Software for Small Business: A Comprehensive Guide to the Most Useful SaaS Solutions

It’s an exciting time for any small business today. SaaS is empowering you with tools that, a few years back, were limited only to large corporations with deep pockets.

Sophisticated software for small business is now available at a fraction of the cost of enterprise systems. But pricing isn’t the only benefit of SaaS to your company. If you want to grow your business fast, this guide will show you how SaaS can make it happen.

64% of small businesses are already using an average of three SaaS solutions. Studies show that most of them are satisfied with how SaaS is automating their daily tasks and enhancing critical processes.

(BCSG. “The small business revolution: trends in SMB cloud adoption.” 2015)

In this guide, we’ll help you understand how using SaaS solutions can greatly enhance the different aspects of your business. Whether in sales & marketing, customer service, finance, or management, your business can start improving the bottom line.

Things you’ll learn from this guide:

  • What are the main benefits of using SaaS in your business
  • What are the different types of SaaS
  • What are the key features in each SaaS
  • What problems SaaS systems can help you solve
  • Things to consider when selecting a SaaS for your company

Here’s a breakdown of the software types we’ll analyze. If you’re interested in any particular category feel free to jump right to it:

  1. Accounting software
  2. CRM software
  3. Salesforce Automation (SFA) Software
  4. Help desk software
  5. Collaboration software
  6. Time tracking software
  7. Things to consider when buying SaaS solutions

10 Key Benefits of SaaS for Small Business

Today, many SaaS solutions are designed for small business needs like yours. Problems such as limited budget, staggered requirements, and lack of IT staff are usually taken into account. Companies that implemented cloud software for small business can expect to experience the following benefits:

  1. Empower your staff: SaaS offloads cumbersome tasks so your staff can focus on core deliverables. It automates workflows, which helps you to run the business efficiently even with only a handful of employees. Suddenly, you’ll feel like running an enterprise. From payroll processing to managing documents to resolving tickets fast, SaaS can boost your day-to-day productivity.
  2. Get insights: SaaS can generate insights by pulling up data from various sources were, manually, it would have taken days, if not weeks. You can have access to real-time reporting and analytics as well as make better decisions in critical areas like sales forecast, budgeting, and talent search. Small businesses that use SaaS can also measure their campaign’s success rate better and they have a clearer picture of lead-to-conversion ratio. It is also easier to manage inventory more efficiently through seasonal highs and lows.
  3. Improve team collaboration: SaaS is accessible via internet and on mobile devices making it an ideal collaboration platform for teams. It is perfect if you have an outsourced team or you work with a third party, say, a creative boutique. Data is kept in one place but easily accessible to multiple users. Tools like shared dashboards and files, group chat, community forums, and activity feeds keep everyone in the loop. Likewise, inputs are always synced so everyone is using the latest data. Many SaaS systems also feature alerts and @mentions to draw attention to specific issues or team members. No more excuses from employees that they didn’t get the memo!
  4. Remote access: If you dream of working at home or on the beach while keeping a close tab on your business, SaaS is an excellent option. You can log in the cloud anywhere you have internet access using almost any device. Many SaaS offer mobile apps or they are responsive to mobile browsers to let you always access key features.
  5. Low adoption cost: SaaS has a really low entry cost. Imagine having an enterprise solution for just a few bucks. For as low as five dollars a month, instantly, you can have access to an expensive server, 24/7 security, IT support, an enterprise-grade system, and more. Some vendors even offer freemium versions for small teams that you can use forever. There’s no costly hardware, no licensing fees, just a predictable month-to-month subscription that you can cut or improve at any time. Moreover, with tiered-pricing you only pay for what you use. In terms of value, SaaS gives you the bang for the buck and is friendly to your cash flow.
  6. Easy to use: SaaS is sophisticated yet intuitive. It is designed for the average user which makes it perfect for small business employees. Setup is quick, often done in minutes. Onboarding is also clear with step-by-step tutorials usually available. There’s no complicated installation. In many instances, it’s like activating a Facebook account and you can start exploring the features right away. Once you start using a SaaS you’ll realize the user interface is usually really neat and navigation is clear. Even if you have limited tech skills most solutions will allow you to easily follow functions and processes. Because it’s easy to use, your staff is more likely to quickly adopt a new solution without any resistance.
  7. Scalable features: A growing business like yours will most likely have more IT requirements soon. But you definitely don’t want to pay for unused software features now just because you might need them in the future. At the same time, you want to prepare for more business coming your way. The good thing about SaaS is it grows with you. System capacity can be upgraded when you need it. New user accounts and features can be added or removed whenever you want depending on your current business requirements.
  8. Smooth integration: You want a system that works well with other apps you’re using in your company. Most SaaS systems are designed to integrate with a wide range of popular business and productivity apps. That means you can easily export/import your Google Drive files, Excel spreadsheets, Word and PDF documents, and JPEG images to the cloud. Many vendors also provide an API that lets the cloud software interact with your own apps and customize it.
  9. Customization: Many SaaS systems allow you to customize processes to match your own workflows. For instance, you can opt for boards or Gantt charts to manage projects. You can have a linear or multi-faceted approach to run email campaigns. You can use a horizontal or vertical structure to define hierarchies. The possibilities are many and diverse. Likewise, many SaaS solutions let you dress up the UI with your brand logo and colors. Your small business can have the same professional look as any top brand.
  10. You always have the latest version: Lastly, SaaS solutions ensure you’re always using the latest version. The vendor takes care of upgrades and patches, which are always available to all users. There’s no downtime during an update. And, likely, you’ll be walked through the new features at once the next time you log in.

