The Ultimate SaaS Toolkit for Small Businesses

mac with tools

You probably have a love-hate relationship with business software. Some software packages have proven their worth ten times over. Others are more of a burden than a boon.

With dozens of software packages on the market for every business process you can imagine, it can be a challenge for small businesses to differentiate between useful and useless systems.

Today, the software as a service (SaaS) business model is dominant. You expect to pay a modest monthly subscription for access to software instead of paying a huge lump sum upfront.

SaaS business models are useful for small businesses because they only make a small dent in cash flow, software pricing is usually dependent on user numbers, there’s no special hardware required, and applications can be accessed from any device with an internet connection.

Read on for a comprehensive exploration of useful SaaS products your small business may need (or want). From accounting and payroll software to HR and employee scheduling, we’ve covered it all.

Website Development and Management


keyboard and mouse stylised
If you don’t already have a website, you need to create one.

Basic websites cost little to build and maintain, and plenty of SaaS options are beginner-friendly. Squarespace, Wix, Moonfruit, WordPress.com and Jimdo are all good options if you’re not a programmer and want someone else to handle hosting and security updates for you.

It’s best to take this approach if you’re new to the world of web development or can’t afford to hire a developer and designer to do the work for you.

Although many of the above SaaS providers offer free options, you’ll almost certainly want to pay the extra for some upgrades, such as your own custom domain (ie. johnsmith123.com instead of johnsmith123.wordpress.com).

Alternatively, if you have want to have total control over the design and upkeep of your website, consider other options such as WordPress.org. You’ll need to register a domain, build and design the website, and choose a hosting package or provider. Upfront or monthly costs will be associated with all of these steps.

Key questions to consider:

  • Do you have the expertise (or funds) to build your own design and maintain the website?
  • Do you want (or need) full control over all aspects of the website?

Accounting and Payroll


accounts spreadsheet and calculator
Your accounting system is the keystone of your business.

Accounting software should save you time, reduce human error and help you out with tedious administrative process such as filing VAT returns. It should be able to hold information of high enough quality and quantity to keep the taxman happy, should he choose to pay a visit.

There are hundreds of cloud-based accounting systems out there for small businesses and sole traders to choose between. Some of the most popular products include Sage 50, Xero, Quickbooks and KashFlow.

Match your wants and needs against feature lists – there’s plenty of variance in what a small business owner would deem essential.

You may also wish to consider specialist accounting software if you operate in an industry with unorthodox payment structures such as the construction sector.

With these software offerings, take advantage of demos and free trials. It’s vital to find a system that’s easy to use and fulfils your needs – you don’t want to be paying £15 a month for software only to have to build your own workarounds to make up for its failings.

Smaller software providers are likely to be more flexible with pricing and features than the established brands. You may be able to persuade their sales team to extend a free trial or add in extra features for the same cost – it doesn’t hurt to ask!

We can’t recommend a specific provider here, as it ultimately comes down to your needs and budget.

Key questions to consider:

  • Do you need any sector-specific or specialist features?
  • Which accounting processes are most time-consuming for your business?

Communication and Project Management


smartphone and tablet
The cloud’s useful for communication, too. With the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and tablets, it’s easier than ever for employees to keep in touch while they’re working remotely.

In recent years, a whole host of systems have sprung up to provide efficient communication between groups of colleagues, without the need for email.

Skype and Slack are the two big names in communication software. Okay, so Skype’s not strictly SaaS – but it does have a web app as well as the downloadable version.

Slack is an instant messaging service built for business. Use it to quickly create group chats, search for previous messages and get in touch with colleagues without having to send an email. It’s fast, it’s user-friendly, and it soon becomes indispensable to office-based businesses that give it a shot.

Slack alternatives include Bitrix24, which has a focus on projects and tasks, and Fleep which integrates with email – any participant who isn’t on Fleep receives messages through their email address.

Again, each provider has its pros and cons, so decide on which package best meets your needs. Take a close look at the integrations that the services offer. Would you like to be able to drag and drop Google Drive files into the conversation window? How about making Skype calls from within the application?

Of course, you don’t necessarily need a social intranet. Your small business may be perfectly happy messaging via email and Google Hangouts alone. If you have many remote workers or juggle multiple projects at a time, we would recommend looking into communication software like Slack, or collaboration tools such as Trello.

Many of these systems have generous free tiers which are likely to be more than sufficient for most SMEs.

Key questions to consider:

  • What are the current communication problems at your business?
  • Do you expect to have more remote workers in the future? How will they keep in touch?

Office Suites


stationery
Office suites are the bread and butter of business. They contain word processors, spreadsheets, database software and presentation software – the tools we take for granted in this digital age. Your options are no longer limited to programs that need to be installed on computers. Today, there are plenty of cloud-based office suites that are just as effective as Microsoft Office and Apple’s old iWork suite.

Available programs include:

  • Office Online. Microsoft offers a free suite of web apps with basic functions, but they don’t offer anywhere near the same features as Office 365.
  • iWork (Apple’s Productivity Apps). iWork made the jump to the cloud back in 2011, so now all your Pages, Keynote and Numbers documents are accessible through your iCloud account.
  • Google Apps for Work.

