Table of Contents
- Marketing Software
- Website Design Software (DIY)
- Email Marketing Software
- App Creation Software for Small Businesses
- Business Management Software Options
- Accounting Software
If you’re not technical, that’s okay. You can hire people to set up and run the technical aspects of your business. However, don’t let your aversion to business software result in not using software to manage and market your business.
As a former small business owner turned small business consultant, marketer and online publisher, I’ve used hundreds of various business software platforms for managing and marketing all types of businesses.
The list of software options set out below is not an exhaustive list. There are literally thousands of options; the list below is based on my experience as both small business owner and now consultant.
Our list of the best software options for small businesses below is organized into 3 types of software for small businesses, which are:
- Marketing software (my favorite);
- Business management software; and
- Accounting/Financial software.
Unless stated otherwise, I’ve used all software options set out below.
I’m going to kick off our list of small business software with marketing software. I’m sticking to the basics and all suggestions are based on my personal use of these software options.
Website Design Software (DIY)
Whether you design and build your own website or hire a modest to moderately priced website developer, chances are you’ll go with a WordPress site, Wix site or Squarespace site.
WordPress.org is the most popular website platform… by far. I use it almost exclusively. It’s brilliant for blogs, small business websites and ecommerce.
Because it’s open source, tens of thousands of developers create templates (called themes) and additional functionality in the form of plugins. Many are free, but many are also paid.
I tend to avoid free themes but use many free plugins.
While Wix and I suspect Squarespace are easier to use, the open nature of WordPress offers more designs and functionality.
That said, most small business websites are pretty basic. The biggest decision is choosing and/or customizing a design. After that, the functionality is typically simple. That’s why I include Wix and Squarespace as viable small business website options.
Other website platforms: 18 best blogging sites and publishing platforms list.
Hosting for WordPress Sites
I’ve used a lot of hosting services over the years. From cheap to expensive. Here’s a list of those host providers with a brief write-up about the pros and cons of each.
Bluehost is perfect for most small business websites. Unless you get thousands of visitors per day, Bluehost will do the job. One downside to Bluehost is they will not automatically scan and remove website infections. If your site is infected (and it can happen), you must pay additional fees for removal. That said, even if this happens once per year, the overall cost is lower than going with more expensive hosting.
I had GoDaddy hosting a couple of years and really liked it. I never had any website infection. The support is amazing. Performance was decent. However, like Bluehost, GoDaddy hosting does not include infection removal.
Recently GoDaddy rolled out hosting specifically for WordPress websites. I never tried it, but it looks like a good option if you have a WordPress website. It’s reasonably priced, which isn’t common for WordPress specific hosting (i.e. costs less than Synthesis and WPEngine).
I stopped using GoDaddy because I signed up for a large WPEngine package that was big enough for all of my sites. I needed a large WPEngine package for 2 of my sites and since I had additional installs available on my account I migrated all of my sites to WPEngine.
I currently host all of my sites with WPEngine. So far I’m thrilled with the service. Their support is second-to-none. I can contact them via telephone (24/7), ticket or live chat. I seldom wait longer than a few minutes with phone support.
I also love the fact that WPEngine offers a free migration plugin which means I don’t have to manually migrate a site or pay a service $99 PER site migration. In addition to incredible customer support, this feature sold me on WPEngine.
It’s been a while since I used Wix, but it’s still awesome. Wix is the ideal small business website builder for people who truly want drag and drop technology.
It doesn’t get easier to build a website with Wix.
Another reason I like Wix is the designs look fabulous. You can use templates as-is or tweak them as much as you like. No matter what you do, you’ll end up with a great looking site.
Why don’t I use Wix if it’s so great? Because I’m already paying for a hefty hosing service for my blog-style WordPress sites, so economically it makes more sense for me to publish my local business sites as WordPress sites.
I’ve never used Squarespace so I can’t provide user-experience details. I can say it appears to be an easy-to-use website builder that builds spectacularly beautiful websites. I’ve checked out some of the sites built with Squarespace and they look great.
Unfortunately that’s all I can say about it. I list it here because if I were in search of a DIY website software, I would definitely try Squarespace.
Instapage is software to create landing pages. However, you can easily create a 5 to 10 page website. It’s drag and drop. The templates are designed to make sales and/or attract leads.
I currently use Instapage for local business websites and many landing pages. I’m very familiar with this software and I love it.
