, so you can try it out and see if it works for you - and if it does, you can grow into the software as your business cashflow improves.
Even better is that sometimes there are free alternatives to paid-for brand name suites, though often it's the case that you get what you pay for, and cheap or free can come with limitations.
We'll therefore look to list a wide range of software types that it's good to be familiar with, and feature the best on the market, so that should you develop a need for anything in particular, you already have an idea of what to look for.
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Best small business software at a glance
There are many rivals, but Microsoft Office is still the best office software suite, and Microsoft 365 delivers a cloud version you can use on the go as well as at home or in the office.
The first thing going for Microsoft 365 is its familiarity - if you've used Microsoft Office before you'll find most of it very familiar. Even if you haven't and have used rivals instead the same still applies because Microsoft Office is the market leader that others attempt to copy.
The second is that Microsoft 365 works in the cloud, which offers several advantages, the first being that you can use it on the go with your smartphone or tablet, but the second being that all your documents are saved online in the cloud with OneDrive. This means you don't have to worry about losing important files to a harddrive crash, and also that you can switch between devices without losing your work.
Pricing can seem a little more expensive than it used to be for buying a standalone license, and starts from $6.99 per month for Microsoft 365 Personal, which provides you with Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Publisher, and Access, with online emails served by Outlook, and OneDrive for cloud storage of documents.
There's also Microsoft 365 Home which offers up to six licenses which could be ideal and cost-efficient for distributing around employees if you have five or less. Microsoft 365 Business Premium is targeted at larger businesses and includes Sharepoint, Micrososft Exchange, and Micrososft Teams.
Altogether, Microsoft 365 delivers what you need and remains superior in terms of functionality than rivals. Additionally, expect to find many suppliers and contractors to also using it, making it an ideal fit for any small business.
Bitrix24 provides a vast suite of powerful business tools: collaboration, instant messaging, telephony, project management, document handling, scheduling, employee management, and more.
If you prefer to keep things simple then you can concentrate on the excellent CRM, which is a capable system all on its own. Contacts and communications are logged, leads assigned to sales managers, emails sent, calls recorded, quotes and invoices issued. Detailed reports keep you up-to-date and there's convenient access via the mobile app.
Bitrix24's unusually generous free account supports 12 users and includes 5GB storage, but if you need more, the Plus account offers more features to up to 6 users and provides 50GB online storage.
Overall, Bitrix24 is offers a powerful suite of tools that is especially going to be handy for small businesses and start-ups to help them develop and grow through improved productivity, all in one platform.
Sage Business Cloud Accounting makes a good first impression with its clear and gimmick-free pricing. The top Sage Accounting plan offers decent value at just $25 per month. There is also a 30-day free trial.
For this, you get modules to manage quotes, invoices, handle and submit VAT online, smart bank feeds and reconciliation, cash flow forecasting, some detailed reports, multiple currency support, project tracking and more, all available from your desktop or via a mobile app.
All this is well presented and generally easy-to-use. If you run into trouble, detailed web help and video tutorials are only a click or two away, with the offer of “free unlimited 24/7 telephone and email support” that should help make any newbie comfortable.
Sage also has a more basic offering called Accounting Start. This doesn't include support for quotes, estimates or vendor bills, and has no cash flow forecasts and could be enough for start-ups as well as small businesses.
Got both a team and multiple projects to manage? Asana helps you work out who should be doing what at any given moment, maximizing the chances of everything coming together on deadline (though you do need a certain amount of talent and hard work from your staff as well, of course).
As with the other software tools in this list, it's not just the features that Asana has that make it special – it's the way those features are wrapped up in an elegant and accessible interface that's easy to navigate around and works across mobile apps and the web without missing a beat.
We also like the way Asana integrates very well with more than a hundred other products and services. All the big names are included – Dropbox, Slack, Gmail, Salesforce and so on – and this means Asana is flexible enough to fit right into whatever workflow you've got set up at the moment (or want to try in the future).
Whether you're mapping out the steps in a project, assigning duties and responsibilities, checking on the current status of a plan or trying to get a 'big picture' look at exactly what's happening at any given moment, Asana makes the process much more straightforward than you might expect.
Believe the hype, or at least part of it – Slack may not have killed off email just yet, and it can turn into a time sink if you're not disciplined in how it's deployed, but it's also fair to say that this communications platform has helped transform the way that a lot of small business teams keep in touch.
Like all the best software tools, the basic idea is very simple: real-time messaging in web browsers, mobile apps, and desktop clients. Team members can chat one to one, or in groups, or in channels based around topics (sales, finances, products and so on).
What Slack does well though is bring that simple idea to life very intuitively, with a slick and responsive interface, and a host of integrations, plug-ins and shortcuts to keep the conversation flowing. All the functions you think you might need, from file transfers to video calling, are right there for you.
You don't get much out of Slack for free – with 5GB of total storage, 10,000 recent, searchable conversations and no group calling – but it gives you a feel for the app, and should be fine for smaller teams. At the highest pricing tier, you get round-the-clock support and a guaranteed support response time of four hours, as well as unlimited message archives.
Other small business software to consider
We've barely touched the surface of all the different software options a small business might want to consider, not least as there are multiple areas of interest and a strong range of competitors who want to offer the best product for you. However, here are a few more that get honorable mentions, either because they're positioned so well in their respective industries, or they offer a wider ranger of features-and all of them geared toward small businesses:
Paypal is a long-established merchant gateway provider for taking online payments, and has since moved into physical retail as well as pay and go mobile card readers. All of which means that if you need a payment provider, Paypal can cover you well, no matter what sort of business you have. There's no monthly fee for the basic plan, which will cover online ordering, which helps reduce upfront fees. And once you're well established with a good sales volume and turnover, if you'd prefer to cut down transaction fees then you can switch to a merchant account where for a monthly fee upfront you'll pay mostly interchange rates on each transaction.
Salesforce is possibly the leading sales solution for businesses of many sizes. Whether you're looking to focus on online or offline marketing, telephone or email sales, then this is an all-in-one platform that aims to bring customer sales and relationships together. However, it's not just about logging numbers and ticketing as much as improving all-round efficiency. This means you can look to improve key metrics across all processes, not least your sales and CRM channels, ensuring both a good synchronicty and efficiency between them.
Zoho provides so many different software and apps for small business the bigger question might not be what they do, but what they don't. Zoho provides such a comprehensive range of solutions that it's impossible to do the company justice here, suffice to say that they-currently-provide at least 45 apps covering everything from sales, help desk, finance, people, IT, office, project management, and collaboration. What's even better is that not only do these all integrate with each other, but also often integrate with other popular business software platforms. If you need to do something, Zoho probably have already released software to do it!
Adobe Apps is probably another toolkit to consider here, not least because of Adobe's real strengths in creativity and design, as well as PDF management-something every business will have to address at some point. Adobe sell different apps in different groups, however, so it's important to ensure you're looking at the correct set. However, don't be surprised if you end up susbscribing to multiple apps, not least the creativity bundle that includes Photoshop, and Adobe Acrobat for creating, editing, annotating, and signing PDF files.
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