Familiarity is often the most important factor in office suites, but the cost of these options varies significantly, too.

You’ll also want to use a cloud storage service such as Google Drive or OneDrive.

Key questions to consider:

  • Do your clients or customers request documents in a particular format?
  • Are your employees content with the current office suite they use, or would they like to try another?

Marketing


laptop sending mail
There are endless different types of marketing software out there. Your choices will depend on your needs.

If you do plenty of social media marketing, consider a social media dashboard such as Hootsuite, Buffer or Sprout Social, or at least start using Twitter’s own Tweetdeck to keep track of multiple accounts.

Dig deeper with specialist Twitter analytics software such as Followerwonk, which helps you identify new influencers in your sector.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) and analytics software can help you understand your search engine rankings and how users find and navigate your website.

At the very least, use Google Analytics. Explore keywords, backlinks and content in more detail with software such as Ahrefs or Moz’s Keyword Explorer. Use Kissmetrics to drill-down to the behaviour of each individual as they traverse your website.

You may prefer all-in-one marketing software like HubSpot – but make sure you’re getting your money’s worth!

For email marketing, MailChimp and Campaign Monitor are the two most popular options. Campaign Monitor has a basic plan at $9 per month, which lets you send 2,500 emails to 500 people. MailChimp has a free tier that lets you send 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers each month.

Email marketing software is essential if you want to send out professional-looking marketing emails without having to hire a designer.

Specialist marketing software also exists for many sectors. If you’re in the restaurant trade, take a look at Eateria.

Key questions to consider:

  • Which marketing channels would you like to focus on?
  • How much of your marketing budget are you willing to spend on software?

Customer Service and Sales


customer service rep
If your company offers customer support, you’ll certainly be aware of the difficulties of managing customer queries through a basic email inbox.

Help desk software aims to eliminate that problem by providing a cloud platform that organises your mailboxes in a single location, so that they can be easily accessed and searched by users.

Software like HelpScout, Kayako and Zendesk can help you reduce miscommunication and resolve customer issues quickly. Different software packages will focus on emails, incoming call management, and ticket management, so pick the software that best meets your customer service needs.

Depending on your budget, you may wish to go a step further on opt for an online CRM system such as Intercom, Insightly, Salesforce or Capsule. These tend to combine sales functions with customer communication functions, although precise features vary between providers.

These systems are incredibly powerful – but their usefulness is usually reflected in their price!

Key questions to consider:

  • What volume of customer enquiries do you expect in the near future?
  • Are you struggling to monitor and manage the sales process at your company?

Specialist Software


coffee equipment and till
Chances are you’ll need some software that’s more specialist than what we’ve mentioned so far.

If you’re in bricks-and-mortar retail or hospitality, you’ll need point of sale software to carry out transactions, apply discounts and keep track of sales figures. EPOS providers include TouchBistro (for restaurants and cafes), Lightspeed and Epos Now.

Hospitality businesses may also wish to use booking software to better manage reservations at their hotel or restaurant. Our top pick for restaurants is ResDiary.
Companies in distribution, transportation, construction, farming, healthcare and many other sectors are also likely to require specialist software.

Key questions to consider:

  • Do your competitors use any specialist software?
  • Is it worth looking into cheaper generic software packages and using workarounds?

Staff Management and HR


happy employees
HR software isn’t just for large businesses. SMEs may wish to implement HR software to streamline tedious administrative tasks – we recommend BreatheHR and PeopleHR. Pricing starts from £9 per month and £1 per employee respectively.

If you’re looking to gain regular, honest feedback from your staff about the state of your business, you may wish to investigate employee survey software such as TINYpulse or OfficeVibe. These software packages ask a survey question about your business to every employee each day or week. The anonymous results are pooled and reported to the employer’s dashboard.

Finally, for companies using rotas and shifts, specialist rota software can ease those scheduling headaches. RotaCloud can save you dozens of man-hours each month.

Key questions to consider:

  • How much time do you spend each week on staff admin and HR?
  • What do staff think of your current approach to scheduling, requesting annual leave and collecting feedback?

Software checklist

Here’s a handy checklist of the various types of software SMEs will need (and want):

  • Essential: Cloud storage
  • Essential: Accounting
  • Essential: Website builder/management system
  • Social intranet, instant messaging and team collaboration
  • Video communication or VoIP
  • Online office suite
  • Social media management
  • SEO and analytics (including keyword tools)
  • Email marketing
  • All-in-one digital marketing service
  • Online CRM
  • Help desk
  • EPOS
  • Other specialist systems
  • HR
  • Employee survey
  • Rotas and staff scheduling

Your business certainly won’t need every type of software we’ve mentioned in this article, but don’t just make do with the essentials.

Instead, think about which software packages will net you a return on your investment, either through direct savings or as a result of time saved.

And if you’re still looking for rota software – look no further!