Types of SaaS for Small Business

Let’s take a look at how SaaS can enhance specific small business processes. Aside from the general benefits listed above that are universal for most solutions, we’ll analyze specific types of systems such as: accounting software, time tracking, help desk, collaboration, sales of CRM and we’ll guide you on specific things to consider before subscribing to each SaaS type and we’ll demonstrate how it can help your company.

Accounting Software

Zoho Books – A very popular accounting solution for small business

As a small business you need to closely track your working capital and optimize cash flow. Cloud accounting software helps you with that. Plans usually bundle core accounting features, but you also have an option to add non-core functions like timesheet, payroll, and expense management.

A good accounting software should allow you to automate processes and manage these basic accounting tasks:

  • Accounts payables
  • Accounts receivables
  • General ledger
  • Bookkeeping
  • Invoicing and billing
  • Purchase orders
  • Sales orders
  • Inventory
  • Payroll

Benefits of accounting software

Before you consider an accounting software for your company, think of the many problems it can help you solve. Here are some of the common issues faced by small businesses that can become a thing of the past once you start using cloud accounting.

No time wasted on processing bills: Accounting software automates the entire process of your accounts payable. From receiving bills to tracking due dates to approving and scheduling payments, and to generating reports, everything runs efficiently. It connects directly to your bank, so you can forget about stepping out of the office just to make payments.

Shorter payment cycles and less missed collections: If you want to accelerate collection you call your clients and if they’re not around, you try your luck later. You can do this every week or you can have accounting software automate the accounts receivable workflow. It allows you to send invoices by email and provide payment options for clients. There are also many tools that track overdue collectibles and send out reminders. Likewise, you’re alerted once payment is made to your bank or PayPal account. You can also automate recurring bills so you don’t miss payments and free yourself from repetitive tasks.

No miscalculation of working capital: If you rely on the statement of cash flows to know your working capital, you’re not getting the whole picture. You may be bloating or shortchanging the available cash. It’s easy to lose track of real-time figures across multiple accounts. For instance, you fail to account a check clearing date and miscalculate your short-term asset. You may end up making a purchase decision that you hardly can afford. With an accounting software it’s easy to track all transactions. You also have tools to connect to your bank and quickly reconcile checking, savings, and credit card accounts. You have real visibility of how much cash you actually have on hand.

More tidy record keeping: When you have numerous sub-ledgers things can quickly get muddled on spreadsheets. Duplicate records are made, currency conversions are miscalculated, or expenses unaccounted. Wrong data can kill your business. Why not tidy it up and see the actual financial health of your company? Most SaaS accounting solutions have push-button tools that consolidate your financial records in seconds. There are also cool features that let you close books as they’re completed. At the end of a fiscal year you’ll have an easier time putting the books in order. Even if you have a unique business model, you can look for solutions that let you define processes. For instance, they can match your transactional stream, budget structure, or operational metrics.

It’s easier to gauge revenue streams: Do you have a clear picture of your most profitable product? It is not always the best-selling one. If you do manual entries, inventory value and sales of various SKUs are slow to reconcile. Add to that the fact it’s hard to figure out the best distribution channels in fluid or volatile markets. Many SaaS accounting solutions allow you to mash up financial data with sales, marketing, and inventory. What happens is you get a 360-degree view of your revenues, including cost-to-retail ratio, stock turnaround, and conversion rate of each SKU category.

Moreover, SaaS accounting combines data consolidation with automation. The result is you start to handle higher order volumes, bigger projects, or offer sophisticated pricing tiers and deals. Imagine what you can do with consolidated records: bundle slow-moving stocks with best-sellers; re-allocate resources from low performers to high performers; offer steep discounts to high-margin sales, and put your best foot forward on sale holidays.

Dealing with different tax regulations: Small businesses now have access to sophisticated tax systems at a minimal cost. Aside from core functionalities, some cloud accounting solutions offer add-on modules that help you tread federal, state, and local taxes. They automate calculations, provide tax information and forms, and calendar due dates. Now you can account for accurate taxation and comply with regulations in applicable jurisdictions.

Stronger purchasing control: SaaS accounting solutions have approval processes that help you standardize procurement. It’s easy to set controls and templates based on best practices. Your employees can begin to follow strict procedures on requisitions, quotes, and even returns based on the parameters you set. You get more visibility across the purchasing pipeline and easily spot who is not complying.

Pulling up data is fast: SaaS accounting reporting and dashboard tools help you to pull up data fast. This is helpful when discussing finances in meetings with investors or managers. You gain big-picture and granular visibility of the company’s financial health. For example, you can make a quick look up of total revenues on the dashboard, then click links to drill down to profit drivers. Look for reporting that lets you choose metrics that are meaningful to you and generate real-time data. It can be profitability, trends, or any factors that influence your finances.

3 Factors to consider when choosing accounting software

Don’t just rush to get a SaaS accounting software just because you’re now sure of its beneficial to your business. Consider these three factors specific to choose the best product for your accounting needs:

  1. Scope of tasks: What areas in accounting you want to automate and consolidate? It can be all core functions. Or a specific task for now, like invoicing and billing, payroll, or inventory. It can include non-core areas, too, such as, e-commerce, asset management, and project accounting. Remember SaaS is offered in scalable features. You get to pay only for tools that you need now or can afford.
  2. Modules included: Determine also what modules are included in the plan. Vendors usually lump all features in promotional content, but sell them separately. Also find out possible charges for additional users, integration, more storage, and mobile access.
  3. Bank integration and fees: Make sure the software connects to your bank, PayPal, or credit card. This helps to reconcile transactions fast and generate real-time financial data. Also check for bank fees especially if you have offshore business.

