These are the tools that we know, love, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend—many of them we use ourselves. Use them to propel your startup into success and growth.
Listen to COO of Palo Alto Software, Noah Parsons, share his favorite online tools on the fourth episode of The Bcast, Bplan’s official podcast (at 13:17):
Click here to subscribe to The Bcast on iTunes »
Table of contents:
- Accounting software
- Choosing a name
- Domain names and hosting
- Elevator pitches and pitch decks
- Logos and branding
- Stock photos and libraries
- Market research
- Survey tools
- Social media tools
- Project management software
- Launching and PR
- Help desk and customer service
- Payment systems
- Invoicing software
- Website building and shopping carts
- Funding platforms and solutions
- Human resources
- Legal help
- Content resources management
- Analytics tools
- Financial forecasting and dashboard
- Design tools
- Outsourcing work
- Landing pages and A/B testing
- Email marketing platforms
QuickBooks: In the U.S., QuickBooks is hands-down the most popular accounting software out there. If you’re working with an accountant, chances are that they’ll ask you to use QuickBooks. We recommend the online version, but you can still buy the desktop version if that’s what you prefer.
Xero: Xero is an online-only accounting solution. While relatively popular in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K., they are less popular in the U.S. They’re still worth a look though, if QuickBooks isn’t right for you.
Freshbooks: If you’re a small, service-based business such as a photographer, consultant, or wedding coordinator, Freshbooks might be right for you. Freshbooks focuses on invoicing and you can easily allow your customers to pay you online. Technically, they’re not a full-fledged accounting solution, but they cover the basics if you don’t have to handle things like inventory.
Choosing a name
NameCheckr: What’s great about NameCheckr is that in addition to automatically looking up available domain names associated with your chosen business name, it checks a ton of relevant social platforms, from Facebook to Youtube to see if the name is available there. That way you can get right on to your social media strategy!
Naminum: Enter a word and Naminum uses prefixes, suffixes, and replaces letters within your keyword to generate a (huge) list of name suggestions. Didn’t find a satisfactory name? Try with a new word, transform the current one or generate random names for additional inspiration.
Domain names and hosting
Domainr: Search across endless domain extensions, way beyond your standard .com. You’ll find good suggestions, but Domainr is more for finding a domain that will work for you once you’ve already settled on a company name.
Elevator pitches and pitch decks
LivePlan: Full disclosure, we’re the makers of LivePlan—but that just makes us more certain that it’s an essential startup tool. In this case, it’s the pitch feature that allows you to get all of your most important points down in one place, either as a one-page format or as a pitch deck that you can export to Powerpoint if you need a slide deck for a presentation.
Logos and branding
Brand Genie: Brand Genie is a great tool if you’re starting a new brand or looking to rebrand and want some inspiration. You take a quiz answering questions about your business, and based off of your answers, a logo, color palette, brand guide, and more are suggested to you.
99designs: While much more than just a logo company, 99designs is a great resource where designers pitch you several ideas before you pay. If you know that you need someone from outside your company to design your logo, and you want a lot of options to choose from, this is a good option.
Fiverr: Like 99designs, Fiverr is a marketplace of designers, copywriters, programmers, and more. As their name suggests, there are plenty of people willing to do work for just five dollars. You will find more expensive options on the service, but this is a great place to start if you’re on a budget.
Stock photo libraries
Pixabay: Every content producer will need stock photography at some point, it’s just the nature of the game. Pixabay’s free, high quality images are royalty free so if you’re working on a tight budget, this is a great place to start. Be prepared to see your favorite image on other sites, though.
StockSnap.io: Another free photo site. Images are high quality, but as with all image sites, the catalog can be a bit shallow.
Consumer Expenditure Survey: If you want to know what people spend their money on, this is your source.
MyBestSegments: This tool, from Nielsen, helps you understand an area’s demographic and lifestyle habits.
SizeUp: If you need help finding a business location or want to see where your competition is, check out SizeUp. You can also compare your forecasted marketing and advertising budget against the competition.
Google Trends: Use Google Trends to discover what people are searching on and how search volume on important topics is changing over time.
SurveyMonkey: Should you need to poll a group for business purposes, SurveyMonkey is free and reliable. Simply build the survey and send it out to your audience.
