We've put together a dream team list of the best software and services designed to help start and grow a small (online & home) business easily and cheaply, with as little admin and effort as possible.
To improve your chances of successfully starting an online business (especially if it's an eCommerce store) it's vital to select not only the best individual software solutions (& services), but also the ones that work and integrate seamlessly with each other.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to do this.
In any given niche (i.e. eCommerce website builder, accounting software, marketing, email, SEO, etc) there are multiple options of varying quality that can mean a lot of trial and error at the start. This means wasted time and expense just when you need it the least.
Instead of simply listing every possible piece of software we can think of and letting you waste time and effort sorting out which ones are the best, we've only listed one product/service per category. The best one.
Become profitable faster by using the best technology & services to save time & money.
Click on a link to see the best software or service in that category.
Saving time and money during the startup phase allows you to get to market quickly, start making money and feel secure in the knowledge that you are using the best and most reliable business solutions on the market. Let's get started...
Business Plans (LivePlan)
LivePlan has helped over 400 000 small businesses to start and grow up to 30% faster.
A study by Cranfield university showed that businesses that developed a plan and tracked their progress against that plan grew up to 30% faster than those that didn't. A business plan is obviously important for understanding and growing your startup, but it's also vital for attracting investment and funders.
While there are plenty of freely available business plan templates and outlines, if you're serious about putting your plan in front of important people, LivePlan can help to design, research, implement, format and layout the plan in a way that banks and funders expect from a serious investment prospect.
OnDeck is the largest small business lender in the U.S. and has loaned over $6 billion to 50 000 small businesses.
OnDeck can offer two types of funding:
- Term loans of up to $500 000 with interest rates as low as 5.9%
- Lines of credit of up to $100 000 with interest rates as low as 13.99%
It has thrived because of its competitive interest rates combined with quick and easy applications that can result in a decision in minutes and money in your account within 24 hours. You can use the money for almost anything too; from working capital to equipment, inventory, or general loans.
Business Cards (MOO)
MOO prints and delivers millions of business cards to hundreds of thousands of customers around the world every month.
A business card can be thought of as a brand ambassador for your company. MOO understands how great design can help shape people's opinions of your brand, and offers a fast, easy, online interface to create an attractive, functional business card and have it at your front door in no time at all.
As you'd expect from the leading business card print service, not only can you select from a huge range of design templates, card types, and materials, but each card in a batch order can be completely unique. Definitely worth looking into if you're looking for an edge at the next networking event.
Check out our business cards 101 guide to uncover tips and tricks to getting the perfect design.
Domains & Hosting (GoDaddy)
Godaddy is the world's largest domain registrar, with over 71 million domains under management and around 19 million customers to date.
While it may not seem too important at first glance, choosing the right domain name can have a huge impact on the success or failure of your business. Forget to research your new domain and it might lead to years of frustration. Google penalizes domains that are spammy, and, like the proverbial elephant, it doesn't forget.
How sure are you that the domain you want isn't dead in the water before you've even started? Learn more about how to choose the perfect business domain name.
Similarly, a good Web hosting service can also prevent premature ageing by offering reliability and great support. In general it is better to go with a hosting plan that allows room to expand and offers plenty of juicy support (you hope you'll never need it, but you're glad if when do).
We reviewed some of Godaddy's most popular hosting plans for small business, including features, support and pricing.
Shopify powers over 400 000 online stores and has facilitated over $34 billion in eCommerce transactions to date.
Designing a cutting edge, responsive website to sell stuff online is a lot easier than it sounds. That's because Shopify is a website builder that lets you choose a responsive theme (to support mobile devices), add products, integrate with 3rd party technologies to take payments, manage inventory, stock, accounting, tax, shipping, and just about everything else an online retail business needs, without needing to know a thing about how the Web works.
Shopify offers industry leading performance, reliability and support, but, for me, the real advantage it offers is a huge, vibrant developer community that create apps that offer virtualyl any possible functionality your business might need using a plug-n-play architecture.
