Sourcing and implementing the right set of tools and platforms can significantly impact traction and efficiency for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
After experimenting with a variety of platforms and tools and helping our clients source the right ones for their needs, we’ve compiled a best-of list.
About this list
To start, our list is organized by the tool or platform function type so you can pick and choose based on your company’s needs.
- CRMs (Customer Relationship Management)
- Project Management and Team Collaboration
- Legal and Contracts
- Accounting and Payment Platforms
- Business Bank Accounts
- Simple and Affordable Design and Editing Tools
- Web and Email Hosting
Second, the lists within each category are by no means exhaustive. If you find you need a more specialty tool, drop a note in the comments as we may have one in mind. Or, visit g2.com for lists by type along with validated reviews.
Last but not least, we’ve included discount options wherever possible so keep an eye out for those links!
CRMs (Customer Relationship Management Tools)
For the first category, we’re looking at CRMs. CRMs provide a central place for managing relationships and interactions. Far more than a database for names and emails, CRMs track your history with each lead/customer/client.
With a CRM you can:
- Nurture relationships
- Track sales funnel data
- Personalize your sales approach
- Add notes regarding phone calls or other interactions
- View important touchpoints you have had with a contact
- Glean website insights (page views, clicks, and conversions)
- Practice customer empathy
- Utilize the data for other key platforms (ie: email
Even if you don’t currently need many of the functions available within CRMs, we still encourage you to implement one sooner rather than later. A CRM can serve as a powerful foundation as your company grows. Also, implementing one at a later stage often equates to lost data.
Dubsado is our top favorite platform as it enables many functions all within one tool. From contracts and invoicing to client portals, project management, and more, Dubsado is packed with useful functionality for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Moreover, Dubsado provides ample opportunity for automation leading to greater efficiency and increased profitability. Dubsado also integrates with lead flow forms on your website.
Considering the very affordable price point and all that this one platform can do, Dubsado is an incredible value.
If you’re a sales-driven organization, Hubspot paired with a standalone internal project management platform is a great option.
Furthermore, Hubspot is a great complementary tool to Dubsado as it enables far more robust lead tracking, even on the free version. We use Hubspot for lead tracking and also find the meeting scheduler for some specific applications.
A word of caution: Hubspot can be a much pricier tool as your needs grow beyond that of the free version. If you don’t envision scaling to the point where you will have a robust marketing budget, this may not be the best standalone option for you.
Project Management and Team Collaboration
Next up, we’re talking about platforms that help you work smarter and more efficiently. You may think these sound like nice-to-haves but they are absolutely necessary.
If you are still trying to manage key work tasks, ideas, and milestones in your head, add David Allen’s TED Talk Are you out of your mind? to your must-watch list.
Starting and managing a business is hard enough without numerous details bouncing around in your head. Bring clarity to the complexity and details. You will cultivate a greater sense of peace and sanity.
Dubsado is a clear winner again for this category. Not only can we manage our projects well form an internal perspective, but we have also found that it’s quite user-friendly for our clients of varying backgrounds.
We love the automation aspects that help so many of our processes run smoothly and efficiently without any additional work on our part.
Trello was one of the first project management tools we both used in our first corporate tech jobs years ago and it has only gotten better over time.
We use Trello to break bigger objectives such as business development initiatives into smaller tasks.
Side note: Trello is our tool of choice for travel packing lists. Trello has a magical way of reducing the stress that can come from trying to keep too many details in your head.
Asana is a great project management tool. Even better, the free version is fairly robust. This platform is particularly useful for internal teams managing multiple projects or initiatives.
We discovered that Asana does not work well as a client portal. Our clients who don’t have tech backgrounds found it challenging to use.
Slack helps you organize and easily reference your work conversations shared files. This platform replaces most emails and all instant messaging for internal teams. Moreover, it increases efficiency and camaraderie among teammates.
Aside from weekly team huddles, the bulk of our communications as co-founders happen within Slack. Custom channels and threads ensure that information stays organized by type.
In addition, Slack is still great even if you don’t have teammates or employees. All those random ideas or thoughts you have about various projects or initiatives? You can use Slack to organize them. With phone and desktop apps and easy search functionality, we say Slack for solo use is under-rated.
Plus, as soon as you do add people to your company, you’ve got a great record and history already established which will help with the onboarding process.
Slack is also a great option for creating an exclusive space for your community or sets of communities so people can stay connected. For example…say you just finished a retreat. Create a private Slack space so your retreat alumni can stay in touch.