TypeForm: Whether you need a simple form or a survey, TypeForm does it beautifully. It’s especially good on mobile.
Social media tools
Buffer: Buffer makes social sharing an easy one-stop shop: you can plan your social posts ahead, and post to multiple accounts from Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and more, all at once. Plus, you can give multiple employees access so everyone doesn’t have to deal with signing in to each platform individually.
Hootsuite: Hootsuite is perfect for people who are really active on social media and managing multiple accounts. It puts everything in one place with an easy to follow user interface, works with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and WordPress, and has incorporated analytics so you can stay on top of your metrics.
AddThis: Add social sharing to your site quickly and easily.
Project management software
Trello: Trello works well for workflows that have a clear process, so you can organize tasks into different boards, create lists on the boards, and assign cards describing each task to the appropriate colleague. It’s also suitable to an environment where you need to create and maintain lists of ideas.
Basecamp: If you don’t need giant charts, but want a dead-simple interface that anyone can use with no training, then Basecamp is for you. Simplicity, unlimited users, and centralization of all your project assets are winners for Basecamp.
Asana: If you need more power than Basecamp, and are willing to pay more, Asana is worth a look. It’s not nearly as affordable as Basecamp, but there is a free plan for small teams that might be all you need as you get your business off the ground. The folks over at Sticker Mule have a great guide on how they use Asana if you need some help getting started.
Launching and PR
HARO: Otherwise known as “Help a Reporter Out,” HARO is a great resource to find reporters who are covering every topic you can think of. If a reporter needs a source, they’ll post here. Simply respond and you could get yourself some free press.
pr.co: Outsource creating a press room for your web site. Write your press release, distribute them via email, and create an easy-to-update press room for your company.
Pressfarm: Find journalists to write about your startup.
Help desk and customer service
FreshDesk: Start for free and add features and support for additional agents as you grow. You get a knowledge base, multiple support channels, and reporting.
ZenDesk: You can start for as little as one dollar per agent a month, but you’ll almost certainly upgrade for added functionality. ZenDesk has a deep feature set and offers integrations into many other systems.
Stripe: If you’re building a web site or mobile app and plan to accept payments, Stripe is a great place to start. They’re built from the ground up to be developer-friendly and simple. Stripe is used by companies big and small, so you’ll be in good company.
Braintree: A PayPal company, Braintree was built with an extreme focus on customer service. They’ll help you every step of the way and enable your company to accept different forms of payment from all over the world.
Freshbooks: For companies that focus on offering services to their customers and need a robust invoicing solution, Freshbooks is a great choice. Not only can you issue professional invoices, but you can accept payment online, capture expenses, and track your time.
Ballpark: An alternative to Freshbooks, Ballpark offers a similar set of features. One stand-out feature is their “projects” tool that allows you to track time and set budgets for, well, projects.
Website building and shopping carts
Wix: With a huge template gallery and simple online editor, Wix is a great place to start if all you need is a simple, static web site. The upper price tiers also offer shopping cart functionality for an all-in-one solution.
Squarespace: Squarespace’s focus is on beautiful design. Your subscription includes access to a huge image gallery, a logo creator, and much more. Like others, you can sell online with Squarespace as well.
Chargify: If you’re setting up a subscription business and don’t want the hassle of building a billing tool, check out Chargify. They’ll handle the recurring payments and allow you to offer all kinds of subscription options to your customers.
Funding platforms and solutions
Gust: Entrepreneurs can post a free business profile on Gust and share it with investors around the world. Gust is great for startups that are looking for angel investment and potentially a venture capital investment.
AngelList: Similar to Gust, startups can post their company on AngelList and solicit investment from potential investors. AngelList also offers job boards and other tools to help startups get up and running.
Bplans Loan Finder: If a loan is the right choice to launch your business, check out the Bplans Loan Finder. Fill out a short questionnaire and the loan finder will present you with multiple loan options.
Zenefits: You really can’t go wrong with Zenefits’ free HR software platform. That’s right, it’s free. They make their money by administering your benefits and payroll, should you choose to do that—it’s not required.
