Let's face it: Running and maintaining a small business are not simple tasks, especially in these tough economic times. But getting a small business to thrive is an even bigger challenge. Unless you're armed with the best modern technology, your competition could leave you in the dust.
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To help improve efficiency and streamline operations, here are three of the best financial applications for managing the financial aspects of your small business, plus four useful tools for managing your daily workflow and keeping data safe and secure.
FreshBooks is a web app that assists business owners who receive or send out invoices. It also helps with expense tracking and tax preparation and offers mobile add-ons that allow account access through a BlackBerry or iPhone. You can manage up to three clients for free. Paid packages start at $19.95 per month.
2. Office 365
This web-based application offers all the conveniences of Microsoft Office, along with a few amenities that are perfect for small-business owners. It includes the Microsoft Exchange email service, SharePoint for sharing documents, and Lync, which provides a variety of communication platforms. Small-business packages start at $6 per user, per month.
Install the Expensify app on your smartphone to drastically reduce the time you spend on expense reports. It seamlessly transforms a snapped picture of a receipt into a formatted expense report. Businesses can receive two introductory accounts for free. Thereafter, it costs $5 per user, per month.
Available for PCs, Macs and mobile devices, this application provides instant online data-backup capabilities for as little as $39.99 per month. It also encrypts data, which is something that traditional backup products do not do.
BestVendor is an excellent product for those unfamiliar with online technology and apps. It allows you to find out which apps are popular with other professionals in your niche, and sign-up is free. Just log in using your Facebook account, enter your professional information and list three apps you're currently using.
MyCyberTwin is a neat web-based app that is sure to improve customer service on your website and social media channels. In essence, it allows you to make a virtual clone of yourself that can answer questions for website clients or help with social media efforts. Businesses receive a free 30-day trial, after which the service costs $25 per month.
I recently had someone visit my home office to repair my PC, but instead of asking for cash or a check, he connected a tiny device called a Square to his phone and swiped my credit card through it. I then signed my receipt on his smartphone using my finger. The Square works on any smartphone, and both the device and the app are free. No merchant account is required, but a fee of 2.75% is assessed on each payment accepted.
Intelligently putting apps to work will lessen the time you spend on the mundane aspects of entrepreneurship and allow you to focus on more important things, such as customer service and marketing. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration, 30% of all small businesses fail in the first two years, and poor management is a primary cause. So let technology do some of the legwork for you and avoid becoming an unfortunate statistic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bakke is a contributor for Money Crashers, a website that tackles such topics as personal finance, money management and small-business strategies.
This was first published in August 2012