Talk to any entrepreneur who has run a business or startup, and they'll tell you there are a thousand tips and tricks they learned through trial and error that they wish they had known at launch. That earned knowledge includes what tools and apps to invest in to get an operation up and running and provide customers with a reliable level of service.
Good news: We network with business owners and team-building professionals all of the time, and these are five digital resources they say you need from day one:
Every digital operation needs a team chat program—and no, Line and WhatsApp aren't going to cut it. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there that can help your business consolidate its communications in one place—making it easier for your team to talk in real time (not email time), manage projects, and schedule meetings.
Slack : Perhaps the most popular chat option with startups. The desktop and mobile app allows teams to message and share files in different "channels," which are usually divided by subject or project. There's a free version for small teams, but you'll almost certainly want to upgrade to a paid plan (~$8 – $15 per user, per month) that offers searchable archives, group calls, and other essential features.
HipChat: Hipchat offers a more basic interface and fewer fancy features than Slack, but otherwise features a similar level of functionality at a more affordable price.
Yammer: Yammer was originally developed as an internal communication system, but now effectively functions as a "Facebook for business." There's a free version with most of the basic features, but—just like with Slack or any other freemium enterprise software—you'll eventually want to upgrade to access the advanced features.
Social Media Management
You're doing something wrong if you're still manually logging in to Facebook and Twitter (plus Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Vine, etc.) to post your company updates. You need a social media management program to schedule all of your posts and track engagement. Here are a few good options:
HootSuite: Hootsuite is popular with businesses small and large, and offers users a ton of analytic features—although some teams may quickly feel overwhelmed by the interface's multiple tabs and conversation streams. The free or pro packages should meet most of your social needs. By most accounts, Hootsuite Enterprise is best suited for large-to-mid-size companies or organizations.
Buffer : Buffer features fewer tools than Hootsuite, but the dashboard is much cleaner and the program is generally easier to use—especially for beginners. Most small businesses and startups will find that Buffer's "Awesome" plan more than meets their social needs.
TweetDeck: TweetDeck is owned by Twitter, and only allows you to manage Twitter accounts. But if Twitter is at the core of your social media marketing, this app is absolutely indispensable—even if you already use another social management program—because of its functionality and cost (free!).
Every aspect of your business is worth measuring, and few resources are more valuable to your operation than your website. Every business, regardless of size, needs access to basic website analytics: how many people are visiting, where is the traffic coming from, how are customers navigating through pages. Luckily, there are plenty of tools out there that can collect that data and transform it into easy-to-read reports.
Google Analytics: Google Analytics is totally free and remains one of the best analytics tools. Its array of features allows you to track visitors (where they're from, how often they visit, what language they speak), traffic sources (how people get to your site and what keywords brought them), content (what pages on your site are popular), and goals (related to desired user actions).
Clicky: The normal knock on Google Analytics is that takes quite a while for its reports to generate. Clicky offers real-time analytics, including a "Spy View" feature that lets you observe what visitors are doing on your site in real time. Clicky is available for free for websites with 3,000 or fewer daily page views. Pro plans give you access to more features.
A payment gateway functions as your cash register, linking your website to your processing network and merchant account (if you have one). The gateway API is thus a core piece of your digital infrastructure whether you're selling a product, a service, or simply a membership. If you want to shop around, there are now more payment options available than ever before, although you may just opt to leave that decision up to your web developer.
PayPal: The de facto online transaction service. PayPal's API provides an easy and secure way to accept online and mobile payments, and offers considerable functionality to developers. Setting up an account in free, but many businesses will opt to pay for "PayPal Pro"—which allows the user to enter payment information directly on the business website (rather than redirecting to PayPal's site).
Stripe: Stripe offers similar functionality as PayPal. Developers really like its easy-to-integrate API and user-friendly interface.
Amazon Payments: Amazon Payments allows you to process payments on-site without paying for an account upgrade. And because all orders are processed by Amazon, businesses can take advantage of their well-regarded fraud protection service.
These are the apps that founders swear by. Nothing world-changing here, just simple but indispensable programs that optimize your productivity and save your team time and money.
Soulver : Soulver is a simple calculator app that let's you solve "back of the envelope"-style problems using normal language—e.g. "nine times fifteen plus thirty divided by four." It's quicker to use than a spreadsheet and more intuitive than a traditional calculator.
Worklife: Worklife is a web and mobile app that helps teams have more productive meetings. Worklife divides meetings into three sections: before, during, and after. In the before phase, users can create and edit agenda items. In the during phase, a clock runs down while users track the agenda, check items off, take notes, and assign tasks. In the after phase, WorkLife sends out a meeting summary and action items.
InVision: InVision allows designers to build interactive, high-fidelity mockups of website and mobile apps so that you can have a better sense of the intended layout and functionality before the team begins designing. InVisions offers a variety of tools for sharing, commenting, and collaborating in real time, and is a great resource for dispersed teams.
Any programs or services you use now that you would highly recommend others adopt? Please let us know!