Best Accounting Software for Small Business

  • Freshbooks – Preferred for its neat interface and intuitive navigation. Best for creating and sending invoices, expense reports, and tracking time. It won our Best Accounting Software Award for 2016. There is also a great free trial version available. You can easily sign up for Freshbooks free trial here.
  • Zoho Books – Lends to the smallest of small businesses a professional look, thanks to its customized invoices and payment alerts that free you from personally bugging clients.
  • QuickBooks – The granddaddy of small business accounting, simple but reliable, and with plenty of apps integrating to it.
  • ZipBooks – A great freemium app with built-in credit card auto-billing, plus, no upfront fees, just a small commission off your transactions.
  • Chargify – Excellent for online billing, ideal for subscription businesses or any online model that involves recurring receivables

CRM Software

HubSpot CRM is a free and reliable solution fit for any small business

After spending a lot to acquire new customers you want to keep them for a long time. You can if you have personal insight on each of them in a way that you understand their preferences and bait them with their interests. However, with hundreds or thousands of customers, how can you manage all these data?

Many CRM software solutions today are marketed at small businesses. They allow you to consolidate hundreds of thousands of customer data and empower you with insights that are easy to process and retrieve.

SaaS CRM software for small business is typically bundled with basic features for contacts, leads, and file storage. You can usually scale the features up as you need more sophisticated tools like reporting, ad management, and campaigns.

Your CRM software should allow you to view contacts in different ways (e.g. age, location, purchase volume, etc.) and track campaigns or customer life cycle, so you can make informed marketing decisions. Note that some solutions include salesforce automation functions, which we are treating here as a separate category (see Salesforce Automation section below).

Basic CRM features are:

  • Contact management
  • Lead management
  • CRM data warehouse
  • Reports and dashboards
  • Email client integration
  • Mobile CRM

Advanced CRM features:

  • Campaign management
  • Marketing analytics
  • Marketing automation
  • Email marketing
  • Social media
  • Customer satisfaction

Benefits of CRM Software

Small business owners who claim CRM software is an extra cost they can’t afford are basically claiming that driving sales growth is also optional. It is your bread and butter. Here are some clear benefits CRM software can provide to your business.

Keeping customer data: You shouldn’t be typing tons of customer data into a spreadsheet. CRM software can do that for you, so you can go back to thinking about business strategies. With cloud CRM you can automate data collection. It lets you cull data from different sources, such as, web forms, emails, phone calls, or chats. Likewise, sales, marketing, and support can route their records to a single database that is retrievable from various devices. With user permissions, you control who get access to these records. What took days of organizing customer data before is now done in seconds.

No missed insights: CRM software can spot patterns and trends in your customer data that otherwise would be buried in manual records. You can capitalize on existing customer base by identifying potential repeat sales or upsell based on buying behavior or interest. Many CRM solutions have good reporting, dashboard, and analytics that give you a 360-degree view of customers. It’s now easy to answer important sales questions, such as: who are ordering what and where? What’s the highest, lowest, and average order volume? What are the recurring orders? What’s our highs and lows based on historical data? Likewise, CRM software doesn’t just compile customer information. It processes customer records, transactions, and tickets to profile them. With quick access to a wealth of profiles, you become a sleuth who understands what sets off a customer. With this power, you can craft messages that resonate with their needs, or offer more products that match their situation.

Sales, marketing, and support share customer data: When sales, marketing, and support are disconnected you’re risking a promise-product mismatch. Sales may be promising services to an audience that the support team says aren’t covered and marketing may be unaware of this audience at all. When sales, marketing, and support use a single CRM platform, they get to see and instantly retrieve all relevant information on customers. Communication between units is also streamlined, in sync, and organized with pre-built collaboration tools. Sales can pull up a customer’s transactional history and align the product pitch with it. Support can retrieve a customer profile the better to deal with a current interaction. Support can also route customer requests that sales can act on at once. And marketing can craft campaigns based on-the-ground data shared by sales and support. Think about it, would you go back to the hassle of bugging different teams and sorting through their manual files just to get insights that are retrievable in seconds with a reliable CRM?

No missed sales opportunities: CRM software lets you personalize sales so your offer resonates with customers more. One way to do this is to stock in some personal facts about customers including age, birth date, and location. Cloud CRMs organizes these data and alert you for sales opportunities. For instance, set alerts for birthdays so you can send out greeting cards tucked with a subtle deal. Or get notifications of a customer milestone (ex. 100th customer) and offer your thanks. Small efforts like these make customers feel valued and they stay with you for more sales. CRMs take the task of having to remember all the little details off the shoulder of your sales reps, so they can focus on selling.

Managing social media: If only you had the time to manage all your social media pages so you can find positive mentions about your product or nip a potential crisis in the bud. CRM software makes this wishful thinking a reality. Many cloud CRM solutions integrate with social media. All your social media pages–Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn–are accessible from inside the CRM interface, so you only have one account to open and check. Moreover, advanced features allow you to set alerts based on keywords. For example, you want to keep tabs on all posts mentioning your customer service. You can configure the CRM to surface posts with keywords like “customer service,” “support,” or “customer support.”