While it’s not sold as website building software, it can easily be used for this. I use it.
Also, there’s a free Instapage plugin that makes it super easy to publish Instpage pages within a WordPress installation. What this allows is you can create stunning landing pages (including home pages) and then have a blog on the site using WordPress. It’s a terrific combination that I use extensively.
Key WordPress Plugins
If you go with WordPress, there are a few plugins you should consider for a small business website. The are as follows:
Contact Form 7: Contact Form 7 is free. Unless you use a paid contact form service, this will do the job nicely. Just be sure to configure it so inquiries are delivered to your email.
Monarch Social Sharing: For small business sites, I love the Monarch Social Sharing plugin. It costs money, but the features, ease-of-use and aesthetics are incredible. It’s by ElegantThemes, which is one of the most reputable theme and plugin developers online.
What about SumoMe (which I’ve written about in the past)? I only like SumoMe for sites that are image-centric with photo galleries. Otherwise, I prefer the Monarch Social Sharing plugin because it’s easier to use and I like the options available. Moreover, SumoMe continues restricting features trying to get you to pay. With Monarch, you pay one lump sum and get all the features.
Q2W3 Fixed Widget: Most websites should use a fixed widget zone. Q2W3 Fixed Widget is a great way to direct attention to an important element of your website such as contact information, a discount, an email sign up form… whatever it is you wish to promote.
Email Marketing Software
Since email marketing is so important for pretty much every business on the planet, there is a lot of software options.
I’ve not used them all. Not even close.
However, I’ve used a few and that’s what I’ll include in my list. I’m currently very happy with the various software tools I use for all my email marketing. It’s those options I set out below.
Every small business should use an email autoresponder software platform. This makes it easy to add prospective and current customers to an email delivery database (and does so in a way that permissions are kept on file). It also makes it super easy to email some or all of the people in that database.
The autoresponder I use and have used for years is AWeber. It’s easy to use and offers all the features I need. I’ve tried others and found them not as easy to use. When it comes to software, easy-to-use is an important feature.
There’s a new software platform called Frederick which integrates with many scheduling software platforms. Frederick helps automate getting clients to post positive Google My Business reviews, referrals and fill seats. It’s a must-have solution for any schedule-based business.
Sign Up Form Software
When you run an email newsletter, you need to get prospective customers signed up to your database in a way that they give you express permission for you to email them.
What this requires are sign up forms. There are many ways to display these forms. The following are the 3 email sign up form software platforms I use across my sites to attract email subscribers:
Instapage: I use Instapage to create custom landing pages. I direct visitors to these pages which makes it very easy for people to sign up to my email newsletter.
Plugmatter Feature Box: I love the Plugmatter Feature Box plugin. You don’t need it for every page or every site, but it can be very useful for blogs. It creates a prominent sign up form at the top of a website. It works very well.
FYI, I don’t use this plugin for my local business websites… but you might if you email marketing is critically important to your local marketing.
Thrive Leads is fantastic because it offers pretty much all of the email sign up forms you’ll need for your site. You can create the following forms:
- Bottom of content
- Middle of content
- Sign-up notification bars
- Sidebar forms
- Fly-in forms
- Welcome mat forms
- Exit intent forms
That pretty much covers it. You can also create landing pages… but I prefer Instapage landing pages.
Social Media Software
If you do a lot of Facebook ads, Qwaya is a must-get tool. It offers a lot of features, but the only feature worth paying for is the fact you can split adsets and therefore create dozens or hundreds of targeted adsets very, very quickly.
You can do this for free with the Facebook Power Editor, but it must be done with a spreadsheet. I couldn’t make this work so I use Qwaya which is pretty easy to use.
Again, this is only worth getting if you spend thousands every month on Facebook ads and do so by creating dozens or hundreds of adsets. If you don’t do this, do not use Qwaya.
Sendible is my favorite social media posting software. It’s easy to use and offers a lot of features. I found it easier to use than Hoot Suite.
Sendible works with many social media platforms including Tumblr and Pinterest. You can bulk load, queue, schedule, customize posts… you name it, Sendible can do it.
Any business that posts to several social media channels several times per day needs Sendible because it’s a huge time saver.
That said, it’s not cheap so if your business posts only a few times each week to social media, Sendible is NOT worth the expense.
