As the owner of a small business, you find yourself juggling with many responsibilities every day. Without the right tools, it can get overwhelming. Over the years, I have zeroed down on a bunch of tools that can help small business owners (especially the ones who have an online business) stay on top of their work. I have tried to keep this list small and smart, with several tools exiting and new ones entering every year. This list is meant to help you get on with the job of managing your day-to-day job of growing your business rather than wasting time on finding the right tools to manage the laundry list. So let’s get on with it.
Intercom – Customer Success and Support
Intercom has transformed the way we engage with our customers. From on-boarding trial users, re-engaging inactive users, and supporting active users – Intercom has become the backbone of our customer communications, support, and CRM processes. We shifted to Intercom just a couple of months back from Zendesk which we used for over 3 years and the impact has been felt big-time. With Intercom’s emphasis on conversations rather than tickets, the way we support our customers has underwent a complete transformation. With in-app visibility, customer-metrics and an almost-chat-like experience, our average support response and resolution time is down to 10 minutes! Intercom also enables us to run targeted campaigns based on several customer metrics. Its the absolute-must-have tool for any SAAS product and I sometimes wonder how we were living without it.
Zendesk – Customer Support
The trusted old-friend Zendesk still continues to play a role albeit a supporting one in our customer communications. We now use Zendesk primarily for billing related communications as billing issues many-a-times take a much longer time to resolve and email as a medium works fine for this use-case.
Sendy with AmazonSES – Bulk Emailing
As our subscriber base grew, so did the cost per email campaign. It was becoming way too expensive for us to communicate with our customers and subscribers with most hosted email platforms being way more expensive than they should be. I searched around for a self-hosted platform that would enable us to send out email campaigns without worrying about cost or deliverability, and that is when I found Sendy. Sendy is a self hosted email newsletter application that lets you send trackable emails via . This has made it possible for us to send authenticated emails to tens-of-thousand of our subscribers at an insanely low price (Amazon SES rocks!) without sacrificing deliverability.
Skype – VOIP
I use Skype to connect with our customers around the world and it continues to be my tried and tested app for voice calls. Skypeout also makes it easier for me to have country based phone numbers that our customers can call into and have the calls forwarded to my mobile.
Wild Apricot – Member Management
If your business entails managing memberships, then Wild Apricot provides you with all the tools to do that in one place. You can manage all your members, take online payments, create events and take registrations and do much more easily with this tool.
Billing and Accounts
Chargify – Recurring Subscriptions
One of the most critical functions in running a SAAS product is managing recurring billing. Its not easy to get customers to continue to pay you month-after-month. We started with the idea of writing our own code for managing the billing but soon (thankfully!) realised the futility of it. We chose Chargify and it has served us reasonably well over the last 3 years, but the platform hasn’t really grown in features or finesse and I am looking at making a shift now. ChargeBee looks very promising and we are in the very initial stages of playing with it. It is cumbersome to migrate customers to a new platform, so choose your billing platform very carefully.
Authorize.net – Payment Gateway
We use Authorize.net as our payment gateway connected with Chargify. Does its job well but is a little complex to manage and needs a separate merchant account. I am looking at shifting to Stripe because of its full-stack service, simplicity and transparent pricing. Credit card data portability is much better with Stripe and that’s important to me.
Quickbooks Online – Accounting
I use Quickbooks Online for accounting and while its never fun, its pretty easy to get the job done with it. Syncs with our bank accounts, is cloud-based and hence I can manage our accounts from anywhere.
BuzzSumo – Influencer Marketing
BuzzSumo has been our tool of choice for finding influencers, identifying content that works well and researching for our SEO campaigns. If influencer marketing is your focus, I would recommend having BuzzSumo in your arsenal. It saves us a ton of time and lets us take informed decisions pretty quickly.
Ahrefs – SEO
Content marketing and SEO are our main sources of organic traffic and Ahrefs lets us track backlinks, keywords, brand mentions and know what our competitors are doing. Its a pretty nifty tool that combines several functions into one – the paid versions are a tad expensive but you can get going (to some extent) with the free version as well.
Also, checkout some alternatives to Afrefs.
Google Analytics – Web Analytics
We need to keep a constant tab on our website traffic and track sources, campaigns, page views, bounce rates and funnels. Google Analytics is pretty powerful when it comes to tracking and analysing traffic. I have tried some of the paid products to track traffic but have still not found any other compelling product to make a shift.
Google Docs and Drive – Collaboration
I don’t remember the last time I used Microsoft Word / Excel. Google Docs has been the default document and spreadsheets processor for me for ages now and all my documents are stored in Google Drive. The fact that I can access and work on them from anywhere and share them easily from my mobile devices make it a no-brainer for me.
Gmail – Email
I have tried Apple Mail, Thunderbird and Outlook earlier, but the web interface of Gmail has been my default choice for several years now. With a few add-ons like Streak (for email tracking and scheduling), Gmail’s native interface more than suffices for my needs.
Slack – Team Communications
We use Slack for team communications. Slack lets us form small groups and keep conversing on any idea or task. Its a simple and effective platform to keep the team on the same page and keep the communication flows open and active.
Asana – Tasks
Our product road map is recorded and evolves everyday in Asana’s simple task-based interface. Asana lets me create projects, assign tasks, set timelines and sequence tasks visually. Its the one tool that keeps our team and the product road map on track.
Evernote – Archives
I dump everything in Evernote. Notes, favourite links, images, references, quick task lists and much more. Its searchable and syncs across devices and makes my life easier.
Alfred – Productivity App for Macs
Alfred is my favourite productive app for my Macbook. It helps me be more efficient everyday with search, hotkeys, keywords, text expansion, calculator (I need one) and more.
Pen and Paper – Ideation
There are times when I just need to doodle and visualise things using a pen and paper. It feels organic and more real and lets me play freely with design ideas. I use notebooks and sketchbooks from LetterNote and always carry one with me.
You can also go for a budget tablet, PARBLO is a professional brand specializing in digital painting tools such as pen displays and drawing tablets.
Recordit – Animated GIFs
Its always easier to explain concepts and workflows with moving GIFs and Recordit is a dead, simple tool for making just that. Its simple, bare interface and no-nonsense, limited functionality makes it my choice for creating GIFs quickly whenever I need to explain something quickly to customers. Saves a tonne of writing and screenshots.
Skitch – Annotated Screenshots
Well, you do have to take screenshots and annotate them many a times and Skitch works well with several simple annotation features and a timed-snapshot feature as well. Plus it lets me crop and resize images quickly. The only limitation is that it only lets you capture what’s on the screen. I use Awesome Screenshot (Chrome extension) to capture full web pages whenever needed.
Unsplash – CCO Images
Unsplash is an awesome repository of CC0 high-resolution images that are free to use for any purpose. The collection on Unsplash just feels more real and organic than stock photo websites. I use Unsplash whenever I am putting together a new theme for Pixpa.