- The need for tools that facilitate doing business online has only increased during the pandemic.
- Entrepreneurs and coaches shared the platforms they use every day to keep business running smoothly.
- Top picks included ConvertKit for finding clients, Smartsheets for tracking sales, and Zapier for managing teams.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
As the pandemic persists, entrepreneurs continue to adjust how they conduct business.
Yet surprisingly, the number of new businesses being registered rose since March, with new business applications seeing a jump of 77% last fall, according to the US Census Bureau. After falling last quarter, new business applications jumped 42% in January, driven mainly by entrepreneurs.
To help small businesses withstand the ups and downs, various guides, resources, and services have emerged to support doing business digitally. This entails evaluating which digital tools make sense to use, a task that can be overwhelming and costly.
That’s why businesses should focus on adding foundational tools that can grow with their ventures, successful entrepreneurs told Insider.
« Far too often people have shiny-object syndrome, and everyone’s like, what’s the latest, greatest tool, » Malla Haridat, a business coach based in New York, said. « It’s not about buying a gazillion tools. It’s about how the tool serves your needs, your company, your business, and is going to help you do better business in the end. »
From marketing to product development, general management to financials, experts shared the tools they couldn’t live without.
Few activities are as important to a business as finding prospective clients. That’s why marketing automation software such as Mailchimp and HubSpot is at the top of many entrepreneurs’ lists.
Vaughn Dabney, founder of Los Angeles-based Empty Box Media software development and design, uses both apps — Mailchimp to gather email addresses, segment them, and conduct A/B testing to understand his customers better, and HubSpot to gather more granular data about customer emails.
« Mailchimp is my favorite CRM out there, » Dabney said. « It’s an easy tool to ‘set it and forget it.' »
Victoria Jenn Rodriguez, founder of The Female Collaborative, a women’s networking organization, uses ConvertKit for email marketing. It’s been so useful, Rodriguez includes the app in a start-up bundle she developed for entrepreneurs.
« It allows you to create your funnels and to get data on who is clicking on what so that you can re-redirect them or market to them again, depending on the action they took, » Rodriguez said.
Richard Lorenzen, CEO and founder of Fifth Avenue Brands, a PR firm, said his team uses LinkedIn Sales Navigator every day. The tool helps businesses target individual members and other businesses listed on the networking platform, suggests prospects and outreach recommendations, and integrates with existing CRMs.
A sales dashboard is a must-have, Haridat said. Having that overview can help an entrepreneur establish a consistent work cadence early on.
« Sales is everything, » Haridat said. « What’s missing in the entrepreneurship space is that people aren’t taught how to sell. It’s in the follow-up, the keeping track of it — that’s where your money is made. »
Many CRMs, like Salesforce or HubSpot, offer sales dashboards, but often as a separate product from marketing automation. Haridat said entrepreneurs just starting out can also track sales activities manually through Excel or Google Sheets.
Vikram Rajan, CEO of Videosocials.net, a video editing and marketing company, said his team of eight uses Smartsheets. He particularly likes that they can customize each sheet to better manage client relationships.
Marvin Johnson, founder of Dashible based in New York, an app that facilitates local deals and loyalty programs for local businesses, said his team relies on Zendesk.
« Our sales person uses it the entire sales cycle and for customer support as well, » Johnson said.
Apps for staying on top of projects: Teamwork, Monday.com, and Jira
From customer contacts to assigning work, juggling all the pieces of a business can become overwhelming. That’s where project management tools come in.
Dabney, who’s been in business for nearly nine years, added that project management is often underrated but foundational for success. After trying various task lists, boards, Asana, and Google Docs, Dabney said Teamwork is his « one go-to » for organizing projects. The Gantt chart is especially useful to view work in progress.
Lorenzen’s team uses Monday.com, which the company switched to just before the pandemic after using Asana, Basecamp, and Trello over the years. With a team of 20 people and 35 to 40 projects to juggle, the dashboards are particularly useful.
« Being able to see what’s assigned to them every day is really great, » Lorenzen said. « PM software is one of the things we can’t live without. »
Depending on the industry, one project management tool may be better than the general options. Johnson uses Jira, a program geared toward software developers, that his company of nine already knows.
« It’s so good, I almost don’t think about it as a separate tool, » Johnson said about Google Workspace, recently rebranded from G Suite. He added he finds Google Meet’s automatic meeting scheduling indispensable.
« We use it for client management and project management, » Rajan said.
A platform’s integration with existing tools and apps should be a key factor when selecting software, Rajan added. That’s why his company uses Zapier, which connects with more than 2,000 applications to automate workflows.
« How these companies integrate with each other, it’s a make or break, » Rajan said. « Any data-related app where you have to include information, it better have Zapier in it. It’s the glue that makes it all work. »
Another ubiquitous tool that integrates with a ton of software is Calendly, which allows anyone with a unique link to schedule a meeting on their calendar.
« I can’t even imagine what life looked like before where I had to go back and play the scheduling game, » Haridat said. « It’s been very helpful for me to [analyze] the number of discovery calls I’ve had, the number of touchbase calls, the number of actual coaching calls. »
For team communications, a lesser-known alternative to
is Glip by RingCentral, whose free version offers unlimited chat, storage, guest users, integrations, and groups.
« I’m shocked by how much we use Glip, » Rajan said. « I found their interface easier to use. Everyone took to it very fast. »
For bookkeeping and accounting, Quickbooks is a crowd favorite to track revenue and expenses and generate other financial reports.
« It is great if you’re just starting out as a 1099, if you’re freelancing, » Haridat said.
Entrepreneurs can also move up in services as they grow and need to set up employee payroll, estimate quarterly sales taxes, and send estimates to future clients.
Martine A. Dominique, owner of MAD Tours in Manhattan, said with Quickbooks, she appreciates being able to set budget targets and that accounting is integrated.
« For everything that I hate to do, I like Quickbooks, » she said. « It’s mandatory. I don’t like not being in control of what happens. »
Dabney uses Wave because it’s free for the solopreneur level of accounting, invoicing, and receipt scanning he needs. Another plus is that it’s integrated with Square, the payment app he uses.
Apps for rocking social media: Canva and Hootsuite
Social media has become a must-have channel for generating leads, networking, and running promotions in the social distancing era. While a myriad of tools facilitate the logistics of social media, the greatest tool seems to be an entrepreneur’s own personality.
When Dominique posted a video on Instagram and YouTube of a solo tour she conducted, people responded so well, it spawned the idea for a new business.
« People didn’t realize I was a Black woman, » said Dominique, who’s Haitian-American and has lived in France and Spain. « They said, ‘Yes, do more of that.’ They wanted to hear my voice and hear my commentary — the energy that comes with it. »
Now, Dominique and a business partner are forming a new business to offer virtual guided tours of New York, San Francisco, Dubai, and other cities.
Besides getting personal, another way to stand out is through attractive posts. For that, Canva is a go-to app to design text, video, audio, or other animated posts.
« I use it all the time, » Johnson said. « We use it a lot for graphics, IG posts, stories, business cards, fliers — everything. »
For scheduling posts on social media channels, many experts recommended Hootsuite.
« I like Hootsuite not just because I can pre-schedule things — again, I’m using it for the analytics, » Johnson said. « I learned on Instagram that people really like it when I’m being saucy and spicy. »