If you’re thinking of starting a business or improving an existing one, you’re going to need the right tools for the job. So, in this post, we look at 10 key apps for startups that can make your workflow more efficient and lead to an increase in business growth.
1. A productivity suite
Before you can do anything exciting in your business, you’re going to need some apps that can take care of the boring (but very important) things: a reliable email account, file storage, and productivity tools.
The industry-leading productivity suites which provide all the above are Office 365 and G Suite (formerly Google Apps).
However, it can be quite hard to choose between them — there a lot of pros and cons to weigh up. As such you might like to read our Office 365 vs G Suite comparison review. This explains the core differences between the two productivity suites, as well as outlining what alternatives are available.
2. A website or online store
It goes without saying that you’ll need a website for your business. But with many website building platforms available, it’s important to make the right decision regarding which one to go for.
Portfolio sites/brochure sites
If you’re not intending to sell services or goods online — i.e., your website is more of a portfolio or ‘brochure’ site with business ultimately taking place offline — then Squarespace is often a good bet for startups because it’s easy to set up a site with it, the templates are attractive, and you get support included with your plan.
WordPress is another great option for portfolios or brochure sites — and one that will give you more control over the aesthetics and the functionality of your site — but there is a bit more of a learning curve involved.
If you’re selling products and services online, more thought is required. Although it’s tempting to just embed a Paypal button on a web page to handle online transactions, there are many more sophisticated options available to you that will serve you better.
Ultimately, if you’re serious about e-commerce, you’re going to need a platform you can use to build a fully functional store: one that can adequately cater to things like product variants, shipping, tax rates, and abandoned carts. Big hitters in this area include Bigcommerce and Shopify.
If you’ve already got a website, and want to turn it into an online store, you might find that Ecwid is a good solution for you (it’s a ‘widget’ that’s designed to add e-commerce functionality to any existing site).
Tip: when it comes to the aesthetics of your website or online store, you might find that simple web-based design tools like Crello offer a cost-effective way to create graphics or animations for it.
3. An email marketing tool
A large mailing list is VITAL to the growth and long-term success of a business.
Not only can email marketing provide a fantastic return on investment, but it’s also a great way to share content widely (something which can build great brand awareness and even improve SEO).
Many new business owners think that a mailing list is simply a bunch of email addresses stored in an Excel spreadsheet that gets emailed via The outlook from time to time.
Taking this approach is a big mistake. Dedicated email marketing tools allow you to capture email addresses via your website, host a large mailing list online, create newsletters, automate communications, and track results easily.
There are many great apps available — but based on value for money and reliability (respectively), our favorites are probably Getresponse and Aweber.
Read 10 Best Startup Tools for 2020
CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’, and these days the acronym is usually used to refer to cloud-based software that allows you to keep track of and manage the business relationships between your organization and your leads and clients.
Typically, a CRM app will allow you to capture, organize, and analyze leads track communication with leads, and clients allocate tasks to your team.
- manage your ‘sales pipeline’ (i.e., identify leads and track how the process of converting them to a client is going)
- manage customer inquiries via a support ticketing system
Now, as with email marketing, many new business owners rely on Excel to handle all this sort of stuff – which, as with mailing list management is a bad move when there are so many more sophisticated options available to you.
Hubspot offers a very functional free version of its CRM tool — this is a good introduction to the world of customer relationship management.
Other cost-effective options involve Capsule or Nimble.
Which product is right for you will really depend on nature and the complexity of your business, but either way, finding the right CRM tool will usually be vital to ensuring that it grows successfully.
5. Growth Hacking Tools
Once you’ve got your website live and your email marketing app sorted, the next thing you’ll need to do is grow the number of people visiting your site and join your mailing list.
Now, there is a multitude of tools to help you do this. For example, you’ll find apps that let you run A/B tests on your site pages to find out which is most likely to convert a visitor to a subscriber; tools that let you create video recordings of your visitors’ behavior on your site and analyze it; and ‘welcome mats’ which encourage mailing list subscription before any other action is taken on your site.
