14 Practical Small Business Apps You Need To Know

14 Practical Small Business Apps You Need To Know thumbnail

It’s Monday morning.

You’ve barely taken a sip of your coffee (or tea or smoothie) and are already buried under a mountain of emails, customer inquiries, and endless to-do lists. As a small business owner, you wear many hats — balancing bookkeeping, sales, marketing, and all other business needs.

Time is a luxury you can’t afford to waste.

Luckily, there are a variety of affordable and free small business apps out there you can use to help with day-to-day operations so you can focus on developing strategies, boosting conversions, and increasing revenue.

Let’s get into the best small business apps you need to know about and explore how to use them in your business.

Why Small Businesses Need Apps

While you could keep using pencil and paper to run your business, you’ll likely hit a wall at some point.

A US Chamber of Commerce study from 2022 found that 94% of small business owners find that using the right tech and tools helps them run their businesses more efficiently. 84% of owners that adopted six or more tools and apps reported a higher increase in profits, 82% saw an increase in sales, and 74% had to grow their team to keep up with growing demands.

Tech Adoption & Growth In Small Businesses

While there are some tasks you’re just better off outsourcing, the right apps massively cut down the time you spend on boring stuff like invoicing, payroll, and scheduling. Saving time means you can focus on growing your business (or even clocking out early for once.)

Need to invoice a client? There’s an app for that. Want to step up your social media game? There’s an app for that, too. Need time tracking for yourself or your employees? Well, sadly, there’s no app for that.

Totally kidding. There are several apps for that.

Incorporating these tools into your workflows and processes saves time and money. The name of the game is streamlining. Apps can contribute to an increase in sales, improve customer retention, and showcase areas where your business is siphoning money so you can make operational adjustments.

You spend a little (or nothing) to save a lot.

So, if you’re still on the fence, consider this your nudge to get with the times and make your life easier.

Get Content Delivered Straight to Your Inbox

Subscribe to our blog and receive great content just like this delivered straight to your inbox.

How To Choose The Right Apps For Your Business

A common trap entrepreneurs and small business owners fall into is “shiny object syndrome.” You start researching different small business apps, and now you want to download all the things with all the neat features all at once.

Don’t do that just yet.

If you’re a smart, savvy small business owner, you can identify what your business needs, which type of app will meet those needs, and then learn what is available and which apps are compatible with one another.

Here are some things you’ll want to think about when selecting the best apps for your small business:

  • Budget: Your bottom line matters at the end of the day. Consider the upfront costs and the ongoing monthly or annual subscription fees when using a new small business app. Will it be worth your return on investment?
  • Scalability: As your small business grows, will your apps grow with you? Look for scalable solutions that offer different plans or features so you can upgrade rather than search for a whole new platform when the time comes.
  • User-friendliness: Few small business owners have the time to mess around with an app that’s overly complicated or hard to use. When you’re an entrepreneur, your time is worth money. Opt for apps that have intuitive features, a robust knowledge base to refer to as you get used to its interface, and responsive customer support.
  • Integration: It will be incredibly frustrating to find out you’ve invested time and money into a standalone tool that doesn’t play well with the others you use daily. Check if the app can integrate with other tools you’re already using, like your customer relationship management tool or your payment processing system.
Key Considerations For Small Business App Selection

Many subscription-based apps have a free version or a limited free trial period. Use this to test the app’s basic features and see if it fits your small business and needs. You can upgrade to a pro or version if you decide it’s a good fit. Take your time, do your homework, and choose a suite of small business apps right for you.

Accounting And Bookkeeping Apps

First and foremost, let’s look at a couple of small business apps essential for financial health: your accounting apps. While accounting may not be everyone’s passion, it’s definitely an essential part of running a successful business. It lays the foundation for long-term operations and provides much-needed visibility on your financial health.

1. QuickBooks

QuickBooks

QuickBooks has been in the accounting software game for a long time (since 1983!) and offers a wide range of plans that allow you to customize to your needs. It’s versatile, reliable, and bundled with neat features to organize your business finances.

While QuickBooks is still available as a desktop app (used on a single computer), their cloud-based platform, QuickBooks Online, is ideal for small or medium-sized businesses. It’s accessible from anywhere, offers payroll and inventory options, a simplified user interface, and even allows your accountant to plug directly into the platform.