3 Factors to consider when choosing CRM software

CRM solutions can vary in features. But they should always cover these three critical areas for marketing success:

  1. Excellent analytics: CRM is all about getting insights. The cloud solution should process data into insights to help you make informed decisions. Analytics tools can vary, though, so be aware of the subtle differences. Some solutions let you target consumer segments, while others have post-campaign metrics to help you craft future ones. Most solutions, however, allow you to view customers in different ways. The depth of analytics will depend on your specific needs.
  2. Expandable contact list and campaign management: These two areas will drastically grow with your business. Make sure the CRM can accommodate the volume you’ll be needing two, three, five, and even ten years from now. Not only will you need more storage as your customer base expands. You’ll need more ways to slice and dice them into segments for specific campaigns.
  3. Integration with email client and mailer: a CRM should be able to extract customer data from your emails and mailers so you can automate customer data and campaign workflows. If you depend on free email clients like Gmail and Outlook to communicate with customers or rely on free mailer apps like MailChimp for email marketing, make sure the cloud CRM integrates with these. Also, check for integration with other popular productivity and business apps.

Best CRM Software for Small Business

  • Pipedrive – Its highly visual sales pipeline and graphical ticklers make it easy to track and manage leads. Also got great automation and workflow approvals. It won our Best CRM Software Award for 2016. You can also easily sign up for Pipedrive free trial here.
  • HubSpot CRM – A freemium solution rich in features, one of the most robust in SaaS. Its powerful lead management fits the needs of small and large companies. Winner of our Expert’s Choice Award for 2017.
  • Freshsales – Designed for high-velocity and agility to track leads to conversion. Key features include user behavior tracking, lead scoring, and email-phone integration.
  • Zoho CRM – runs the gamut of customer lifecycle from leads to conversion to repeat sales. Highly integrated to sales, marketing, support, and tech processes.
  • Salesforce CRM – A pioneering CRM with robust but expensive features like report history tracking, custom app development and web services API.

Salesforce Automation (SFA) Software

Pipedrive – a great way to optimize your pipeline

Salesforce automation software is often bundled with CRM solutions, but it is also offered separately as a an add-on module or standalone software.

Cloud salesforce automation focuses on the specific process of prospecting and selling to new customers. These customers are then turned over to CRM for nurturing long-term relationships. Once your business starts using SFA software you can streamline the repetitive tasks of sales reps and increase team collaboration. The result is a more efficient team that spends more time selling, not filling up records or completing reports. This software can also measure the sales performance of each rep or the whole team.

Aside from salesforce automation, a great cloud SFA solution should have a good contact management and lead tracking system, and, give or take, any of the following features:

  • Calendars and tasks
  • Sales performance management
  • Sales collaboration
  • Sales analytics and forecasting
  • Order management
  • Product knowledge base

Benefits of Salesforce Automation Software

When your team starts using salesforce automation software your business gains a competitive edge either by increasing sales or reducing cost of customer acquisition, because the sales cycle is shortened. Here are some more ways it can help small businesses to improve performance.

Keeping track of leads: A good SFA software lets you follow a lead along a sales pipeline. You can see its source, statuses as it moves across sales stages, and the outcome. For instance, you can spot a lead forwarded by a web form in your campaign. Support can also indicate a lead from a call. More importantly, the pipeline forces sales reps to indicate the status of the lead for every action taken. You can easily spot which ones are converting, which aren’t, and which take some time. You can even route slow-moving leads to your top performers. It’s nearly impossible to miss out leads because the software gives you visibility throughout the entire pipeline.

More efficient sales team: For a few bucks a month you can make your sales team hum like an efficient engine. Your sales reps can categorize leads using filters and plan their calls. With a single click reps can start cold calling and taking notes. For tough customer queries, they can access detailed product information or automatically feed to management discount or expense requests for approvals. All these can happen in minutes, not hours. Sales reps can also share calendars to schedule appointments or collaborate with colleagues. And with the pipeline, they can clearly see the day’s priority tasks or hot deals. All these can unfold while you sit in your office. You simply access the cloud SFA interface to keep you in the loop. You suddenly realize there’s no need to micromanage the team.

Track sales rep performance: Why wait for the end of the month to coach a struggling sales rep? In the meantime, you’re losing deals. SFA software offers lead management that lets you see in real time the progress of each sales rep. Tools like leaderboards also help you see who is dragging down the team. You can provide them the necessary assistance now, not tomorrow. You can also check task completion, average sales cycle turnaround or conversion rate per individual or team. This software makes it possible to have a well-oiled sales engine all the time.

Teams share resources: Many SFA solutions feature collaboration tools that promote team prospecting and selling. Your top performers can share best practices and tips with newbies. Some even connect sales with other departments like product or marketing. Sales reps get access to experts and resources, which make their pitches more credible or updated. Common SFA collaboration tools include file sync and share, chat room, and activity feeds.

Accurate sales targets: Are you an amateur marketer who comes up with a sales target based on a hunch? It’s time to professionalize this discipline. You’ll like it that the more robust SFA solutions feature sales forecasting with in-line adjustments. This means you can input real time sales data, greatly increasing the accuracy of your forecast week over week, and month over month.

No sales duplicates: Good SFA solutions alert agents if they’re cold calling a prospect that has been targeted already. Agents can see if they’re duplicating the pitch. It’s one of the most annoying things that you can now easily prevent.

Field team share information: Sales is a good source of customer data. But busy sales reps often take time to send important ground information. Data that marketing can use for campaign ideas or that management may find valuable to make a strategic decision is lost when it’s most needed. SFA software closes this time gap. You can set workflow rules that prompt sales reps to send an update to management after every sales call or when a customer email is received. Your company becomes agile, able to react to situations fast.

No overlapping territories: Advanced SFA solutions allow you to set territory models to prevent overlaps. At the same time sales reps can identify colleagues within a territory to collaborate or share resources with. Likewise, with an organized structure it’s easier to map mature territories and identify growth areas in a given location.

