When you run a small business, you’re often pulled in several directions all at once. Not only are you in charge of everyday operations, but you must handle payroll, employee issues, and anything else that pops up.
If the demands on your time feel overwhelming, take heart: There are thousands of productivity apps out there that can help you do everything from keep a neat to-do list to delegate tasks to employees and stay on top of your business expenses.
Which small business apps are best? That will largely depend on your business and your own preferences. If you don’t have the time to wade through an endless list of apps, we’ve plucked several tried-and-true options to get you started. Have a personal favorite to recommend? Let us know in the comments.
Best Small Business Apps for General Productivity
Before we jump to more task-specific apps, we wanted to touch on a few popular productivity apps that are useful for any small business owner, regardless of their business type or size. Here are a few apps that can be as helpful personally as they are professionally:
With Evernote, you can clip bits and pieces of information from the web, tag them for easy searching, and alter any of them by adding to it, condensing it, or embedding pictures, tables, audio, video, and the like. You can also use Evernote for organic notes and journaling, to-do lists, recipes, contacts, and even storage for tweets or emails that you want to keep handy.
All of that is free in the basic version. Evernote also has a business version that costs $12 per user, per month with several added features including administrator controls and unlimited space for uploads.
Simply put, Wunderlist is a to-do list, but a highly effective one. You can create an endless number of task lists and share them with whomever you want. Lists sync automatically so that others can see which items have been completed.
Wunderlist has even launched a higher-powered business app that lets you delegate tasks to team members, break them down into subtasks, add notes, set deadlines, and program reminders. Basic Wunderlist is free, while Wunderlist for Business is $4.99 per user per month.
How many times have you run across something interesting, but you didn’t have the time to read it right away? If Evernote feels overwhelming to you, Pocket makes it easy to save videos, articles, and whatever else you find online so that you can peruse them later.
When you’re tired of social networking but still want to wind down at night with something interesting, Pocket might be your best friend. Even better, you don’t need an Internet connection to view what you’ve saved. Pocket is simple to use, and best of all, it’s free.
Best Small Business Apps for Time Tracking
Whether you’re a freelancer who needs to track your hours or simply a small business owner who wants to keep yourself (or your team) more accountable, these productivity apps can help you see where your time is going:
If you know you waste too much time on digital distractions like Facebook, Twitter, or online shopping, RescueTime can hold you accountable. It breaks down where you spend your time by application and website and lets you set productivity goals. A premium version even lets you block certain sites, track offline activity, or set notifications (like if you’ve spent too much time on one activity, for instance).
The basic version is free, while premium will set you back about $9 a month. Though RescueTime is available for Mac, PC, and Linux, its app is only available for Android phones.
With one click, the Toggl timer tracks where every second of your time is going, making it ideal for anyone who needs to log billable hours. You can track as many projects or clients as you want, view colorful graphs, export timesheets, and sync your numbers with several project management apps.
Best of all, all of your employees can use Toggl, and you can divide them into different groups to stay organized.
Toggl is free for up to five users, while a Pro version allows unlimited users and adds billable rates, subprojects, and other features for $5 per user, per month.
Eternity Time Log
Productivity extends beyond your work life, and Eternity Time Log recognizes that. Your day is first broken down into three broad chunks: Work, play, and sleep. Within those groups, you can further track your time with different labels and tags, even running multiple timers at once.
You can view the results using colorful pie charts and reports that can be exported to any device. Eternity Time Log will set you back $4.99. It’s only available for iPad and iPhone.
Best Small Business Apps for Project Management
Project management apps let you and your employees stay on the same page with your day-to-day tasks. These apps aim to streamline workflow and centralize communication so that you can spend more time actually working and less time figuring out what everyone needs to do. Here are three productivity apps that are worth a look:
Basecamp is the most well-known project-management app of this trio, and it might be the easiest to use of the bunch. The interface is streamlined and intuitive, and it’s easy to invite collaborators, chat within projects, attach files, create checklists, and track your progress. You can also create helpful workflow calendars that keep everyone on track and on the same page.
However, this ease does come at the cost of some flexibility: For instance, you can’t do advanced reporting or budgeting, and it’s hard to see everything in one glance. If your projects are straightforward and you don’t want to devote much time to learning a new system, it could be a good pick.
With Basecamp, you pay per project instead of per user — users are unlimited. Plans start at $20 per month for 10 projects and go up to $150 a month for unlimited projects.