DreamHost Glossary

User Interface

User Interface (UI) refers to the point where humans and computers interact and communicate on a web page, device, or app. UI is an element of web design that focuses on how a user will engage with a website.

Read More

Features

  • Expense tracking: No more piles of receipts, no more inboxes full of invoices. QuickBooks automatically sorts through your transactions and categorizes your expenses for you.
  • Invoicing: Behind on invoicing clients? Create custom, branded, and professional-looking invoices with just a few clicks. Save customer information to make future invoicing even easier.
  • Payroll: Make sure your people get paid on time and schedule (and you, too!) with an automated payroll system that includes tax calculations. You can opt to add payroll to any plan type.

Tip: Scan Your Receipts

Use the QuickBooks mobile app for Apple iOS or Android to scan your receipts with your mobile device and digitally store them for safekeeping so you’ll no longer need that one drawer stuffed with random receipts.

QuickBooks pricing starts at $30 per month. Each plan includes a free 30-day trial.

2. FreshBooks

FreshBooks is ideal for freelancers, consultants, solopreneurs, or small business owners in the early stages of growth, particularly those who offer services rather than products.

FreshBooks is a great option if your business revolves around client projects and tracking billable hours. It’s a solution for those needing more project management and time-tracking visibility.

Features

  • Time-tracking: Know exactly what you’re doing with your time and how long it takes to get things done. Log your billable hours directly in the app and easily add them to an invoice.
  • Client portal: Give your clients and customers a clear space to view their invoices and pay you your money.
  • Financial reports: Get a top-level view of your cash flow. Generate profit and loss statements, expense reports, and other business financial documents with a few button clicks.

Tip: Communicate With Your Clients

Use the FreshBooks client portal to streamline communication with your clients, keep them happy, and get paid.

Pricing starts at $8.50 per month, or you can try it for free for 30 days.

Project Management

As a small business owner, you need to know that things are getting done on time and how they’re supposed to. You can’t remember everything you must complete in a day, no matter how many checklists you’ve got in your notebook.

That is why you need a project management app.

Project management (PM) gets especially tricky when you have multiple team members and numerous projects with looming deadlines. Coordinating tasks or projects can become a full-time job when they involve multiple people at different times.

Let’s look at some affordable PM options to minimize the stress.

3. Asana

Asana

Asana is a popular project management app designed to help you plan, organize, and track your projects. It’s great for businesses that deal with complex projects and need a centralized place where their team members can collaborate. You can organize projects with multiple steps and stakeholders or add items to a do-to list.

Features

  • Task management: Assign and track tasks for multiple team members and groups. That way, everyone knows their responsibilities, and when their tasks are due, so everything runs smoothly.
  • List, board, and calendar views: Visualize your project using different views and understand how much time and work it’ll take to get it done. This is great for projects with multiple steps or with hard-and-fast deadlines.
  • Collaboration: Comment on tasks and attach files, so that all of your team members have visibility on the status of a given project. There’s even a built-in “chat” feature to message anyone involved in a project that needs a running dialogue.

Tip: Set Goals

Use Asana’s Goals feature to ensure your tasks and projects align with your company’s objectives.

The Basic plan is free. Paid plans begin at $10.99 and open up features like dependencies, which allow tasks to be blocked until a prior task is marked complete.

4. Trello

Trello may be the way to go if you’re more of a big-picture thinker and you tend to organize information visually. Trello’s Kanban board layout is simple and intuitive.

Features

  • Kanban boards: Organize your tasks into cards and boards and organize them in columns based on status or linear workflow steps.
  • Automation: The built-in automation can automatically create tasks, which is especially handy for ensuring you or your team complete routine tasks.
  • Integration: Trello syncs seamlessly with other common small business apps like Google Drive and Slack, which can make for a more consistent workflow

Tip: Create A “Done” List

Moving your completed tasks to a ‘done list‘ can give you a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of a job well done. It also helps you keep track of what you’ve already completed.

Trello has a free plan suitable for individuals, or you can upgrade to the standard plan for small teams for $5/user per month.