You’ll find an exhaustive list of growth-hacking apps over on the Kissmetrics site, but for me, there are two particular aspects of growth hacking to zoom in on and prioritize when starting a new business: social sharing, and lead generation. You basically want to make it as easy as possible for somebody to share your content or subscribe to receive more of it.
Tools like Sumo can really help you here, providing everything from sharing buttons to live chat to data capture ‘welcome mats.’
Other similar services worth investigating include Addthis and Sharethis.
6. Cloud-based accounting
Cloud-based accounting apps are increasingly popular and worthy of serious consideration over traditional spreadsheet usage.
A cloud-based accounting solution is connected to your bank account, meaning that all your transactions are imported into your accounting software in real-time (i.e., no more copying and pasting transactions from your online bank account into a spreadsheet).
Not only that but these apps you to raise branded invoices and produce detailed reports at the click of a button. They can give you access to an in-depth analysis of your company finances, and make preparing a tax return significantly easier.
Because of these advantages, if you use a bookkeeper, it often makes sense to hire one that works ‘in the cloud’.
Industry-leading cloud-based accounting apps include Xero and Quickbooks.
7. Keyword research tools
It’s all very well having a business and a website to go with it — but if you’re not ranking highly in search results, it’s not going to be a success.
One of the best ways to improve the performance of your website is to make sure that you are publishing content that people are actually searching for. To do this, you’ll need to perform keyword research.
Tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush are essential for this kind of work.
8. Notebooks and To-do lists
An oft-overlooked aspect of running a business is the amount of note-taking it involves.
From capturing brainwaves to taking minutes to jot down a phone number of a potentially useful contact, you will find yourself taking a host of notes in your business life.
So, it makes sense to take them in the best possible way – and in my view, that’s digital, using a dedicated note-keeping app.
There are a plethora of note-keeping apps out there to choose from – but Evernote’s got to be one of the best.
It allows you to place text, images, files, and research all in one digital workspace which you can then share with friends, colleagues, and family. You can access Evernote across all your devices, meaning your notes are always with you.
If you use a productivity suite like G Suite or Office 365 however, you may find that their ‘Keep’ and ‘OneNote’ products meet your needs perfectly well.
To-lists have been part of running a business since the year dot. They’re a surprisingly vital part of running and growing a business: without them, nothing gets done.
As with much else in the business world, they’ve now moved online. And again, there are loads of options available.
Todoist is a simple but effective app for managing, as the name suggests, your to-do list. It works across devices and is available as a Chrome extension too, meaning your uncompleted tasks are always following you around (perhaps I’m not selling this as well as I should). Nifty features include being able to turn emails into tasks and categorize tasks by project.
Wunderlist is another good option.
9. GDPR compliance tools
Adhering to GDPR laws on data capture is reasonably straightforward, but it’s quite hard to adhere to the cookie laws. Your website needs to display a cookie banner which not only informs your visitors that cookies are being used but also allows them to give prior consent to them being run.
This is quite a challenge from a technical point of view, but there’s a new tool called Cookiepro which we’ve discovered and which we recommend to our clients as a way of ensuring compliance (particularly where hosted website building products like Squarespace, Shopify, and Bigcommerce is concerned).
You can choose to set up Cookiepro yourself (which will require a bit of time and effort) or alternatively pay a one-off fee to get assistance.
10. A Social Media Manager
Most businesses end up struggling to manage several social media profiles at once. It can be tricky to keep on top of them all or analyze what’s working and what’s not across all your channels.
This is where an all-in-one social media management tool like Hootsuite is invaluable. You can use tools like Hootsuite to manage all your social media accounts in one place; schedule messages across your profiles; measure your social media campaign performance and assign tasks to your team messages to ensure that all messages
generated by your social media activity get answered.
All this improves your social media comms or frees up time to do other important stuff!
Alternatives to Hootsuite include Sendible and Buffer.