App Creation Software for Small Businesses
I think there is currently a MASSIVE opportunity for small businesses and apps.
Most local small businesses don’t have apps on the app store.
More and more people search for local businesses in the app store search fields.
This means if you want to be found in app stores, you need an app for your business.
The good news is it’s not hard to create a basic app for your small business. I’ve built several to date and now I can get a basic business app done in a few hours.
The 2 business app builders I recommend if you wish to do it yourself are:
GoodBarber and AppyPie.
GoodBarber: GoodBarber is the app builder I use extensively. It’s fairly easy-to-use given the amount of features it offers. It’s very feature rich and offers everything a local small business will need in an app (assuming you don’t wish to offer some custom functionality).
GoodBarber will also submit your app to the Apple IOS and Google Play stores.
AppyPie: AppyPie is easier to use than GoodBarber, but when I used them about 4 months ago, it wasn’t as feature rich as GoodBarber. However, AppyPie will still do the job for small business apps so you definitely want to give them a try.
You can test both app creators for free. In fact you can design an app for free. You’re charged once you decide to submit an app creation to the app stores.
If you want a custom app, you’ll need to pay for it. It’s not cheap. I’ve never hired a programmer to create a custom app for me. However, there are plenty of app coders available for hire. There are also many app creation services you can use.
The important take-away is if you have a business, you should create an app for that business, even if it’s a small, brochure style app. Get exposure in the app stores now.
The Holy Grail of Apps and Marketing
I’ve not done this yet, but I think a huge opportunity for any business is to come up with an app concept that will provide a tool or some type of functionality that appeals to the business’ target audience.
For example, paint companies have color design and paint design apps available as free downloads. Clearly anyone who downloads such an app is probably in the market for paint.
I realize this isn’t possible for every business, but it offers potential for many businesses. It takes some creative thinking in some cases, but if you come up with an app that your target customer base downloads in droves, that’s a lot of very low cost advertising.
Business Management Software Options
If you need only scheduling software, Freshbooks is pretty slick. It’s all online, inexpensive and super easy to use.
However, most schedule-based businesses need software to do more than manage schedules. That’s where a more robust software solution comes into play. Comprehensive small business software is often referred to as universal business management software.
Universal Business Management Software
In my view, when choosing business management software, it’s best to look for industry-specific software. For example, if you need software for a law firm, get practice management software such as Amicus Attorney or Clio (to name 2 of many options). If you operate a fitness or beauty oriented business, get MINDBODYTM or Salon iros (again, to name 2 of many).
The point is that most industries have customized business management software built to manage a specific type of business, including very good scheduling software built in.
In some cases, you may need to do a broader search such as trades management software.
I don’t have a great deal of experience with accounting software.
Like universal business management software. some industries offer industry-specific accounting software.
However, if you don’t need anything specific, QuickBooks may be a good solution for you. I used it and liked it. The reason I didn’t stay with it was I didn’t need the features. My bookkeeping is exceedingly simple and my accountant actually preferred spreadsheets over QuickBooks.
Keep in mind I don’t issue invoices or operate in retail. I have a handful of revenue sources and a few monthly expenses all of which funnels through Paypal, is directly deposited into my business checking and expenses are charged to my business American Express.
I found QuickBooks extremely easy to set up when I used it. It quickly synced with all of my accounts, including checking, business credit cards, business investments and Paypal. Once synced, QuickBooks pulls the entries to centralize all business activity.
Since I don’t issue invoices or receipts, I never had to use that aspect of the software, but I’m sure it can easily sync with any invoicing software and/or retail software you use to avoid manual entry.
As with all software, the more time you invest in setting it up, the more it can do for you and the more time it will save.
Talk to your accountant
Before committing to QuickBooks, talk to your accountant. Perhaps they have systems in place to integrate with other software. I find it’s best (and cost effective) to make reporting and bookkeeping as simple as possible with your accountant. That said, chances are your accountant is likely set up to work with QuickBooks because it’s a very popular small business accounting and bookkeeping software.
I realize there is a lot more software options for small businesses. However, I wanted to restrict this already lengthy post to set out the most important software I use for my local business websites as well as my larger global sites.
Be judicious with your software selection. Spend time researching your options. Software is expensive and it takes time to set it up. That last thing you want to do is spend a few hundred dollars and several days of your time only to realize the software doesn’t meet your needs.