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Our 13 best apps for small business owners

Need something… anything? Yup, there’s an app for that. There are countless business apps developed to make the lives of business owners easier—apps for accounting, project management, marketing automation, email and calendar management, website development, and secure website hosting, to name a few.

Due to the sheer number of apps out there clamoring for your attention, the process of building your business tech stack can quickly become overwhelming. On top of that, everybody seems to have their favorite, and when you start asking for recommendations, you often get conflicting answers.

As a small business owner, I’ve been there! So, I thought I’d share the 13 apps I rely on to keep our small business running efficiently.

1. PROJECT MANAGEMENT: ASANA

I was recently interviewed for a USA Today article comparing project management apps and explained some of the reasons why we use Asana as the hub for all our projects, tasks, and collaboration.

When you’re coordinating multiple team members on simultaneously running projects, bouncing between various tools (not to mention discussions via email) can quickly become a headache—not to mention my biggest fear of stuff slipping through the cracks. Asana allows team members to view projects, quickly access documents and links, collaborate with others, view progress, and, most importantly, stay on track. Conversations relating to the project are all happening in one central place, nearly eliminating the need for back-and-forth email communication. You can also search the history of any project to find forgotten details that suddenly become relevant.

The app has time-saving features such as automation, forms, and templates for recurring tasks. The project manager can get insights into collaborators’ workloads and reporting. While the desktop version is the easiest to use and jam-packed with essential features, a complementary mobile app can help you stay up to date. It can be helpful to get notifications when geographically dispersed team members need quick answers to stay on track.

Another major benefit is Asana’s client view capabilities. The app’s pricing is based on the number of users, but there’s a caveat to that. We can add as many client users as we want without paying for extra accounts—we pay for seats for our core team members only. This hugely helpful feature makes it easy to communicate with clients and collect feedback within the app.

And the best feature of all: when you complete a task, you may be surprised by a unicorn or other magical creature streaking across the screen. More apps need to get in on these little dopamine hits!

2. SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT: SOCIALPILOT

Our social media manager, Hillary Lee, loves using SocialPilot to schedule social media posts and access analytics across all platforms. We know all too well that finding the right social media management tool can be a mission. Here’s why Hillary chose SocialPilot:

  • The ability to schedule the first comment on a post
  • Competitive pricing
  • User-friendly interface
  • The ability to schedule Instagram stories
  • Helpful analytics
  • You can manage your social media inboxes from the app

You may also be interested in:

3. ACCOUNTING: WAVE

Invoicing and bookkeeping are straightforward tasks with Wave, our accounting app of choice. You can view your business finances from one easy-to-use dashboard and pull basic reports. Bank feeds enable up-to-date numbers and help keep the bookkeeping work to a minimum.

We started using Wave to accept online payments from clients, and it’s become essential as our business has grown. It’s not the most sophisticated accounting app out there, which is actually part of the appeal for us. We don’t need a lot of complex features and complicated tracking tools, particularly considering most of our clients are invoiced on a monthly basis. We’ll probably outgrow it someday, but we have yet to run into an accounting task that Wave isn’t able to handle.

4. SCHEDULING: CALENDLY

The back-and-forth of scheduling meetings is a personal point of frustration. I would often send some time options to people and then forget to block those times on my calendar, so by the time they came back to me, I was double booked. I also have multiple calendars that all need to show up in my availability. Calendar management was practically drowning me before I started using Calendly. Now, I simply provide my link to allow people to book time with me at their convenience, within my available time slots. I haven’t used the team scheduling features, but they sound awesome. Most importantly, Calendly provides top-notch security with worry-free data protection.

5. EMAIL AND DOCUMENT COLLABORATION: GOOGLE WORKSPACE

Email is a must for every business owner, and security is a necessity. Google Workspace offers a variety of small business tools, including Gmail, and makes it simple for small business owners to get started without an IT department. Gmail allows business owners to create custom-branded emails using their preferred domain, giving the business a professional, trustworthy appearance from the first impression. Email aliases for specific functions, such as hello@ or webmaster@, are easy to create and manage.

We also use Google Drive to collaborate on documents. With Workspace, it’s simple to share documents with your internal team, and you can also invite outside collaborators (such as clients in our case). We have 30 GB of space on our Workspace drive (a free Gmail account gives you 15 GB on Drive). Some people are reluctant to use Google Docs, Sheets, etc. I’ve come to prefer it for some things (mostly the ease of editing a shared document and seeing updates in real time), but I still use Microsoft Office for independent work and tracking changes.

6. CLOUD STORAGE: DROPBOX

Secure cloud storage creates a home for your business files of just about any type. Dropbox provides that home, living in the cloud, where you and your team can access the content from anywhere.

Organization is key when it comes to managing content, especially when collaborating with clients and team members from your computer, phone, or tablet. I find it easier to stay organized on Dropbox, particularly with complex file structures. While its collaboration tools don’t stand up to Google Drive’s, it is better at storing many different types of files and keeping a historical record.

We also regularly use the request files feature, which makes it easy for clients to upload media assets. Dropbox is rather pricey compared to Google Drive; we’ve found that the Dropbox Family plan is sufficient for our needs and offers some savings compared to the more business-focused plans.