RocketLawyer: From incorporating your business to getting contracts and other legal documents, RocketLawyer has all of the basics covered. RocketLawyer encourages you to subscribe to their service, so if you don’t have ongoing legal needs, be sure to cancel your subscription when you’re done.
LegalZoom: Unlike RocketLawyer, LegalZoom focuses on offering their services a-la-carte. Find the legal form or service you need, and get straight-forward pricing for that document. They serve all common business legal needs, so you can’t go too far wrong with LegalZoom.
Avvo: Avvo’s has a great Q&A forum where you can ask any legal question and get answers from attorneys for free, pages and pages of legal guides written by lawyers, a lawyer directory with ratings, consumer reviews, and profiles for 97% of the attorneys in the U.S.
Nolo: Nolo is a fantastic, trusted resource for their free and informative legal information; their website is chock full of accurate and helpful information on everything from bankruptcy to divorce to patents. In addition, they sell products such as books, kits, and forms for things like making your will, starting a nonprofit, and making the right tax deductions.
Content resource management (CRM)
Highrise: From the makers of Basecamp, Highrise is a simple and straightforward CRM that will keep all of your customer information organized. You can track business deals and share all of the details with your team.
Infusionsoft: In addition to all of the standard CRM features, Infusionsoft brings marketing and sales automation to small businesses, to help automate communications and standardize tasks. Infusionsoft also integrates on online shopping cart so you can manage your business from one software suite.
HubSpot CRM: You can get started with HubSpot’s CRM for free. It’s easy to use, yet has all of the powerful CRM features you expect. Its Sidekick add-on for email is excellent and you can easily track deals and an entire sales process.
SumoMe: If you’re looking to save a few dollars and get similar functionality to CrazyEgg, check out SumoMe. They also offer a suite of engagement tools that can help you collect emails and promote content via social media.
Financial forecasting and financial dashboard
LivePlan: If you need to write a business plan, build a budget, or forecast your sales and cash flow, look no further than LivePlan. Once you’ve set your financial goals, you can connect QuickBooks and track your progress toward your goals.
Canva: Canva is one of our favorite online image editors. You can edit photographs easily, but you can also create all kinds of visuals from posters to business cards to book covers. The basic version is free and you can upgrade to the “work” edition if you need more.
Piktochart: Create infographics the easy way. What we love about Piktochart is that it’s easy to use, free, and looks professional—kind of the best of all worlds in terms of creating your own infographics.
Upwork: Formerly known as Elance and Odesk, Upwork is a marketplace of freelancers from around the world that will do nearly anything you need, from sales and marketing, to design and web development. Use their powerful filters to find a freelancer and Upwork will facilitate payment and all the other details of managing a contract freelancer.
TaskRabbit: TaskRabbit is unusual but really useful when you it need people quickly to do a task that isn’t really freelancing per se; more like a handyman or Jack or Jill- of-all-trades. For example, if your business is throwing an event, you can hire a group of highly rated people on TaskRabbit to set up, serve, and clean up without having to deal with a full-scale catering company.
99designs: If you have a design task, from a book cover, to product packaging, to a logo, 99designs can get designers to compete for your work. You’ll get multiple designs and then you pick the ones you like.
Landing pages and A/B testing
Visual Website Optimizer: With no coding required, Visual Website Optimizer makes it easy to test changes to your website and figure out which version does the best. Reporting is easy and you’ll get the majority of the features you need at a reasonable price.
Email marketing platforms
MailChimp: MailChimp is the easy choice here. Unless you have a very sophisticated marketing automation campaign that you need to run, MailChimp does a great job helping you build and send newsletters and virtually any other kind of campaign. The automation tools are solid, too, and will be more than enough for most businesses.
Sendy: If saving money is your number one objective, check out Sendy. Sendy uses Amazon’s Simple Email Service platform to send emails on the cheap. It’s not the most full-featured tool, but it does the trick if you want to send email as inexpensively as possible.
HubSpot: For more enterprise-level functionality but with small business ease-of-use, check out HubSpot. It’s an all-in-one marketing automation and inbound marketing platform, but you can use just their email service if you want.
Aweber: As an alternative to MailChimp, check out Aweber. It offers great pricing and a deep feature set. A major difference from MailChimp is their customer support; while MailChimp only supports you via email, Aweber will pick up the phone.