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    SaaS Platforms to Help Kickstart a Small Business

    COVID-19 has dealt small- to mid-size businesses a hard blow in 2020. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, small businesses declined by 22 percent — a loss of 3.3 million businesses at the beginning of the pandemic, spanning February to April.

    Those numbers are daunting, but research also shows that as the pandemic continues to reconfigure how people think about and approach the idea of work, more and more Americans are looking to turn their creative business ideas into viable, sustainable forms of employment. With a solid business plan in place, finding the best software tools to get your business up and running from day one should be next on the agenda.

    Table of Contents

    The Practicalities of Cloud-based Software

    Before choosing software for various aspects of your business, deciding whether to sign-up for SaaS (software-as-a-service) versions for use via the internet through a subscription or purchasing software outright can invoke some handwringing. A relatively new business model, SaaS has proven to be an efficient, cost-effective option for SMBs for a number of reasons:

    • It provides access to software that would be otherwise too expensive.
    • It saves time by handing IT management and maintenance off to the service
    • It provides opportunities to scale the service on offer based on various pay models as well as offer access anytime and anywhere
    • It can unify your workforce on one software platform to eliminate potential compatibility issues that can arise when using on-premise software.

    While there are some disadvantages (less control over IT management, costly migrations, etc.) to using SaaS platforms, it is the ideal approach for entrepreneurs starting a business in a time of crisis as it takes some of the stress out of buying and scaling software as the business evolves and expands over time.

    Also read: Why Cloud-based Software is Best for Small Businesses

    Using Accounting Software to Crunch the Numbers

    A sound business plan requires a clear, detailed accounting of the financial health and goals of your business. Cloud-based bookkeeping software, depending on the kind of business, can handle everything from purchase orders to budgets, and sometimes payroll, effectively saving time by automating several often manually executed tasks. There are several SaaS accounting platforms on the market, including the hugely popular QuickBooks Online, which sits alongside competitive choices such as FreshBooks, Zoho Books, Sage, and Wave.

    Quickbooks Online

    Ideal for SMBs and startups, Intuit’s QuickBooks Online is a comprehensive accounting software that offers invoice management, real-time finance and sales monitoring, tax preparation, expense tracking, automated data collection, and much more. Available on desktop and mobile devices, Quickbooks Online offers extensive third-party integration, which simplifies workflow across in-office and work-from-home staff. Flexible pricing plans across three subscription levels range from inexpensive with a limited feature set to a pricer, bells-and-whistles plan for all business stages and sizes.

    FreshBooks

    Known for its extensive invoicing capabilities, FreshBooks offers a user-friendly interface, time and budget management tools, robust banking features, and reports generation based on several optional criteria. While it lacks some desirable features, such as project management functionality and inventory and vendor management, Freshbooks does offer decent customer service and five subscription tiers, including a features-limited free trial version and a customizable option that provides several perks including a dedicated account manager.

    Zoho Books

    A features-rich platform for SMB bookkeeping, Zoho Books’ advantage is its integration with the 40-plus app Zoho productivity ecosystem and an extensive list of third-party programs. Offering automated management of business workflows, the cloud-based program can generate invoices in seconds, has an inventory management module, allows for comprehensive banking and transaction functionality, and provides time and bill tracking. Flexible and customizable, Zoho Books’ main drawback is its limited payroll functionality, which might be a problem for larger organizations.  Zoho Books’ pricing scheme begins with a 14-day free trial after which subscribers can choose from Basic, Standard, and Professional plans.

    Xero

    Scalable for growing businesses, Xero’s interactive dashboard highlights its strong feature set, including invoice tracking, purchase ordering, inventory tracking, and, at the higher subscription tiers, multi-currency support and project management. Integration with more than 800 apps allows basic users to expand the app’s functionality with additional services. Robust mobile and tablet features bring Xero’s feature set on par with the desktop cloud experience. Drawbacks of the service include a learning curve for using its rich feature set and separate payroll management through the service’s partnership with Gusto. An affordable Xero Starter plan gives way to the pricer Xero Standard and Xero Premium 10 plans.

    Also read: SaaSOps Becomes a Thing in Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

    Wave

    Completely free, Wave’s bookkeeping software is ideal for freelancers and solopreneurs. Offering a series of unlimited features — expense and income tracking, invoicing, credit card and banking connections — that other SaaS accounting providers place on their premium tiers, Wave allows users to manage multiple businesses under one account. However, for payroll management features, subscribers can sign up for Payroll by Wave, a two-tier subscription add-on that also has a per employee fee and is only available in 14 U.S. states. To make business payments and transactions, subscribers can add-on Payments by Wave, which charges a per-transaction fee.

    Tackle Staff Management with HCM Software

    Streamlining business compliance, policy, hiring, scheduling, employee benefits, and more becomes easier with human capital management software (HCM). The proliferation of HCM platforms in recent years can be attributed to a growing demand for automated recruitment processes as well as the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into existing platforms. For SMBs, HCM software can save time, costs, and labor across not only the human resources team but also for the entire organization at large. Here are four HCM software platforms to consider.