3 Factors to consider when choosing salesforce automation software

  1. Duplicate functions with CRM: Check if salesforce automation is already a part of a CRM suite you’re getting. If it is, you may not need a separate software for sales. However, some CRM solutions have limited salesforce functions. For instance, with a fixed pipeline that doesn’t match your workflows; you might want to get a separate and more fitting SFA system.
  2. Ease of use, clear onboarding: Salespeople and their managers can resist change if their traditional sales process is already working. Why fix something that’s not broken, they argue. But if the vendor has clear step-by-step onboarding, plus the sales team experience using the software with drag-and-drop ease, the same staff will adopt the new software in no time. Don’t force sales reps to adapt to the software. Rather, get a solution that closely adapts to their needs.
  3. Customization for products with specific processes or requirements: If your product has special requirement or permit to sell, check if the software can accommodate this special need. A solution with deep customization features for menus, fields, and forms can usually meet the needs of industries such as, for instance, selling regulated chemicals. If you require a local permit for each sale, the software should be able to alert your support team to process the permit at once.

Best Salesforce Automation Software for Small Business

  • Pipedrive – Great use of sales pipeline, especially helpful for kanban followers. Enjoys higher adoption rate because of its highly visual ticket management and processes.
  • Freshsales – With slick lead scoring and user behavior tracking useful to qualify leads faster and more accurately. There is also a great Freshsales free trial available if you want to try out the software first.
  • Zoho CRM – Streamlined lead-to-conversion path that’s easy for salespeople on the go or closely collaborating with marketing, support, or tech
  • HubSpot Sales – Automates lead generation by accelerating email campaigns from outreach to launching to follow-ups.
  • InfoFlo – A cost-effective CRM with reliable single-click access contact management. Salespeople can easily track, manage, link relevant data to customer profiles.

Collaboration Software

Wrike – one of the best solutions for team collaboration and project management

When you use collaboration software your staff starts to work as a team. They share ideas, coordinate closely, and their activities are more aligned with the company’s goals.

SaaS collaboration software can take form of built-in tools in other solutions like CRM, Salesforce Automation, and Project Management. It can also be sold as a standalone software you can integrate with these processes.

The best collaboration software will feature meeting rooms with communication tools like audio-video conferencing, IM chat, screen sharing, and presentation tools. Document sharing is also a must if you want full collaboration.

Plans are typically charged by number of users and tools used. Freemiums are also often available for a limited number of users or system capacity, which from small business may be more than enough.

Key features are:

  • IM chat, email
  • Audio-video conferencing with recording
  • Screen sharing, presentation tools
  • Task list
  • Document sharing
  • File attachment
  • Social discussion threads with @mention
  • Message boards
  • Activity feed, notifications
  • Indexing and search
  • Project management
  • Calendars
  • Knowledge base
  • Wikis
  • Mobile apps

Benefits of SaaS Collaboration

Companies that use cloud collaboration become more agile and can deal with challenges faster. Equally important, they can take opportunities while they’re hot. Here are some key benefits your company can get from a solid collaboration software.

Keep track of everything: If you’re still relying on email to stay in touch with employees or share documents, you’re like using pagers instead of smartphones today. Email is messy. It’s easy to lose files or track group conversations. On the other hand, collaboration software keeps everything in one place. Files, notes, messages, comments, ideas, issues, annotations, updates, schedules are located in a single interface. It is easy to organize them with tags and indexing and surface them through filter and keyword search. You also get instant notifications on any update, revision made, comment posted, or new projects started. Likewise, you can quickly share files and track annotations, or trace changes in documents using history. A single location also helps you to monitor who’s doing what. Good cloud collaboration software has basic project management tools like task management and timeline. They also give you visibility across project stages.

Staying in touch with remote teams: Collaboration software is a must if you work with an outsourced team abroad or a partner agency. Staying in touch with each other won’t be as challenging as before. It’s easy to plan team discussions with calendars or task schedulers, then gather everyone in a virtual meeting room. Presentation is also easy with screen sharing. You can do a group call or send direct messages for more detailed discussions to anyone, anywhere as long as they have internet connection. For sensitive data you can set access control as well.

No switching between apps: Why trouble yourself opening and closing numerous productivity apps when you can just use one? Instead of having separate apps for chat, email, video, cloud file sharing, to-do lists, and calendars, all communication and sharing tools are placed in one collaboration platform. A good app will have all these tools built in or it will integrates with them. The important thing is you need only to open one app to communicate, share, and track activities.

Documents are kept in order: When you send email attachments, the revised file can be overwritten or deleted. You end up reverting back to the original document and make the changes again. This cycle is insidious and eats up your time. With collaboration software the team can access the same document stored in the cloud. Comments happen inside the document so everybody can focus on specific points. Moreover, revisions are automatically saved, but can be traced via history. Most SaaS collaboration apps integrate with standard file formats, such as, PDFs, Docs, and spreadsheets, and with cloud storage apps like Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox.

Your annotations are followed: Many cloud collaboration apps have editing tools that let you make quick annotations on a shared document. But are they being resolved? You can set rules that replying to your comments is required once a revision is made. The app can notify you once a change is made so you can track the revisions. You can then push the discussion to the next stage or close the document as final. Or, check history setting to revert to the original version.

Presentation is easier: Stressing a point or pitching an idea is difficult if you just talk. You need to present or show. Good SaaS collaboration software allows you to share your screen. You can run a PowerPoint presentation on your laptop or draw attention to what you’re browsing. Screen sharing ensures the team stays on the same page.