Oh, and they also offer their own integrated PoS (Point of Sale) system - including hardware and software - that can help you run both a bricks and mortar store as well as an online store all in one.
You can start your own Shopify store in minutes, for free, by following our step-by-step setup guide.
Xero provides cloud accounting software to over 1 million small businesses in 180 countries around the world.
Because Xero offers arguably the world's leading integration with 3rd party software and systems, combined with the fact that it is accessible via the cloud 24/7, it transcends the standard functionality of traditional accounting software and becomes the glue that binds different parts of your business together in a beautifully seamless manner.
Business owners using Xero can expect a diverse range of features and functionality that will help them do everything from getting paid faster (with professional invoices and reminders) and understanding their cash flow (in real time) to running their business from their mobile.
Check out our comparison review of the 3 most popular online, cloud accounting solutions - with Xero, Freshbooks, and Quickbooks online - for small business.
Tax (H&R Block)
H&R Block has completed over 680 million tax returns and has an office located within 5 miles of most Americans.
Tax. We've all got to do it. But there is often more than one way of doing things, and you, as a small business owner, won't necessarily have the experience and knowledge to ensure that you aren't overpaying the taxman. To put it into perspective, H&R Block helped their clients claim over $50 billion in tax refunds, credits and other government benefits in a single year.
On aggregate, any client of H&R Block will have access to a tax professional with around 10 years of experience and hundreds of hours of training. Not only that but they also offer a huge range of online tax & tax filing solutions, plus a peace of mind service plan that puts a federally authorised tax professional in your corner in the event you're audited.
Email Marketing (AWeber)
AWeber facilitates over 100 000 small business email campaigns.
AWeber is an incredibly popular email marketing platform for SMBs because of it's slick, easy-to-use interface and wide range of integrations with 3rd party apps (such as your online store, blog, Facebook page, etc) that make growing a super valuable list relatively painless.
I like it particularly because they are ahead of the curve when it comes to sign-up form design - offering a range of responsive forms that can be integrated with a modern, responsive Web design without requiring custom development (as is the case with other leading email services).
Remember, if you're working online then you're going to need to build email marketing lists - as the saying goes, "the money's in the list". It's quick, free and easy to setup your own email campaign using AWeber, by following our email marketing setup guide.
SEMRush serves over 1 million users and provides competitive insights into 45 million domains and over 120 million search keywords.
SEMRush does something that Google Analytics and Search console don't - provide analytical SEO data on competing websites. It's a vital tool in your armoury if you intend to compete for organic search traffic from Google because it can shed light on what competitors are doing to get new backlinks, who's giving them backlinks and how well they are performing in the search results.
Knowing this information makes it a lot easier to work out what content to create, how and where to market and promote it, and who can help build valuable organic links to improve your own page rankings and visibility.
You can analyze your own domain right now:
You can learn plenty more about SEO and how to use SEMRush to dominate search rankings in our comprehensive guide to optimizing for search.
Shipstation automates and consolidates shipping (via any major delivery service) from over 40 different sales channels.
Building an eCommerce website is the easy part of selling online. Keeping track of stock and ensuring that fulfilment is managed in the most cost-effective and efficient way is a different story altogether. That's where Shipstation comes in. It allows you to import orders from any sales platform you're using and create shipping labels and deliver packages quickly and easily.
Shipstation's automation features mean that shipping mistakes are drastically reduced and you can quickly and easily monitor the state of your deliveries on a slick, online interface. The net effect is that you have more time to put into growing the business by adding more sales channels (since they're easier to manage with Shipstation).
Hootsuite is the world's most widely used social relationship platform with over 15 million users.
Social media has quickly become part of the fabric of online business. Whether you are blogging or selling, the traffic and customers driving your profits can be grown using one or more of the major social networks. To run a social media campaign for business requires tools that help you understand the audience and create better engagement with them.
If you're looking to grow into the social media space then it's vital to have insights into how your engagements are performing, the ability to collaborate with other team members across social platforms, as well as planning and executing campaigns, from start to finish.