7. PASSWORD PROTECTION: DROPBOX PASSWORDS

We’re only on app no. 7 of our list, and already there’s no way we can be expected to remember seven complex passwords for each of them. Enter the Dropbox Passwords browser extension, which suggests strong passwords for your accounts, saves your account credentials, and auto-fills usernames and passwords. It’s available for most browsers, including Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Safari.

Best of all, Dropbox Passwords is free for customers on most Dropbox plans, enabling us to store as many passwords as we need and use it on multiple devices. Due to the nature of our business, we have a lot of shared accounts and client passwords, so a secure password management tool is an absolute must.

Throw that ragged password notebook or napkin away immediately!

8. WEBSITE: WORDPRESS

Your website is often the first impression people have of your business; make it count! With 43% of the web built on WordPress, we’re not alone when we say it’s our top pick for running our own site and building sites for clients.

Click here for five reasons why we develop on WordPress.

We started out using Squarespace and still occasionally recommend it to clients who have highly specific and limited needs. Squarespace is great at enabling anybody to build a nice-looking and functional website; you can create a professional online presence in a matter of hours. You almost always need to work with a developer to build a WordPress site, so it’s a different commitment level. We recommend WordPress to clients who want a site that will grow with their business and are planning to drive lots of organic traffic. 

9. ORGANIC SEO: SEMRUSH

Semrush is a leader in search engine optimization (SEO) applications with a variety of useful tools to help businesses:

We’ve also found their support proactive, informative, and open to feedback to make the tool even better.

As a small business, you may be able to get away with the limitations of a free Semrush plan. As an agency, we need a paid plan, which starts on the pricy end of the SEO app spectrum.

Not sure what this SEO business is all about?  

Start with these helpful resources:  

BONUS: YOAST SEO

WordPress plugin Yoast SEO also deserves a mention in the SEO section. Even the free version of Yoast provides simple, user-friendly tools to improve your organic rankings. Yoast does an on-the-spot analysis of each page on your website and gives you suggestions to improve search-friendliness based on your chosen target keyword or phrase. It takes the guesswork out of everyday optimization—especially blogging. 

10. MARKETING AUTOMATION: ACTIVECAMPAIGN

Marketing automation keeps you in communication with leads and customers without a whole lot of manual work. There are a bunch of marketing automation tools out there. We’ve tested many of them and come to the conclusion that ActiveCampaign is our favorite.

We exclusively use ActiveCampaign to manage email, contact lists, and marketing automation for our clients.

With ActiveCampaign, you can:

You may also be interested in: ActiveCampaign vs HubSpot: Which is best for your email marketing?

11. WRITING ASSISTANT: GRAMMARLY

Even as a writer, I’m not immune to typos and tired eyes. I also often do my best proofreading after hitting sned 😜. But when I see an error in someone else’s writing, I’m instantly turned off, and I’m sure many of my fellow word nerds feel the same.

Grammarly is a popular writing assistant tool that is there to catch your gremlins in email, Google Docs, social media apps, and pretty much anywhere you do your typing.

You can use Grammarly to:

  • Catch grammar and spelling mistakes
  • Improve sentence structure, word choice, tone, and clarity
  • Check for plagiarism
  • Set goals for your writing based on audience, formality, and tone
  • Learn from your common mistakes

CAVEAT: Proceed with caution! Don’t blindly accept every Grammarly suggestion—you’re the writer, and you know what you’re trying to convey to whom and how.

12. THESAURUS AND WORD TOOLS: WORD HIPPO

Sure, you can use thesaurus.com or dictionary.com when you’re looking to spice up your synonyms. But do either of those sites greet you with a cute pink hippo? Nope, didn’t think so.

I use Word Hippo for its extensive database of synonyms, antonyms, definitions, and translations. The tool has a straightforward interface, making it easy to navigate and use without unnecessary clutter. The suggestions are often better and more nuanced than other tools. And the pink hippo makes me happy.

13. BONUS BUSINESS APP RECOMMENDATION: ANSWER THE PUBLIC

If I end up making a midlife career change, I want a job at Answer the Public (now owned by NP Digital). It is just plain cool, and if you’ve never played with it, I highly recommend setting aside some time to do so.

Answer the Public is a search research tool that provides valuable, raw search insights directly from the searchers themselves. There are over 8.5 billion Google searches every day. You can tap into these searches to find out what people are really looking for on a topic-by-topic basis. You can use the insights to develop products or services, target blog posts, view trends, interpret your own organic search data, or just be nosy. It’s one of my best apps for small business owners because its applications go well beyond SEO and content marketing.

People are far more honest with search engines than they are on social media, surveys, and maybe even among their own families. Typing a query into Google is a little like entering a private confessional. Analyzing that data in the aggregate offers intense insights into the collective psyche of the developed world. Really, you have to try it just for the stunning data visualizations. Have fun.

Are you looking for assistance building a marketing tech stack that works for your business?

We offer one-time strategy engagements and ongoing coaching to help you fine-tune your marketing operations and can help you build a stack of the best apps for small business owners. Contact us to learn more.

You may also be interested in: 8 Hard Truths About Running a Small Business

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