Writing minutes: Writing down minutes is important to ensure actions are taken and targets are met every after meeting. But sometimes, details are forgotten or key points are skipped. Many cloud collaboration apps let you record audio conferences. Plus, discussion or chat threads can be saved for reference. Likewise, some apps have automatic check-ins that records who are in attendance including the time they log in.

3 Factors to consider when choosing collaboration software

  1. How your team works: SaaS collaboration solutions vary in features and plans. To make sure you get the best combination of tools and good terms, you should first understand how your team should collaborate. They can be following a structured process in which case project management tools and standard workflows are important. Or, collaboration can be temporary or fluid, as the need arises. Task management and schedulers will be most useful in this case. What aspect of collaboration you want to improve most? Visibility, workflow, reporting, sharing and editing documents, integration with your existing tools? Your answers to these questions will define the best cloud collaboration app for your need.
  2. Number of projects or teams allowed: How many projects are you doing at the same time? Make sure the app accommodates this scenario. Also, how many teams will be involved? Most SaaS collaboration solutions charge you by user, so you want to take a close tab on this if you have multiple teams or include external teams like suppliers, partner agencies, and outsource teams.
  3. Mobile access: Make the most out of cloud collaboration by ensuring you can access the app even when you’re away from your laptop. This can be out of necessity or when you’re on vacation.

That means the platform should have a reliable Android or iOS app or, at least, it’s responsive to various mobile browsers. Check also that the most important tools like meeting rooms and document sharing are featured in the mobile version. Note, too, that some vendors charge a separate fee for mobile access.

Best Collaboration Software for Small Business

  • Wrike – Neat interface with clear hierarchial structure for folders, projects, and tasks. Also accommodates kanban-style visual boards. It’s free for up to 5 users and there is a great free trial plan available as well. It was selected as the winner of our Best Project Management Software Award for 2016.
  • Dapulse – Centralized communication and collaboration platform keeps team members in the loop and accountable.
  • Zoho Projects – Free basic features with useful milestone, tasks, and task list tools to help you manage projects from start to finish.
  • Clarizen – Ideal for fast-growing businesses that foresee a need for enterprise-grade collaboration tools. Features highly scalable for small companies.
  • Asana – Easily track tasks, conversations, and projects on dashboards on any device. Focus mode tool draws attention to urgent projects.

Help Desk Software

Freshdesk is a reliable option for any small business dealing with customer support

You can be satisfied with the average performance of your customer service now. Or you can make sure customers are satisfied and watch your sales grow. Help desk software not only enables you to manage support efficiently without busting the budget. It makes customer service a sales driver. True, happy customers do give you more business.

Once you use a cloud help desk software, you’ll start to:

  1. Resolve customer problems faster
  2. Quickly guide new customers through your product
  3. Never lose a ticket again

You’ll also find archiving customer conversations easy and useful to sales and marketing.

SaaS help desk software can be a part of service desk, a suite of tools that include asset management and IT service management. Likewise, cloud help desk can be a module in a CRM system. But most small businesses will do well to get a standalone cloud help desk tool if they only mean to address the specific process of managing customer queries. Typical plans offer different features sold separately or as a bundle and priced by number of users.

Key features are:

  • Ticket management
  • Automation
  • Analytics, reporting
  • Contact channels like email, live chat, web form, phone
  • Agent collision
  • Self-service portal
  • Collaboration tools
  • Agent performance
  • SLA

Benefits of help desk software

If you want to get the most out of a help desk software, make sure it has three major features: ticket management that tracks customer issues; automation that takes over your repetitive and admin tasks; and analytics that gives you the big picture and details of customer service performance. This will allow you to give your customers the best service they deserve.

Fast response time: If your support reps are bogged down by recurring queries or clerical tasks, you can easily solve the problem with automation. Once you automate basic workflows your reps can focus on actually resolving problems. Likewise, recurring queries can be diverted to an FAQ base so agents are free to handle the most urgent issues. You can set rules to automate ticket sorting, routing, tracking, and other admin tasks. Help desk software also allows reps to collaborate on difficult issues for faster resolution. You can even set workflows that let new agents elevate difficult tickets to the manager with one click and enable alerts for idle tickets. By tracking individual resolution time you can see how much improvement your support team makes month over month.

No lost or missed tickets: When tickets slip into cracks, customers get really angry waiting for nothing. They threaten to leave you or rant on social media. You don’t want this to happen to you, do you? You can automate your software to convert queries to tickets, assign a unique reference number, and route them to reps. The agents are immediately notified of their new tasks. Whether the query comes from emails, calls, or live chat you’re sure someone is addressing the message. Agents will be always aware of the tickets and their status.

No duplicate tickets: Agent collision detection is a standard feature in many SaaS help desk solutions. This prevents two agents responding to the same ticket. Tickets are labeled and status marked, so all reps can see who is handling what. You can breathe a sigh of relief that your customers won’t be annoyed anymore with duplicate messages or calls.

No overworked reps: The good thing about SaaS help desk is, even a small team can now handle volumes of customer queries. That’s because most queries are repetitive. Why not unload this burden off your reps’ shoulders? Recurring issues can be directed to a self-service portal like a knowledge base or FAQ resource. Agents are free to focus on unique issues. You can also set your business hours to manage workload. Support is given a window of rest, while customers manage their expectations for a response.

Reps can provide proper answers: You know your business can lose a sale every time support can’t answer a query. But this thing happens, especially if you have a technical product. You can hire the most knowledgeable agents, but good luck with that. Or, you can empower agents with a knowledge base and smart tools that help them search through resource materials. You can also set the cloud help desk to route technical tickets to IT or escalate tricky issues to the manager. For consistency, agents can record canned response for structured questions. Likewise, some advanced SaaS help desk solutions prompt smart suggestions based on ticket description. The rep is quickly routed to the right content resource for answers.

