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Business Software Guide: What SMBs Need

Updated Oct 23, 2023

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There’s so much business software out there today that it can be hard to know exactly what you need for your small business. Of course, you’ll want access to tools that make it easier to track your finances, reach your target customers and manage your staff, but how can you know which programs you need and which software is just an unnecessary expense? 

Every business has different software needs, but understanding what platforms are out there, what they can do and how much you should expect to pay can help you make the right decisions. This guide breaks down some of the most important types of software solutions for small businesses, explains what they do and offers some options for small businesses at various stages.

Small business software solutions to consider

These common small business software solutions can make things easier on you and your team. While you may not need every one, each offers beneficial tools and features that can reduce the time and resources it takes to complete necessary tasks. Mix and match these software platforms as needed to suit your business’s needs and free up your team to focus on the tasks that really matter. 

Accounting software

Accounting software enables small business owners to easily track revenue and expenses in a way that is not possible with spreadsheets. The best accounting software integrates with other key business programs, like payroll software, to automatically pull in data from other systems. This helps small business owners avoid double data entry, which wastes time and increases the likelihood of manual errors. 

Most accounting software platforms also include detailed reports and at-a-glance dashboards that make it easy to understand the business’s financial health without requiring you to repeatedly crunch numbers. Whether you want to monitor profitability or cash flow, the leading accounting software platforms can pull up all your data with just a few clicks.

What’s out there? You can’t discuss accounting software without including Intuit QuickBooks, one of the leading choices for small businesses. Check out our QuickBooks accounting software review to learn more about this well-known platform. There are other great options out there, though. Consider our Oracle NetSuite review for a powerful and comprehensive system, or our Zoho Books review if you’re a small business that just needs user-friendly software that can get the job done.

What will it cost? Depending on how advanced the system is, you can expect to pay between $5 and $60 per month for a typical accounting software platform. Generally, accounting software offers various pricing tiers to businesses depending on the features they need and/or how many users are expected to access the software. Some vendors also charge installation fees or maintenance fees, so be careful about hidden costs when you’re choosing accounting software.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Accounting software can help you track and manage the financial health of your business through integrations with other business software and detailed reports on revenue, expenses, profitability, cash flow and more.

Email marketing software

Email marketing is an effective way to reach your target audience, whether you’re delivering special discounts and promotions or a regular newsletter. Email can help you reinforce your brand strategy, make more sales, reduce your cart abandonment rate, and collect feedback from your customers about your products and services. But to do so effectively, you need email marketing software to manage it all. 

Email marketing software allows you to build an email contact list, create email marketing content and easily send it to relevant audience segments. The best email marketing software allows you to fully brand and customize your email content so that anyone who views it will immediately recognize that it’s from your company. 

What’s out there? To learn about our top pick for small business email marketing software, read our Constant Contact review. It earned that title for its easy-to-use interface and effective email marketing tools packaged at an affordable price. There are some other great options as well. For example, read our Monday.com email marketing review to find out about campaign management tools that can take your email marketing to the next level. Or read our Freshmarketer email marketing review to learn about a solution that can integrate with other marketing software, such as the best text message marketing software or social media marketing platforms.

What will it cost? The cost of email marketing software can vary greatly, but for the simplest solutions, you can expect subscriptions to start at around $9 per month. If you need advanced features or a platform that supports frequent sends to vast audiences, you’ll likely pay more. Some solutions we’ve reviewed have plans that cost up to $400 per month, though most small businesses can make do with a much more cost-effective plan. If you’re not sure which software is best for you, check out our guide to choosing email marketing software for your business.

CRM software

CRM stands for “customer relationship management,” and this software will help your sales and marketing teams do just that. CRM software logs your communications with each customer, whether you’ve had a direct call from them, they’ve engaged with some of your marketing materials, or they’ve reached out with a question or complaint. This allows your sales team to personalize each interaction and better nurture leads along the sales funnel. It can also help marketers better understand their target audience and tailor their messaging and campaigns to these customers.

The best CRM software collects much of this data automatically, relying on integrations with your business phone systems, email marketing software and web chat applications to compile customer profiles. Ultimately, it’s the CRM software’s job to ensure your entire team is up to speed on the most recent interactions with each customer, to understand who these customers are, and to know their overall experience with your brand. This software can be a powerful tool in managing customer relationships and converting prospects into customers.

What’s out there? The market leader in CRM software is undoubtedly Salesforce. Check out our review of Salesforce CRM to see what makes it such a dominant player in the space. Of course, there are other viable options as well. If you’re looking for CRM software that’s useful for remote or hybrid teams, consider our Zoho CRM review. For a user-friendly solution that’s intuitive and requires little to no training for your team to get up to speed, check out our Keap CRM review

What will it cost? CRM software is generally priced per user, per month and can vary quite a bit depending on how many team members need access to the system and which features you incorporate. For small teams that need basic CRM software, expect to pay $10 to $15 per user per month. As your business grows, you may need access to more advanced tools, which can increase costs to anywhere between $20 and $75 per user per month. For the most advanced systems, which use artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, pricing may reach $250 per user per month. For most small businesses, though, more basic CRM software offers plenty of useful features for getting started. To learn more, read our guide to choosing CRM software for your small business.

HR software

If your small business maintains a team of employees or plans to hire more people, HR software may be for you. HR software includes all the tools your human resources team needs to store employee documentation, provide the required training materials, monitor regulatory compliance and track employee performance.