Yes, we know Facebook groups have traditionally been used for this type of thing but we aren’t Facebook fans (so much noise and useless distraction). We don’t have time to go into it here but there are a number of reasons why Slack is better for this application.
The free Slack option is sufficient for most small teams and paid options are affordable. To know Slack is to love it.
Legal and Contracts
For this section, we’re talking about some admittedly less exciting yet critical platforms. Aside from making educated choices as you found your business, spend time thinking through some of the potential legal pitfalls of your business.
We talk about contracts here as they apply to many businesses. However, for you, this may instead be a liability waiver, an NDA, or any other number of important documents.
Do not skip this stuff and think it won’t happen to you. We are all vulnerable when it comes to unexpected circumstances.
If you’re not sure which type of business structure is right for you, resources like their LLC vs. Corporation comparison chart will help you develop a greater understanding and make an educated decision.
With LegalZoom, you can purchase a formation package for any type of business including an LLC or Sole Proprietorship, order a Federal Tax ID (EIN), create an employment agreement for your first employees, and so much more.
Again, Dubsado. We mentioned it does quite a lot. It’s included again here for what it offers in the way of contracts.
Between e-signing and storing contracts in each client’s portal for reference at any time, Dubsado makes it super easy to send, finalize, and access contracts.
PandaDoc is another winner in the contract space. It was the first platform we used. We were amazed by the increased efficiency we experienced when we implemented this contract platform. It’s easy to use for both the primary user and their clients/customers plus the price point is reasonable.
If you don’t plan to use Dubsado, PandaDoc is a fantastic standalone contract platform.
Accounting and Payment Platforms
When it comes to new business management, keeping a tight rein on your finances is key.
At Holistic we strongly believe in working with an established CPA for occasional help with your books as well as annual taxes and tax planning. Staying organized with the right platform will help ensure smoother hand-offs when your CPA offers support.
The following accounting and payment tools are great options for:
- Organizing your business finances
- Sending invoices
- Collecting payments
- Prepping for tax season
Wave is a great tool if you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of capital for paid tools. Wave is fairly robust in that you can connect bank accounts, track transactions, create and send invoices, and collect payments.
The merchant account fees with Wave are on par with just about every payment collection service out there.
Quickbooks is the gold standard for accounting software. There are several functionality tiers you can select based on your needs, including the self-employed and small business options.
While Quickbooks has both online and desktop versions, we recommend using online software whenever possible to free up computer disk space.
Because Quickbooks is so popular, CPAs (and bookkeepers) are usually very comfortable working with it. Additionally, you can invite your CPA within the software so they can access your books with their own login. This way your logins stay super secure.
Square is one of several payment collection options. The key differentiator for Square is the wide range of functionality including diverse options for money collection. Square is particularly great if you have a mobile or brick and mortar store and need a simple (and attractive) Point of Sale (POS) system.
Like most payment collection services, Square charges a percentage of each transaction rather than a monthly or annual cost for the tool. Fee rates are fairly consistent from option to option.
Stripe is an easy-to-use payment collection option. With a simple interface, it’s quite approachable. Stripe places more emphasis on connections with other platforms, such as project management tools, for an integrated payment collection experience.
Paypal is another great payment collection option. It’s particularly handy if you are already a PayPal user and are familiar with the interface.
Paypal offers several perks for you and your customers. You can use Paypal as a shopping cart for e-commerce, as well as an invoicing tool. It’s also great for subscriptions. Your customers have the added perk of being able to use Paypal credit if they have it.
Business Bank Accounts
Business bank accounts can be strangely confusing. Many accounts for businesses have minimums, fees, and other rules.
The accounts we recommend here are the simplest options we have found that are geared toward small businesses. It is important to have a business account to keep personal and business funds separate.
BBVA Compass has a great, simple, small business checking account. It is somewhat limited but works well for small business owners who are just starting out or those with a lower volume of monthly transactions.
You can apply for the account online if you are a sole proprietor (not a partnership or other corporation status). BBVA also has local branches in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas.
Though not available to new accounts at the time we published this post, Capital One’s Spark Small Business accounts are worth mentioning. They are only unavailable while they undergo a technology upgrade so please check to see if the status has changed.
These checking and savings accounts are easy to set up for sole proprietors and partnerships and don’t have minimum balances or other typical fees. The Spark accounts are online only so you won’t have to worry about going to a branch.
Local Credit Union
If you’re in a state that doesn’t have BBVA and Capital One options are still unavailable, we recommend exploring local credit unions. Known for their attention to customer service and their local outlook, credit unions are great for small businesses.
We recommend going into the branch and explaining your needs to a personal banker.