Office Supplies (Amazon)
Amazon is an online retail marktplace and cloud services company with over $135 billion in annual revenue.
Amazon, as an online retailer, really needs no introduction. It's unlikely that anyone reading this isn't already a customer of Amazon. Given their sheer scale and infrastructure it's no surprise that they can sell and deliver virtually any product sold on the planet faster and cheaper than anyone else; and that goes for office supplies, furniture, equipment, hardware & software, and pretty much anything else you might need to start a business.
What you might not be aware of is a few important tips and tricks that you can use to save even more money by shopping and selling on this platform. Because Amazon is a marketplace with millions of 3rd party sellers competing to capture market share, prices can jump up and down like a yo-yo.
Knowing when the price is low is obviously a great way to save money buying necessities, and you can see one great trick to automating this process in our office supply store comparison list.
Office Software (Office 365)
Office 365 is the most widely used cloud based business software, controlling over 25% of the market.
Microsoft's Office 365 takes the traditional office software products, like Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and bundles them together into an online cloud service that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, from any device.
Obviously, they didn't stop there. They also added access to new technologies, like Skype, and a host of other collaborative and team based tools. Plus a healthy dose of cloudy goodness, like email hosting, 1TB of online storage, online calendars, and plenty more.
Remember, there are freely available software products that do a very good job for the small or home business user. However, there's a reason Office 365 has grown to dominate the business software market - bundling everything a business needs into one convenient cloud based package makes 365 hold greater value and use than the sum of its individual parts.
Jobs & Employment (Monster)
Monster is a global online employment solution that handles around 8000 job searches every minute.
While Monster began life, some 20 years ago, as a simple job board, it is morphed into a sophisticated platform to connect employers and job seekers quickly and efficiently.
As recruitment becomes more complex and competitive, it is vital small businesses retain the ability to attract the right people. This is where Monster shines because it helps to deliver the right, qualified candidates in order to help you make better hiring decisions with less effort. Plus it makes prospecting for, and communicating with, potential candidates easy by virtue of the fact that it has a massive and diverse database on job seekers.
Security & Antivirus (Avast)
Avast uses cloud based machine learning to protect over 400 million users.
Avast casually points out that they prevent over 1 billion attacks every month. They use teams of highly talents security engineers and mathematicians from some of the leading educational institutes like Standford, Oxford and MIT to take on the ever more sophisticated attacks from ever more organised and well-funded hackers.
Internet security is something everyone has to be mindful of right from the start. Hacks and attacks are not things that happen to other people, they are generally automated and random meaning that it's not a question of if you'll get hit, but when. It definitely pays to give your company a fighting chance of avoiding damaging cyber attacks.
Did you know it's quick and easy to download Avast antivirus for free?
Printing (Fedex Office)
Fedex Office provides both traditional full-service printing shops and online cloud printing solutions that leverage their global shipping network and over 1800 traditional stores.
Fedex Office stands out because of it's combination of online and traditional printing infrastructure. This means it provides the best of both worlds in the sense that you can design and print anything from documents and posters to flyers, signs and banners online but have them shipped and delivered to wherever they need to be faster and cheaper than competitors.
What's also pretty useful is the Fedex Office mobile app that makes online printing from your smartphone quick and easy. Perfect for sales people who need stuff printed on the fly, at any time, from anywhere.
Expedia is a travel brand that facilitates approximately $81 billion in bookings, amounting to 275 million room nights each year.
Expedia excels at providing a quick and simple interface to book business travel (that generally requires a combination or bundle of flights, cars and accommodation) globally while leveraging big discounts from the world's leading travel and hospitality companies.
They also offer apps and memberships that can make finding and booking corporate travel cheaper and quicker with features like trip planning, a huge range of daily deals and rewards (especially with their Expedia+ business program).
So that's our dream team list of technologies, software and services that can help save time and money in virtually any aspect of your business, regardless of whether you are a one-person garage based startup, or a thriving medium size business looking to increase your competitiveness and capture more market share.
What other tools and services are vital to the health of your business? Share your recommendations in the comments and, if we like what we see, we'll update the list.