The best HR software can also help you manage your recruitment, hiring and onboarding processes as you grow your team. Look for tools that connect you with HR experts who can provide advice and guidance to your internal human resources staff, especially if you’re a small team that wants to grow the right way. Integrations with payroll software and time and attendance systems are also highly recommended in HR software; in fact, many vendors are now including these systems as features in a broader suite of HR tools. 

What’s out there? The HR software space is replete with strong choices, depending on your business’s needs. For example, we covered our top pick for startups in our review of Bambee HR, which offers key features for businesses just trying to get off the ground with their new team. If data and analytics are more important to you, check out our Paycor review for an HR platform that provides powerful reporting capabilities. Or, if you’re looking to recruit and hire new talent to join your business, see our review of Rippling HR software, which outlines the system’s useful onboarding tools.

What will it cost? HR software usually includes a base subscription price plus a per-employee monthly fee. Base pricing generally ranges from $25 to $200 per month, depending on the array of features you choose. Per-employee monthly fees can cost anywhere from $5 to $20 per employee per month. In addition, some vendors charge implementation or setup fees that can vary quite a bit from provider to provider. Others may provide access to HR experts for guidance at an additional cost as well. 

TipTip

Don’t have an in-house HR department to manage your team? Instead of using HR software, consider outsourcing your human resources functions to one of the best professional employer organizations or the best HR outsourcing companies.

Point-of-sale (POS) systems

POS systems are useful tools for retail establishments, restaurants and any other businesses that accept customer payments on-site. POS systems generally integrate with credit card processing services to facilitate payments via debit and credit cards. They include hardware such as credit card readers and software that can track sales and inventory. 

The best POS systems integrate with accounting software to automatically update information about sales and revenue, thereby preventing the need to enter the same data twice on two separate systems. This not only improves efficiency but also reduces the likelihood of manual errors that will skew your financial data. 

What’s out there? There’s a wide range of POS systems on the market, and each has its own advantages. If you’re looking for a POS system with a great hardware selection, check out our review of Clover. For restaurant-specific POS systems, consider our Toast review. And if you’re selecting a POS system for a retail business, check out our Lightspeed review, which covers a great choice for the industry.

What will it cost? When you purchase a POS system, you generally pay for hardware, a software subscription, and a payment processing fee for each transaction. Hardware can range from a one-time cost of $750 to $1,500. Or, you can lease your hardware for less money up front, but that will be more expensive in the long run. POS software subscriptions range from free to $150 monthly, depending on the vendor and the features you require. Payment processing fees are generally 1.5 to 3.5 percent per transaction.

Payroll software

If you have employees, payroll software can help your business. These platforms make it easy to run payroll and get your employees the money they’re owed without a lot of manual effort. Payroll software also includes reporting tools so you can compare previous payroll cycles to current ones to see how your expenses have changed over time. This can be especially useful if your business is considering hiring or downsizing.

The best payroll software integrates with systems such as HR software, accounting software, and time and attendance systems to ensure everyone is paid appropriately and on time while tracking your payroll expenses. Because payroll is usually one of the largest expenses a small business manages, this software is essential for monitoring your business’s bottom line.

What’s out there? One of the biggest names in payroll software is ADP, our best pick for growing businesses. To learn more about why we chose it, read our ADP payroll review. For small businesses that don’t have near-term growth plans, consider our OnPay review, which is our choice for small businesses. Or, if you’re looking for payroll with some additional HR services, check out our Gusto review.

What will it cost? Most online payroll services charge a monthly base fee of $30 to $150, plus per-employee fees of $5 to $15 per month. Some vendors may charge a per-payroll fee instead, which can range from $10 to $100 per payroll cycle, plus a per-employee fee of $2 to $15 per month. Some companies also may charge for setup and offer annual payroll tax services at an additional cost.

Did You Know?Did you know

If you don’t want to manage your payroll at all, consider outsourcing it to a payroll service rather than purchasing payroll software. You’ll still be able to monitor your payroll and confirm that everyone is paid, but you won’t have to worry about handling it yourself.

Every business’s software needs are different

When you’re choosing business software, it’s important to consider your business’s circumstances and needs. For example, a business with a rapidly growing team may want high-end HR software that offers extensive features and reporting capabilities, but a business with a small team and no plans to grow can make do with much simpler software. To avoid overspending on software you don’t need, develop a clear list of must-haves before you begin your market research.

Because every business’s needs are different, your software suite should be tailored to your workflow. Ask your employees for their input as well; after all, they’ll be the ones using these systems the most. Ultimately, if you test the software, get buy-in from your team, and ensure each solution can integrate with your other business software, you’ll be well on your way to building a business software suite that can help your company grow and succeed.

Tejas Vemparala headshot
Tejas Vemparala
Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Tejas Vemparala is an operations coordinator and analyst who specializes in recruiting and hiring candidates for open positions in small businesses in New York City. In his role, he actively seeks out top talent to support local entrepreneurs as they grow their businesses. Tejas understands the challenges small business owners face firsthand as a former food truck owner and operator, where he focused on providing fast casual Indian cuisine to communities throughout the five boroughs. Tejas holds a dual-degree in economics and marketing and imbues his advice to small businesses with his extensive expertise in these areas.
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