    BambooHR

    One of the fastest-growing HCM cloud-based software providers in the market, BambooHR features more than 25 app integrations, including a payroll management add-on, to help optimize HR workflow alongside essential HR tools like benefits tracking, hiring and onboarding tracking systems, and document storage. A comprehensive self-service employee portal allows employees to access time off and benefits management as well as provides an employee directory, company calendar, and more. BambooHR has a two-tier subscription model, but interested end users must call or email for pricing.

    Gusto

    Best known for its payroll services, Gusto is an easy-to-use HR management platform that offers integration with many popular accounting software providers, including QuickBooks and Xero. The platform also features employee onboarding and health insurance management as well as automatically performs local, state, and federal tax calculations and filings. Pricing begins at the affordable Basic plan level right up to the Concierge plan targeted at HR professionals.&

    Zenefits

    For SMBs with few staff members, Zenefits provides deep benefits functionality that encompasses HR and payroll administration as well as hiring, onboarding, and employee documentation. Further app integration allows for wellbeing and performance tracking along with health insurance and compliance management. Zenefits’ pricing scheme is complicated, offering four plan levels that can be expanded with add-ons that handle payroll, benefits administration, and advisory services.

    Zoho People

    Part of a network of Zoho business management cloud-based applications, Zoho People tracks employee benefits, payroll, time sheets, onboarding, PTO and documentation alongside software integration with other associate platforms, including Quickbooks and GSuite. Customizable, the platform also features 360-degree feedback, performance analytics, self appraisals, and goal setting and tracking. Zoho People subscription scheme is based on a per-employee fee with incremental increases offering expanded features.

    Also read: 2020 Top Companies for Human Capital Management (HCM) Software

    Using CRM Software to Chart Workflow

    The beauty of customer relationship management software (CRM) is its ability to streamline workflow, thereby allowing the emergence of a clear picture of business processes including lead generation, tracking sales, and data-driven report generation. These processes will shape and influence how you identify business growth opportunities and stay connected with customers.

    There are dozens of CRM software options on the market, but for new SMBs, the most useful guidance on choosing a platform comes down to ease of use, levels of customization, date-entry automation, vendor customer support, and affordability. Many CRM platforms offer a wide breadth of additional features within the application, including collaboration tools, social media management, and KPI tracking. Here are five that do a lot of the heavy lifting for SMBs and startups.

    Salesforce

    Easily customizable, Salesforce’s cloud-based application, Sales Cloud allows sales teams to access real-time customer information and automate tasks as well as offers scalable management of leads, contacts, and sales opportunities. Integration of marketing tools and an AI add-on called Einstein, expands the platform’s capabilities, which are further enhanced by data analytics and contract and task management. Customer service teams can utilize Sales Cloud for call tracking and management, tracking customer tickets and cases, and creating customer portals where they can report problems and view the status of their reported issues. A comprehensive CRM, Sales Cloud offers four subscription levels ranging from the essentials package to the Unlimited plan.

    Hubspot CRM

    A freemium platform, Hubspot has expanded its identity as a marketing technology provider by offering paid add-ons that zero in on essential CRM tools designed to help small businesses grow. Called HubSpot CRM, the easy-to-use service offers a slew of CRM tools for lead generation, email marketing, data analysis and reporting, live chat, and integration with other CRM platforms, including Salesforce.

    Freshworks CRM

    Built on the promise to give sales teams 360-degrees views of their customers, Freshworks CRM offers AI-driven marketing and sales data and insights in a single dashboard. The service offers sales lead generation and scoring, predictive sales tracking, email marketing, and automated sales processes. Freshworks CRM’s pricing is built on a vision of business expansion and begins with the Growth plan for small and growing companies, to the Pro plan, followed by the Enterprise package.

    Insightly

    Aimed at growing SMBs, Insightly’s feature set includes CRM, project management, and marketing automation functionality. Offering tools to aid in lead generation, workflow automation, email campaigns and more, the platform integrates with a number of third-party applications, including Slack and Google. Insightly has a free plan with stripped down features, while three subscription tiers address the incremental needs of expanding companies and sales teams.

    Nimble

    Focused on harnessing sales insights and data organization, Nimble’s greatest feature is its contact management, which drills down into individual contacts to offer deeper insights for more targeted customer engagement. Along with integration with other productivity software apps, Nimble also offers social media, sales intelligence, and marketing automation. Users can opt to subscribe monthly or yearly after a 14-day free trial.

    Getting to Work

    Starting a business that successfully grows requires the right tools to keep one step ahead of both planned and unforeseen challenges. A rock solid business plan can be girded by a strong suite of SaaS applications to help make each step taken along the way easier and wiser. With their rich data analytics, customer insights, and task management tools, business-focused SaaS apps make staying in business a priority.

    Also read: The Importance of Cisco’s Best Place To Work Rating

    Llanor Alleyne
    Llanor Alleyne
    Llanor Alleyne is managing editor of a portfolio of enterprise IT and SMB technology sites, including IT Business Edge, Enterprise Networking Planet, and Small Business Computing. In an editorial career that has spanned nearly 18 years, Llanor previously held editorial leadership roles at Residential Systems Magazine, Digital Signage Magazine, and media company AVNation.TV. Previously the host of the Digital Signage Digest podcast, Llanor is committed to understanding the impact of technology on social mores and folkways. Her deep knowledge base includes audio/video integration, IoT/smart home, immersive tech, IT, and more.

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