Developing FAQs: Developing a knowledge base or FAQ resource is time-consuming. You have to think up scenarios and use cases, then anticipate resolutions. Or, you need to remember past issues, jot them down, and organize them. A good SaaS help desk can consolidate all queries and resolutions and index them as they happen. You can use a template to structure the FAQs. With a little tweaking you immediately have a knowledge base that’s meaningful to users. More so, you capture all use cases and their resolutions in one easily accessible database.

Meeting SLA: A service level agreement or SLA manages customer expectations for support. It indicates the kind of service you’ll provide based on customer value. The last thing you want is to give your premium customer bare attention. Help desk software allows you to set rules that organize your SLAs and alert agents for the right service. You can automatically route tickets of high-value customers to premium service. If you have multiple SLAs, make sure your cloud help desk offers SLA tools like prioritization triggers, automatic escalations, and alerts.

Retaining interested customers: Savvy marketers know a quality lead when they see one: a prospect asking about your product, for instance. A casual website visitor may have questions about your offer. But without a way to get a quick answer, he’ll move to another site and forget about you. One way to capture this fleeting sales opportunity is by embedding a live chat on your website. Live chat is a main feature in many cloud help desk or it’s packaged separately. It can have features that automatically prompt visitors for assistance if they linger longer than usual on a page or they’re about to leave. It’s also a great way to capture a lead and funnel it to your sales pipeline. For instance, to receive a chat response, visitors can be invited to enter an email address.

3 Factors to consider when choosing help desk software

  1. Check depth of ticket management: Ticketing systems vary a lot. They have different control levels and processes to manage tickets. Some of the capabilities to assess on this module are: ticket assigning and reassigning, escalation, closing, routing, cancelling, and degree of automation. Check how much depth you need to manage tickets. When comparing help desk solutions, their ticketing system can be the deciding factor.
  2. Think of customer data security: Tickets will be routed across your organization. Along with these are sensitive customer data. Likewise, information like passwords, names, and addresses may be made accessible to reps to fulfill the service. The good news is, most SaaS help desk have reliable encryption within the system. But be aware that once you take the data out of the SaaS environment–for example, exporting files to another solution or downloading records or printing documents or sending a screenshot–security is already your responsibility.
  3. Consider branding: Go for cloud help desk that lets you brand the interface and outputs with your logo and colors. When you face customers you want them to see your brand, not your vendor’s. Note that white labeling often costs an additional fee. But if you consider your business credible and professional, then the cost is worth it.

Best Help Desk Software for Small Business

  • Freshdesk – Has good scalability for growing companies. Key features include multi-channel support, multiple SLA protocols, smart automations, knowledge base, and game mechanics. Winner of our Best Help Desk Software Award for 2016. You can easily try out this software with a Freshdesk free trial plan.
  • LiveAgent – One of the easiest apps to set up, with standard support functions like live chat, contact forms, email supports, and file sharing. Also features social media integration.
  • Samanage – Specific to the needs of IT service desk. Consolidates IT asset data for accurate reports and alerts.
  • Zendesk – Easy to deploy even for home-based operations. Can handel 5 to 500 agents to manage thousands of tickets daily.
  • Salesforce Service Cloud – Has robust knowledge base infrastructure featuring communities. Support channels include video and social media.

Time tracking software

Wrike offers solid time tracking capabilities for all your projects and activities

If you bill by the hour or want to know how much time is spent on various tasks, a time tracking app is essential. These are used by many professionals like lawyers, accountants, and consultants for accurate billing. A small business can also use the app to send project estimates to clients, things like deadlines and quotes for example. Time tracking software can also be a tool to assess staff performance based on task completion.

Most project management solutions have a time tracking tool. But if your need is specifically to measuring billable hours and estimating task completion, a time tracking app is usually enough. You don’t want to spend for a project management software only to use a part of it.

There are plenty of free web time trackers, but they’re often bare bones. For paid plans, you want both basic and advanced features that can integrate with your accounting, billing, project management, collaboration and payroll systems.

Key features are:

  • Automatic time capture
  • Billable and nonbillable hours
  • Online timesheet
  • Mobile time tracking

Advanced features are:

  • Automatic invoicing
  • Reporting
  • Resource planning
  • Offline Time Tracking
  • Expense Tracking
  • Vacation/Leave Tracking

Benefits of time tracking software

Time tracking is a cumbersome task that should be automated. As one vendor put it, “You should be spending time doing, not tracking.” As you read the following benefits below you’ll start to realize what this app can do to your bottom line.

Calculate fair billing: Forget about underestimating your services. A time tracking app ensures all the sweat you put in on a project are fairly charged. Conversely, the app makes your billing transparent. You can migrate timesheet data to an invoice to show clients the specific tasks being charged. Transparency builds trust and long-term business relationships. Likewise, you know how hard it is to dispute a bill with a valued client. With your hours clearly tracked and invoicing automated, human error is avoided. It’s nearly impossible now to send a wrong invoice.

Track time spent on a project: You can also use the time tracking app to check on your staff. Are they maximizing work hours to finish their tasks? Advanced time tracker apps include reporting tools that consolidate timesheet records. You can slice and dice reports to surface insights like: how much each member puts in a group project; how much expenses a task has incurred; and who’s efficient or inefficient in the group. With a time tracking app, you realize you can be away from office and still maintain a tight grip on working hours.