Payment Processing Apps

In today’s fast-paced world, customers expect quick and hassle-free payment options, whether they’re shopping online or in-store. Whether you’re an appliance repair company or you run an online boutique, you need a reliable payment processing app.

Why?

It’s not just about making your life easier when it comes to collecting payments; it’s also about offering your customers a smooth and efficient checkout experience. Before you pick an app, consider what payment methods you’ll accept: credit cards, mobile wallets, and even cryptocurrencies. Do you need to process payments both online and at a physical location?

A good payment processing app can help you cover all these bases, making transactions seamless for everyone involved.

5. Square

Square

Square is a multi-functional payment processing app that offers a point-of-sale system, online invoicing, and analytics tracking. It’s a comprehensive solution ideal for handling both online and in-person payments.

Features

  • Point-of-Sale (POS): Accept in-person payments with a mobile card reader or POS dock or on your website.
  • Invoicing: Send digital invoices and accept payments online — a lifesaver for any service-based business.
  • Inventory management: Do you keep physical goods or have e-commerce retail goods? You can keep track of your inventory in real-time within the app itself.

Tip: Track Your Analytics

Use Square’s analytics features to look at your sales trends and optimize your payment processing with data-driven decisions.

Square has a free plan but does charge processing fees.

6. PayPal

PayPal is the popular choice for businesses that specialize in online payments. It’s great for e-commerce businesses that take international transactions because it allows you to accept payments in multiple currencies.

If your business is primarily online, PayPal may be a smart choice.

Features

  • Online payments: You can easily accept payments via your website or online store by allowing customers to pay using their debit or credit cards, bank accounts, or their own PayPal accounts.
  • PayPal Zettle: Did you know you can use PayPal for in-person payments? PayPal Zettle (formerly PayPal Here) is a mobile app POS and card reader. It allows in-person customers to pay using their PayPal accounts.
  • International payments: Accept payments in multiple currencies and open your business to a global customer base.

Tip: Use OneTouch At Checkout

Use PayPal’s handy OneTouch feature to simplify the checkout process. Your customers can click one button, and money is coming.

PayPal doesn’t have a monthly subscription and just charges processing fees.

Social Media Apps

Social media platforms have become the modern billboards and airwaves for businesses to promote their products and services. It’s better even because you can cast a wide net or target specific customers in your niche.

Social media allows you to connect directly with your audience, build your brand, and even offer real-time customer service. If you still need to incorporate social media into your marketing strategy, now is the time to start.

If you’ve been trying and need help optimizing your efforts, let’s look at a couple of apps.

7. HootSuite

HootSuite

HootSuite is a robust tool designed for serious social media management. It lets you pre-schedule posts, monitor real-time engagement metrics like likes, comments, and shares, and even allows seamless collaboration between your social media and content teams.

DreamHost Glossary

Engagement Metric

‘Engagement metrics’ refer to any measure of user activity on a website. It can include clicks, views, comments, and more. This information is typically obtained using data tracking and analytics.

Read More

If data-driven decision-making and teamwork are crucial to your social media strategy, then HootSuite is the app you’ll want to check out.

Features

  • Scheduling: Plan and schedule your posts across multiple popular platforms, including Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.
  • Analytics: Track your engagement and performance metrics, such as likes, shares, and follower growth, so you can see what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Team collaboration: You can set up approval workflows to review posts before they go live.

Tip: Automatically Schedule Posts

Use HootSuite’s AutoSchedule feature to automatically post content at the best times for optimal reach and engagement.

The standard Hootsuite plan is one of the more expensive on our list, starting at $99 a month, but it does come with a 30-day free trial.

8. Buffer

Buffer focuses on delivering a streamlined, user-friendly experience in social media management. Unlike the feature-rich HootSuite, Buffer emphasizes simplicity, making it an ideal choice for freelancers, small business owners, and solopreneurs who need straightforward solutions without the learning curve.

Features

  • Content calendar: Visualize your posting schedule in a calendar, and know exactly what’s going out and when.
  • Engagement analytics: Measure your likes, shares, and comments and determine whether your posts are striking a chord with your audience.
  • Multi-account management: Manage and schedule the content for multiple social media accounts and channels on one dashboard.