Simple and Affordable Design and Editing Tools
Next, we’re talking about tools that help elevate the visual aspect of your brand. If you think this isn’t a big deal and you can just wing it, please think again.
We live in a time with exceedingly more options and standing out as a brand is harder than it’s ever been. Every aspect of your brand matters.
Google Fonts is a great place to go to find free, web-safe fonts for your business. We recommend choosing only one or two that pair well. A moodboard exercise is a great way to plan and build your brand look and feel, including fonts.
A companion to Google Fonts, Fontjoy is a helpful tool for exploring font pairings. Complementary fonts are integral to the clarity and cohesiveness of your brand. In our experience, it is very important to stay true to your brand fonts in most design settings.
Canva Pro is a great design tool for anyone who hasn’t learned Photoshop or Illustrator. It’s quite affordable and you can store your brand logo, color palette, and core imagery on the platform for quick access.
While Canva Pro is not a great option for logo creation or other highly custom work, it is quite robust. It enables entrepreneurs and business owners to complete many daily design tasks.
We like to use Canva for social media post images because it’s fast and simple to use.
For core brand materials like logos, business cards, and even promotional flyers, we still recommend using a professional designer and printer.
A Color Story
Another great option for someone who isn’t comfortable with Photoshop or Illustrator, A Color Story is perfect for simple photo edits.
With app and desktop options, A Color Story enables you to take quick steps to polish imagery. We use this app for some quick edits on social media or newsletter photos.
A word of caution regarding photo editing:
Your brand is stronger when your color palette and fonts are consistent. The same principle applies to imagery and photo edits. Avoid heavy filtering and stick to the same general style from image to image. Make sure your style aligns with your brand moodboard.
A Color Story allows you to save custom filter setting combinations to help ensure consistency with each new photo.
Adobe Color is a helpful space for all things palette-related. You can view color palette trends and create color palettes. Adobe Color can even create a color palette based on a photo upload.
Building on brand tools and platforms, we have some additional marketing options. This random sampling is by no means comprehensive.
However, these are some of our most used and recommended offerings. We have one for email campaigns, one for printing, and lastly, an event management option.
MailChimp is our favorite newsletter platform. It is easy to use and has a simple, modern look and feel.
MailChimp offers a free account that includes up to 2000 contacts and several great templates. There are also many integration and form options that can connect with your social channels and website. MailChimp is a great place to start building an email list.
Moo is our printer of choice for business cards, flyers, and more. They have a number of lovely paper options and the quality is fantastic. Their customer service is highly responsive. We have had only good experiences when ordering for our business and on behalf of our clients.
Eventbrite is our event management platform of choice. A powerful, one-stop-shop, Eventbrite offers robust and customizable ticketing options, secure payment processing, and an easy-to-use platform.
When utilized effectively in conjunction with your company website, social media channels, and branding, Eventbrite enables a cohesive and connected user experience.
Moreover, Eventbrite is a great opportunity for visibility beyond your existing community. Visitors who are exploring similar events have an opportunity to see your event as an additional recommendation.
Web and Email Hosting
For our last category, we’re calling out our favorite web and email hosting platforms.
With an ever-increasing number of options for website hosting, doing your research is important. Where you host your website matters, especially as your company grows. Many options available today cost founders far more in the long run than some custom site options due to higher monthly hosting fees.
Also, many platforms are non-transferrable in any way. In other words, if you outgrow the platform as your company grows, you may find yourself starting over from scratch in order to transition to a platform that allows for more customization.
We strongly recommend WordPress over other build-it-yourself options like Squarespace and Weebly. Read more about why we make this recommendation in Myth or Truth: Check Your Marketing Beliefs and Assumptions.
Flywheel offers exclusive WordPress hosting within affordable monthly packages. They specialize in WordPress security and uptime.
G Suite (Google for business) far outpaces any other small business email and software suite. It is easy to use, completely could-based and offers two levels to right-size the service for your business.
We recommend G Suite to all our clients due to the reliability, ease-of-use, and security.
Implementing tools and platforms
As we wrap up, we want to re-iterate that building the suite of tools and platforms that is best for your business is a process. Often, it takes some trial and error.
With each tool and platform choice you make, do what you can to strike a balance among a few key priorities:
- Lay a strong foundation (keep the possible future needs of your business in mind)
- Emphasize both function and budget (choose options that are right-sized for where you are but allow room to grow)
- Be experimental and agile (don’t let perfection stand in the way of taking steps forward)
With this list, you are headed in the right direction as you explore your best fit. Best of luck!