Projects are moving forward: Tracking working hours also means you keep a close tab on the project’s progress. You can see at once if you’re ahead or behind schedule. Delays can be resolved immediately by spotting bottlenecks like an employee on sick leave. Furthermore, you can alert the team at once if there are schedule changes. Many web time tracker apps allow notifications via email or discussion post.

Calculating project estimates: As you complete more projects using a time tracking app, you collect historical data that can be useful to future similar projects. Scheduling and cost estimates can be based on past analytics. The result is, project planning is done faster and with greater accuracy. Moreover, time tracking analytics can pinpoint weaknesses in previous projects. You can improve on this and make your future projects run like a well-oiled engine.

Allocation of resources: With limited resources you want to prioritize assigning assets to talents who bring in the most value to the company. Resource planning is a standard tool in advanced time tracking apps. It gives you visibility on resources, who are using them, and schedule of availability. Shared facilities like conference room and transport service, or shared equipment such as laptops and projectors are better allocated to the more important events or activities.

3 factors to consider when choosing time tracking software

  1. How time is tracked: There are different ways to track time and for different reasons. You can plot the entire task duration. This is useful for structured projects with predictable tasks. You can also record the start and end of the task. This is useful for fluid projects, one replete with changes midway or unpredictable outcomes. Or you can have a clock-in, clock-out method where employees manually check in on a prescribed schedule. This is best if you require the staff to adhere to fixed working hours.
  2. Duplicate system in other solutions like accounting, project management, payroll: Your manager may be getting a time tracking app that’s already built-in in your accounting or project management software. There’s no point using two different systems.
  3. Time tracking can grow into a full project management software: If you see the business taking in more complex projects in the future, you’ll need a robust project management software. In this case, it’s convenient if you’re time tracking app can smoothly integrate with the project management software once you need it. You can plan for this in two ways. You subscribe to a project management software that lets you pay for its time tracking module only. Or get a time tracking app that integrates with most project management solutions.

Best Time Tracking Software for Small Business

  • Wrike – Time-tracking tool is easy to locate, right beside task, greatly enhancing accuracy of worked hours. Integrated with reporting for timely and spot-on performance evaluation. There is also a free trial plan available.
  • Zoho Invoice – A popular app for personalized invoices featuring a time tracking tool integrated with expense tracking to help you keep a close tab on payments.
  • Active Collab – Integrates time tracking to billing and task management in one easy-to-use interface. Group communication is streamlined with sharing, discussion, and collaboration tools.
  • Basecamp – A popular small business collaboration app with built-in time tracking on paid plans. Time-tracking is integrated with to-do list tool for an intuitive workflow.
  • Paymo – Time-tracking is bundled with task management and invoicing and feature time recording.

General Things To Consider With SaaS Solutions

With the benefits of SaaS clear to you, you’re now probably ready to choose the best solution for your business. But first, you should also understand a few general things the better to enhance your cloud experience.

Who owns the data?

Your data is kept in the cloud. Updates that you make are also stored, not in your computer, but in someone else’s server. Vendors guarantee your data won’t be shared with third parties. But what happens if you cut the contract? Or the vendor closes down? Can you still access the data? Read the fine print. Check for an escape clause that lets you export data to standard formats like CSV, PDF, DOC, and TXT. You can also do regular backups by downloading files while you’re subscribed.

What if servers go down?

The good news is, most vendors guarantee 99.99% uptime. But the 0.01% can still happen, right? These can be unexpected disruptions like cyber attacks, civil or military strife, and natural disasters. Check the procedures should servers go down. Prefer vendors with redundancies against power outages. Also check for vendors with backup systems built on solid cloud infrastructure like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.

What is the Service Level Agreement (SLA)?

Understand the terms of vendor obligations and the risks you’re assuming. The SLA also stipulates the standard services you can expect. Other key aspects to check in an SLA include: alerts for security breach; exit policy; and conditions for service termination. Note that an SLA is written in favor of the vendor. Request terms that are acceptable to you before signing up.

Is support reliable after sales?

Support during the sales stage is usually awesome. What you want to know is how support holds up once you’re a paying customer. You can read user reviews and social posts for recurring complaints or praises about the vendor. At the least you will discover gross incompetence, if any, on the vendor’s end.

Also note how support is accessed. SaaS support is delivered via different channels. It can be self-service in the form of knowledge base or community; chat; phone; or email. The vendor provides all of these or a combination depending on the plan. Likewise, more channels don’t mean better service. Consider quick response time as a benchmark. Some vendors also offer dedicated support teams for a fee.

Onboarding and training

Some Saas are so basic you need only to follow a setup wizard. For more complex solutions, the vendor should walk you through the initial stages. Use the free trial to quickly assess onboarding. It should be intuitive that you can start right away even with little or no assistance.

Vendor credibility

How long has been the vendor around? Is it a specialist in its category? Does it have a physical office in your country? It’s not to say you avoid startups or generalists. Many of these are agile and have personalized customer engagement that’s a better fit to your small business. But also consider vetting vendor maturity. Disaster recovery expertise, corporate stability, and industry leadership requires experience, which means security for your business.

Conclusion

Now you have a clear idea how SaaS solutions can enhance the different aspects of your business. The best part is, they’re within your reach. From accounting to sales and marketing to customer service and day-to-day management, your business runs more efficiently, its data more consolidated and the staff well coordinated. There are other sophisticated cloud solutions out there. But for now, these six SaaS categories should cover your most essential processes. You can start enjoying the benefits immediately by comparing the top SaaS solutions in our B2B software directory here.

Category: B2B News

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