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    5 Tools Like QuickBooks that You Should Be Using in Your Small Business Today

    Posted by Sylvia Lagerquist, CPA

    5 Tools Like QuickBooks that You Should Be Using in Your Small Business Today

    More than 90% of U.S. small businesses run on a desktop or online version of QuickBooks, the world’s leading small business accounting software. This is largely because most small business owners recognize that they simply must use software to track their accounting, bookkeeping and tax planning accurately.

    And yet, with this one exception, most small businesses are still woefully under-equipped with the proper technologies to meet their day-to-day needs. This article features five fundamental technologies that small businesses should be using — and in most cases, can begin using at little to no cost – to build the right platform for long-term success.

    1. Customer Relationship Management

    Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is a cornerstone tool for any small business. This is the tool that allows you to record and track the contact information and a history of interaction between you and your customers and prospects. In addition, these tools can be invaluable in helping you stay in touch with customers, as well as manage and follow through on sales opportunities.

    There are many products on the market, most of which can be accessed directly via the web. Some, like HubSpot CRM offer a free, entry-level version. In addition, some CRM products offer special integrations between their database and your QuickBooks system. For example, Insightly CRM provides a sophisticated integration between its system and QuickBooks Online that can help you keep your accounting system up-to-date with the latest contact information on your customers.

    2. Human Resource Management

    Small business owners often assume that they won’t need software to manage their employees because they have a small employee base. Nonetheless, a lot of small businesses have complex employment requirements such as part-time and seasonal staff; a combination of hourly and salaried personnel; changes in employee status; and other complex factors. That’s why software to track and manage everything from the applicant stage through the full lifecycle of the employee relationship is key.

    There are three great ways to access these tools. The first is to ask your payroll vendor, if you use one, to provide them. Often times a Human Resource Management System (HRMS) or Human Capital Management (HCM) system is an option available through these companies. For example, Payroll Network, a leading payroll provider in the Washington, D.C. region, offers a product called iSolved HCM as an option to its customers.

    The second approach is to partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), since part of the service offering provided by a PEO usually includes use of an HRMS/HCM application. For example, JustWorks provides a state-of-the-art cloud application as part of their offering for all clients.

           Editor’s Note: Learn more about deciding whether a PEO is right for your business by reading this article on our blog:

    The third approach is to access a standalone product, either by purchasing a license for a solution such as Gusto, or by using a provider that offers the capabilities as part of a larger package.

    For example, Zenefits offers access to their full-featured HRMS/HCM system either at a low cost for standalone clients, or as part of a package in return for purchasing insurance through their network.

    3. Expense Reporting & Management

    Expense management is a huge challenge — and an enormous headache — for small businesses and their owners. QuickBooks has always offered a core expense management capability, and now the online version is expanding to provide some additional automation in that area.

    In addition, offerings such as Expensify offer an individual license for free, and then expand to offer reasonably priced monthly fees for a truly comprehensive solution that can track everything from one-off expenses to corporate credit cards and travel, even mileage details, in one system.

    4. Web Content Management

    There was a time in the not-so-distant past when a small business would hire a web developer to create their website, and then whenever they needed to make an update, they would pay that developer (usually called the “webmaster”) for their time to make each update. Those days are long over, and yet many small businesses still follow this process — thanks in large part to a marketplace loaded with vendors who will still sell this outdated approach to them.

    Of course, you may choose to have someone else manage your website for you, but you don’t want to be forced into that decision, nor do you want to be dependent upon a web developer to program the site differently every time you want to update text, an image or a link. That’s why every small business website should be built on top of a comprehensive Content Management System (CMS).

    WordPress is the world’s leading CMS product and, in its standard configuration, it is completely free. WordPress also supports an enormous ecosystem that gives you access to literally thousands of plugins and tools to enhance your site over time.

    Another approach is to use a licensed CMS product, especially if you want to have direct integration between your website, your marketing system and other tools. One solution in this space is HubSpot, which provides a product they call the Content Optimization System (COS), that seamlessly delivers CMS functionality while also automatically providing full-featured marketing automation capabilities, built-in.

    5. Social Media & Digital Marketing

    Some small business owners are aggressively embracing social media, while others quietly view it as another task on their unending list of priorities that seems, for them, to have dubious value. The reality is, social media can be essential and valuable to your business – but only if you develop strategies to make it so.

    That’s why social media management applications are another critical tool in your toolbox. They will allow you to easily prepare and schedule posts for multiple social media platforms; track responses and engagement on each site; and identify content from others that could be of value to your audience.

    One of the most recognized applications in this space is HootSuite, which offers a free entry-level plan and provides robust, proven capabilities to manage multiple social media channels with ease.

    The other approach is to integrate social media with other digital marketing tools such as email marketing in a single suite, such as Infusionsoft or HubSpot Marketing.

    However, these tools involve varying levels of investment, so for many small businesses it’s best to start with “freemium” tools first, and build a regular process of engaging in digital and social media marketing successfully, before upgrading to a significant software investment.

    To address this need, HubSpot recently launched a free product to help small businesses begin exploring the world of marketing automation.

    As you can see, small businesses need a lot of tools in order to operate optimally. The good news is that free or low-cost options — most of which are highly regarded and proven solutions — are available as a starting point in each category. Making the commitment to building a robust technology toolset in your company today, will set your small business on the path to success tomorrow.

    Image Credit: MIJ (Flickr @ Creative Commons)

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