Tip: Pause Your Posts

Take advantage of Buffer’s Pause Posts feature when launching new products or entering busy seasons. Pausing posts gives you the flexibility to adjust your social media strategy on the fly, ensuring you’re sending out the most relevant and timely messages.

Buffer’s basic features are free, limiting how many channels you can connect (three) and how many posts you can schedule (10 per channel). Upgrade to Essentials for $6/month to get publishing and analytics tools. You can try any of the paid plans free for 14 days.

Marketing Automation Apps

As a small business owner, managing your marketing can feel overwhelming. Marketing automation apps can dramatically simplify your workflow, turning a long list of tasks into just a few automated steps.

For those exploring marketing automation solutions, Mailchimp and HubSpot are noteworthy contenders. Mailchimp’s user-friendly approach is excellent for those seeking a dedicated and economically efficient marketing automation solution.

In contrast, HubSpot is a versatile platform not limited to advanced marketing automation capabilities but extends to sales, customer service, and operations.

Let’s look at each more closely.

9. Mailchimp

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is not just for sending emails. It’s an all-in-one marketing platform offering many features to help you expand your business. Its data-driven marketing approach makes it unique; the platform employs artificial intelligence to help you craft campaigns for your unique audience.

If you want to get your business online and improve your marketing, Mailchimp has the practical tools you need to make it happen.

Features

  • Email marketing: Create and send bulk emails to your most engaged customers and let them know when you have a sale or new blog post.
  • Landing pages: Create specialized landing pages to attract new leads. You can integrate these pages into your website or share them on social media.
  • Customer segmentation: Understand your audience better and segment them based on behavior, consumer preferences, and purchase history.
DreamHost Glossary

Landing Page

A landing page is a singular web page that typically serves a unique marketing objective. For instance, this page may be designed to capture email leads or communicate a ‘coming soon’ message.

Read More

Tip: Split-test Your Email Campaigns

You can optimize your email campaigns to get better engagement with Mailchimp’s A/B testing feature. Test out different subject lines, sending times, and content to increase your click-through rates.

Mailchimp offers a free plan with limited features. They also provide a 14-day free trial with the Essentials ($13/month) or Standard ($20/month) plans.

10. Hubspot

HubSpot is more than a marketing automation tool: it’s a collection of tools designed to streamline various marketing activities, making it a standout among apps for small business owners wanting to expand their outreach as their business grows.

HubSpot’s Marketing Hub facilitates personalized and timely interactions with your audience through a blend of automation features so you can refine your marketing strategies and achieve improved results.

Features

  • Automated workflows: Utilize a visual editor to create targeted workflows, allowing you to craft simple follow-up campaigns and complex customer journeys in real time.
  • Advanced segmentation and personalization: Implement sophisticated segmentation to enroll the right contacts in your workflows and individualize emails using data integrated from your CRM.
  • Chatbots and tailored email triggers: Leverage chatbots and customized email triggers to connect effectively with your audience and offer timely, relevant communications.

Tip: Enhance Engagement Through Workflows

Optimize engagement by exploiting HubSpot’s automated workflows. Experiment with various segments and personalize follow-up campaigns to ensure effective nurturing of each contact, enhancing your overall marketing strategies.

Hubspot has a free plan to take a tour and test it out. The Starter plan starts at $18/month if you want to open up some more features and expand your limits.

Time Tracking And Employee Management Apps

Time is one of the most valuable resources. Efficiently managing and allocating time can significantly impact productivity, cost management, and, ultimately, the success of your business.

Time-tracking tools provide insights into time spent and highlight enhanced efficiency and resource allocation opportunities. These tools are invaluable whether you aim to optimize your schedule or oversee team members’ productivity. The data from time tracking platforms provides a clear perspective on work dynamics and helps to align efforts with your business objectives.

11. Toggl

Toggl

Toggl is great if you need straight-forward features with an intuitive interface. It’s ideal for freelancers and small consultancies who need to track their billable time and invoice clients.

Features

  • Simple time tracking: Keep track of your time on tasks with a single click. It is a must-have to bill clients accurately.
  • Reporting: You can export report details and summaries and view historical billable rates, which can help you find ways to spend your time better and allocate your energy to where it has the most impact.
  • Team management: Toggl allows you to monitor your team’s performance if you manage a small team. You can ensure everyone works efficiently and understands what needs to be done.

