You need more than accounting software to thrive as a small business. Here are 4 of our favorites that your business needs.
Honestly, we love tools, but not just for the sake of having them. While we’re often mistaken for early adopters of new technology, we only bring new tools on (or create our own) when we see a clear, necessary need for them. Then we can’t live without them, just like a carpenter with a full kit.
Our favorite tools for small businesses focus on the following two necessary elements for a thriving modern business.
- Make things as easy and 24/7-accessible to your customers as possible.
Bank hours alone just don’t cut it anymore. You never know when a potential customer is cruising on their smartphone looking for you. Whether you run a software company, retail operation, provide services, consulting, a nonprofit, you name it, you need to make key services available for your customers even after hours.
Start by thinking about the first steps a potential customer takes to connect with you. Of course, they’ll need information about your company and services. But what happens next in a customer’s journey? Is it to book an appointment? Provide contact information? Make a purchase? Draft down the journey(s) customers take to find and engage with your business, and then craft an online presence that facilitates these first steps.
The benefits are obvious: you make your business work for you even while you sleep, often save time, and capture more clients than if you made them jump through hoops. Make it easy to be your customer.
- Develop ongoing relationships and loyalty with your clients.
Especially in this digitally connected age, customers (still) love having a relationship with companies like yours, and it’s easier than ever to maintain contact and provide ongoing value.
Offering a one-time service requires a perpetual source of new clients. It’s exhausting. Building relationships helps you have ongoing business with your clients, which increases the lifetime value of your present customers, and more referrals, which brings in new customers.
Your online presence should be welcome, thoughtful, and ongoing so you stay top of mind when your clients think of your industry. Even if your service is infrequently needed, as in the case of a roofing company, you can still send intentional, small hellos to your customers.
With these two goals of making it easy for your customers and developing ongoing relationships with them, here are our top 4 online tools your business needs:
- Website Software
- Customer Relations Management (CRM) System
- Online Bookings + Scheduling
- Online Payments
We’ll start with the most obvious piece because without a solid, well-oiled website, none of the other tools will work well. We’ve already covered why you need a website, even if you’re small and local. Now it’s time to actually create it.
It’s 2019, and you need a solid website so customers find you, learn about you, trust you, and contact you—including from a smartphone. Having an outdated, desktop-only, or limited online presence severely limits your business, whether you realize it or not.
What is it?
Long gone are the days when you needed to code your website. There are now many user-friendly ways to create a custom website for your business.
While it’s amazing what you can do with drag-and-drop builders these days, they simply can’t do everything. If you’re looking for specific functionality or design, you’ll likely have to customize your code, find someone who can, or adjust your expectations.
Websites are an ongoing project—and your most valuable marketing tool. If you don’t set your website up correctly or let yours go feral, expect time-consuming problems to crop up.
Watch out for the allure of introductory offers. Services like to get you in cheap, but then shock with a huge price jump once you’re established and need to renew. Since transferring service can be a costly pain, ensure that you’re selecting the best long-term, scalable option for your business.
Customer Relations Management (CRM) System
Don’t let the obtuse name scare you. If you have customers, you should consider how to build ongoing relationships with them. And to facilitate this relationship building and tracking, you need a CRM (called a “Donor Relations Management System” for nonprofits).
The name of the game for sustainable business success is lifetime customer value—not just a single one-off purchase or donation. Whether you own a roofing business or a software company, you want to be the go-to for your customers whenever they need your service or product, or whenever they know someone who does. This familiarity requires building and sustaining a customer relationship.
Customer relations could be as simple as an annual Christmas card or a quick thank you note, or as in-depth as an ongoing communication strategy involving newsletters, emails, social media, referral program, and print mailings.
What is it?
A CRM is an organized way to store customer contact information, as well as purchase and communication history. In on place you can identify high-value customers, manage service requests, and generate lists for communication (such as calls, emails, mailings).
No matter which CRM you pick, it’s mission critical that it is implemented correctly for your specific business and that you create business rules on how your team will use it. Failing to do either of these will lead to serious headaches down the road.
If you’re not a database expert, it’s well worth it to consult one to ensure your system is correctly set up for your business and that your team is empowered to use its full potential.
Online Booking + Scheduling System
If you schedule meetings, service calls, group classes, events one-on-one sessions, or you-name-its with clients, you need to allow customers to book directly on your website. Make booking as easy as possible and more clients will do it. Win!
Not everyone wants to pick up the phone during business hours anymore (or mail in a registration form!). For many, it’s much easier to simply book online with a couple clicks and get an automatic email that syncs with their calendar. Plus, it saves you time with every booking.
What is it?
Depending on the type of service to book, there’s likely a free or low-cost service for it that can be embedded directly in your website. Clients select a service or event, pick a time, enter requested info, and receive an automatic email confirmation (or text message).
The devil is in the (organizational) details with booking systems. Make sure to first get clear on what you need from a service. Some questions to consider:
- Is a single booking account fine or do you need separate calendars for each team member?
- Do you offer both public classes and private sessions?
- Do you need to collect payments or a deposit at the time of booking?
- Do you need to block off physical resources with a booking (for example, a room or piece of equipment)?
- Do you want waiting lists for sold out classes?
- Do you need saved customer logins?
Online Payment Provider
If you sell products or services, you should offer purchases and accept payments on your website.
The mantra for the new millennium is make it easy for customers. This includes online purchases and payments.
If you sell physical products, put your inventory online so that potential customers can research and make purchases without having to visit your store. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on potential clients that decide to buy from other online retailers late at night.
If you sell services, accept online payments—not just snail mail checks. If service fees bum you out, then offer a “discount” for cash/checks and include the service changes in the online payment price. The convenience for customers can be worth the additional cost to them. Make it easy.
What is it?
Accepting payments is easy. You can embed a payment processor widget in any website.
Selling products online is a little more complex since you’ll have a catalogue of products in addition to accepting payments, but there are a number of services out there that scale to what you need. Make sure to connect your website with your inventory system to auto sync and consider solutions with shipping options in addition to in-store pickups, if that’s a service you’d like to offer your customers.
Compare payment processing fees and pick the right combo of base fee, per transaction charge, and percentage for what you sell.
Online store solutions should scale with your business needs and don’t need to be expensive. Make sure to pick one that can be scaled with you.
Build Out Your Kit!
Now that you know our favorite tools, you’re ready to craft an intentional web presence that caters to your customers 24/7 without breaking the bank. There are free or low-cost solutions for each of these, so you can scale them with the needs (and budget) of your business.
If you have any questions about which best fit your company or how to implement them into a seamless whole, get in touch!
Do you have any suggestions about which software works for your business? Share it below.
P.S. Interested in learning more about tools and strategy to help your business run more efficiently? Join our occasional newsletter, Plugged In, and get insights straight to your inbox.
Photo credits: Fleur on Unsplash. IsitWP for Wix screen shot. Community.Hubspot for Hubspot screen shot.