In our current digital environment, computer software and apps are our essential tools for survival, just as sticks and stones were important for humans during the stone age. Small business owners need the right combination of software programs in order to compete against fellow small-medium firms as well as large corporations. Having the right software can give you the image of a much larger and professional business. I’ll highlight some of my favorite business and productivity programs, as well as free alternatives I’ve found.
Office Productivity: Microsoft Office 2016 Professional (Buy it here)
In the corporate world, Microsoft Office is a must-have suite of business programs. The three most popular programs within Office 2016 Professional are Outlook, Word, and Excel. Although you can easily access your e-mail and calendar directly from your web browser, Outlook’s cohesive integration and powerful customization tools can help you balance your family, primary job, and any side-hustles you may have. There are a couple of free word processors that try to rival Microsoft Word, but nothing has ultimately replaced this staple in the business environment. Google Docs is a popular free cloud-based word processor, and the word processor within LibreOffice is very powerful and installs directly on your computer. For light spreadsheet work, you can live without Microsoft Excel by using free alternatives like Google Sheets or LibreOffice. However, if you rely on spreadsheets to run your business, you just have to bite the bullet and buy Microsoft Office just for Excel. If you primarily need just Excel, then Microsoft Office Home & Business 2016 is a cheaper alternative to Office Professional, which includes Access. The rest of the Microsoft Office’s programs like Powerpoint and Access aren’t as essential unless you are creating presentations or databases.
Accounting: Intuit QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2018 with Payroll (Buy it here)
For less than $300, you can save yourself the cost of hiring a bookkeeper to maintain the accounting of your business. Simple businesses with only one employee or no inventory will be able to get by with some basic tools or Quickbook’s self-employed subscription package ($10/month), but QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2018 will save you an enormous amount of time when doing payroll or filing taxes. With its ability to important a lot of your financial institution’s transactions, you’ll have a better picture what’s coming in and going out. For power users who want mine their data growth opportunities, Quickbooks has easy to use reports that will let you delve into the numbers.
CRM: Act! Pro 2018 (Buy it here)
The trend for customer relationship management (CRM) software has been to go cloud-based. In that space, there is a huge glut of competitors from big (Salesforce) to small (Insightly). Although monthly subscription plans are an easy and low-cost way of getting a business up and running, it may not be appropriate for everyone, and generally will be more expensive in the long run compared to buying your software outright. For us old-school CRM users, Act! is a tried and tested solution for tracking your business opportunities and staying on top of client relationships. Full disclosure, I used Act! nearly 15 years ago and currently use Insightly’s monthly subscription plan. While Insightly does have a free service for up to 2 employees and has limitations, their cheapest paid plan is $348 a year, more than the one time cost of purchasing Act! Pro 2018.