In the age of remote working, an effective chat tool can quickly become the backbone of your business. When assessing chat tools, choose the one at the best price point that makes the most sense for your business.
The goal of these communication tools should be to simplify things, not make them more complicated. You and your staff can use chat platforms for real-time collaboration with file-sharing capabilities, audio and video calls, project management, and more.
We've done the research to help you pick the right platform for you. Here are 14 affordable and easy-to-use chat tools for small businesses. The best part is they all offer free plans for small business users.
What are chat apps?
Gone are the days of communicating mainly via email. Chat apps are dynamic tools that allow workers to engage with one another, share meaningful ideas, work through company problems and better plan for your business's future. They often offer task management features, chat features, video calling services, and other communication and productivity management tools.
Why are chat apps beneficial?
Chat apps are more efficient than communicating via email. The main goal of chat apps is collaboration: Several workers can communicate with one another at once in real time.
Slack offers a robust and comprehensive chat tool for small businesses. In addition to one-on-one and group chat, Slack comes with individual and team audio calls and video conferencing. Slack makes collaboration easier than most chat tools. Users can organize multiple projects, teams, and other items using hashtags as well as share files by dragging and dropping them into the platform or via Google Drive, Dropbox, and other file-sharing services. All files and chats are synced, archived and searchable for future reference. You can even edit on other people's screens.
Additionally, Slack offers a variety of third-party integrations, including Google Docs, Sheets or Slides for sharing and viewing files within conversations and during calls. [See Related Story: Collaboration Tools for Small Business]
Chatwork is a business social networking tool. If you're working with several different clients and teams across the globe, Chatwork allows you to connect with them in both private and public group chats. It also offers task management software, video chat capabilities and contact management software.
3. Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is software as a service that ties directly to the productivity giant's Office 365 subscription. It creates a chat-based workspace that's focused on real-time collaboration. It includes chat, meetings, notes, Office, Planner, Power BI, and extensions and apps. It looks a bit like Slack and functions similarly, with threaded persistent chats that can be open or private. Teams integrates with Microsoft's Skype video service, plus you can invite guests to join chats. If you're a Microsoft-focused business, Teams may be the way to go.
4. CA Flowdock
Flowdock is a chat and inbox platform that lets teams collaborate and keep communications easily accessible in one place. It offers one-on-one private chat with individual team members, group chat and threaded discussions. Its team inbox feature, on the other hand, keeps and organizes emails and messages related to project management, customer support and other sources.
It's accessible anytime, anywhere – over the web, using the Windows or macOS app, and on iOS and Android devices. Push notifications are available across platforms and devices, so no one misses an important chat request, email or other messages. Other features include @ mentions to get a specific user's attention as well as hashtags and chat histories with searchable transcripts.
5. Google Hangouts
Hangouts began as a consumer-friendly chat service, Google recently reimagined it as a business powerhouse featuring deep integration with its G Suite productivity suite (Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, Meet, etc.). Hangouts offers one-on-one chats and threaded messages. You can assign document permissions based on the team that created them. For video chats, you access Google Meet, where up to 30 folks can join. If your company is deep into the G Suite ecosystem, this may be the solution for you.
6. Facebook Workplace
Through Facebook's social network specifically designed for business, some 30,000 organizations are now chatting it up across some 1 million groups. The company offers a desktop app called Workplace Chat that features screen sharing, group video chat for up to 50 people and live video broadcasting. It also works on iOS and Android. Facebook charges not by seat but by the number of monthly active users, with tiers of features that range from $1 to $3.
7. Amazon Chime
Features available with Amazon Chime Basic include one-to-one voice calling, video calling, screen sharing, and access to use its chat feature with 30 days of history for messages. Chime also auto-calls all participants when a meeting starts, eliminating the need for memorizing complicated log-in PINs and providing a visual roster of everyone on the call. It also provides the ability for everyone to see who is talking and to mute a participant if there is loud background noise on their line.
Chime's higher-tier plan – Pro – offers some very helpful user management tools for businesses. In addition to all the features of the Basic plan, Pro steps up the advanced features with screen sharing capabilities, custom meeting URLs, and the ability to schedule and host meetings for up to 250 attendees. Users can also lock and record meetings. Pro costs $3.00 per user, per day, up to $15, per user, per month.
Twist is a chat tool from Todoist, the popular to-do list application. It differs from other chat apps by making all chats and communications on the app threads. It has distinct group rooms, but if you want to comment, you have to either start a new thread or comment on an existing one.
Flock is a forum-based chat application. Instead of responding directly in a chat room, each reply "quotes" the one above it. Flock is a good solution for businesses seeking to maintain transparency with workers but wanting to communicate more efficiently.
Discord is a voice chat app for businesses. Instead of communicating by typing in a chatroom, forum or thread, Discord allows workers to communicate via voice. It has always-on voice channels so you can quickly talk with your team. It features standard chat windows for basic communication.
11. Cisco Webex Teams
Cisco Webex Teams is Cisco's full-fledged chat solution for small businesses. It provides a chat tool, meeting software, a whiteboard collaboration tool and an organized calendar app. The chat app features the ability to use images dynamically, the whiteboard application is ideal for creative collaboration.
12. Zoho Cliq
Zoho Cliq provides much of the same power as other chat apps but with a different interface. Instead of being limited to one chat at a time, Zoho Cliq allows you to open and view several windows and rooms simultaneously. This can allow for more streamlined communication across multiple teams.
Ryver integrates basic chat functionality with task management. Instead of losing ideas to chat channels, Ryver allows you to create posts so you can better manage ideas and new tasks. The company boasts being "two apps in one," by functioning as both a Slack and Trello alternative.
If you're running a technology company or larger business, you may want to consider Mattermost. This chat tool is fully customizable to your company's needs and can even be run on your own servers. It offers basic chat functionality and communication features, but you have the ability to toggle things to meet your needs.
Anna Attkisson contributed to the writing in this article.