Tip: Take Breaks In Your Workflow

Toggl has a built-in Pomodoro timer, reminding you to take breaks every 25 minutes of deep work. You can change these settings to accommodate whatever work/break schedule makes sense for you.

You can start with Toggl for free.

12. When I Work

When I Work is a scheduling platform with time tracking and employee management features. It’s a good option if you’re a small business owner who manages a team. The platform also integrates with small business tools like QuickBooks, Square, and Zapier.

Features

  • Employee scheduling: Create your employee’s schedules and manage them online. Remove the need for paper schedules and reduce the chance of messy scheduling conflicts.
  • Time tracking: Monitor your employee’s billable hours for payroll purposes.
  • Communication: Quick, in-app communication between you and your employees helps coordinate your business management so that your business feels like a team.

Tip: Let Employees Manage Their Own Schedules

You can allow your employees to manage their workday with the Swap feature. It takes work off your plate and gives your employees more flexibility, which can help keep them happy.

The Essentials plan starts at just $2.50 per user.

Communication And Workspace Collaboration Apps

Over a third of the US workforce works from home as of 2023, so remote communication is paramount to effective collaboration.

The rise of asynchronous communication is a response to the diverse work schedules and locations, allowing for interaction that doesn’t require immediate response, thereby accommodating various time zones and work hours.

Implementing a robust cloud-based collaboration app fosters effective communication, whether your team is fully remote, in-office, or embraces a hybrid model. It ensures that every member is aligned and informed.

13. Slack

Slack

Slack is effectively a super chat room. You can organize different “channels” by project, client, interest, etc. You can also direct message team members either individually or in groups. You can create user tags to ping certain departments or roles and use collaboration tools within the platform, like checklists or video calls.

Features

  • Real-time messaging: Slack allows for quick messaging between team members without talking to someone’s desk or waiting for an email reply. It also allows you to set reminders to revisit messages or pin important announcements so they don’t get lost.
  • File sharing: Share documents, files, and images directly in the chat. To find all files ever shared in a channel, check its settings. (Note: The free Slack plan periodically clears file shares and message histories).
  • Integration: Slack seamlessly integrates with cloud-based tools like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Asana so you can create more unified workflows and processes.

Tip: Organize Channels For Projects And Fun

Create just-for-fun channels for memes, affirmations, and photos of your pets to encourage team bonding. You can also add teambuilding apps like HeyTaco to let team members know they’re appreciated.

The app is free to start or upgrade to the Pro Slack version for $7.25/user per month.

14. Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a more robust collaboration tool and can be an ideal choice for businesses that need a more comprehensive set of features and plan to adopt other Microsoft Office products.

Features

  • Video conferencing: Microsoft Teams gives you best-in-class high-quality video calls if you have frequent team meetings.
  • Real-time collaboration: Teams automatically syncs with other Office 365 apps so you can edit your Microsoft Word or Excel files in real-time with other project members.
  • Slash commands: Use command shortcuts to work faster and more efficiently. You can save messages or let someone know you need help.

Tip: Plan Your Tasks Within Your Team

Microsoft Teams also has neat project management features like their Planner tab. Set your tasks and your deadlines from within the app.

The Microsoft Teams starts at $4/month for the Business plan, but you can also check out the free Home plan.

Use Apps to Bring Out The Best In Your Business

Identifying the right apps for your small business can be a game changer. It won’t magically make everything effortless, but it can significantly free up your time to focus on crucial aspects like customer engagement and team building.

By pinpointing the apps that truly align with your needs, you’re not just acquiring tools but creating opportunities for sustainable growth, enhanced customer relations, and potentially increased revenue.

When it comes to establishing your small business, you need a reliable and affordable hosting solution is crucial. DreamHost offers steadfast support for businesses ready to expand their digital footprint. If you’re searching for a reliable hosting partner, consider signing up for a hosting plan with DreamHost.

Get Content Delivered Straight to Your Inbox

Subscribe to our blog and receive great content just like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Photo of Alex Brown
About the Author:

Alex is DreamHost's Digital Marketing Manager, based in Portland, OR. He is responsible for acquisition, email, and affiliates. In his free time, he enjoys cooking and building synthesizers. Connect with him on LinkedIn.