We recently switched from Basecamp to Trello to manage our content at Google-X. Trello’s main strength is that it’s highly visual: On any given board, you can create several lists, and move cards between them as the status of a particular project changes.
For instance, each article has a card, and we drag those cards from list to list depending on where they are in the writing process: assigned, writing, editing, ready to publish, etc. You can attach files, create checklists, and assign members to each card so they’re updated as the status of the article changes. Team members can chat directly on each card, too.
Trello is free for personal use, but starts at $3.75 a month per user for businesses.
Asana is more text-heavy than Trello, and if you love checklists, this app is for you.
Projects, or “tasks,” can be easily prioritized within its flexible interface, and a dashboard charts your progress visually. You can chat with team members within those tasks, assign due dates, attach documents or other files, and choose what kind of notifications to receive.
The app integrates with an impressive number of other services, including Evernote, Google Drive, Box, Slack, MailChimp, WordPress, and ZenDesk.
The basic version of Asana is free for up to 15 users — a very nice feature for small businesses on a budget — while a premium version starts around $21 a month for five users.
Best Small Business Apps for Team Communication
Though project management apps let you stay up to date on who’s doing what, you may still need a more immediate way to get in touch with employees — especially if your email inbox is a nightmare. Here are a few options:
Google-X team has used Slack for quick questions and answers. Though it’s not the most intuitive app from the get-go, it allows for easy filtering and searching that make finding what you need a snap. You can create channels for just about any conversation theme: particular projects or clients, general water cooler chat, or whatever else works best for your small business.
Notifications are easily customized, which is useful for when you want to stay in the loop yet filter out unnecessary noise. The best part is that basic Slack is free for an unlimited number of users. More advanced features, including unlimited searches and app integration, start at $6.97 per user per month.
HipChat has a shorter learning curve than Slack, and it’s certainly cheaper — you can use the basic service for free, or pay just $2 per user per month if you want features such as video sharing and screen sharing.
HipChat organizes conversations by rooms, allows drag-and-drop file sharing, and archives conversations for easy searching. Emoticons and GIFs help keep the mood light, too.
Skype for Business
Skype is a familiar name to just about everyone who has wanted to make a free video call online, but offers meetings with up to 250 people, integration with Microsoft Office, chat, file transfer, and more.
Pricing starts at $2 per month per user. For $5.50 a month, you can add features including group HD video calls, meeting recording, and remote control of others’ computer desktops. And yes, if you don’t need all that, Skype-to-Skype video or voice calls are still free for up to 25 people.
Best Small Business Apps for Customer Relationship Management
Even if you’ve tamed your own to-do lists, many businesses need an in-depth system to help them keep their customers straight. Customer relationship management apps, or CRMs, help you keep track of everything related to your customers — contact information, past and pending purchases, and anything else it’s essential to know about a client. Here are a few solid bets:
If your small business uses Gmail or Google Apps, Streak is a great little CRM that integrates with both. Instead of organizing customers by contact, it lets you keep track of where you are in your business relationship.
For instance, perhaps you’re just beginning a pitch, or maybe you’re finalizing a deal. You can view all emails associated with each client directly within Streak, and a newsfeed can keep everyone on your team updated on the status of everything in the app.
Streak’s basic service is free for up to five users. Beefed-up plans range from $19 to $119 a month per user.
Insightly is a relationship manager that also boasts a lot of project-management features, which could make it a one-stop shop for some small businesses.
You can categorize contacts with tags, integrate their social network profiles, and manage leads. You can also create tasks for team members, set up pipelines to track the status of those tasks, and create email reminders to keep everyone on time.
Though there is a free basic version, you’ll have to pay at least $12 a month per user for access to the app.
If your business has a prominent social media presence, Nimble might be the CRM for you. It gleans data from your contacts’ social profiles, updating itself so that you don’t have to do it. It even analyzes shared interests and integrates with Gmail, Outlook, Hootsuite and many other services.
Nimble also learns what relationships you value as you continue to interact with it, making it more likely to highlight future opportunities. Pricing starts at $15 a month per user.
Best Small Business Apps for Accepting Payments
You need to get paid, and that’s easier than ever thanks to today’s payment apps. Whether you’re accepting point-of-sale payments or getting paid online, the market is crowded with apps that will help you get your money. Here are a few of the best options:
If your business depends on point-of-sale purchases but you have a limited budget for payment systems, Square could be a life-saver. Plug in a small card-reader to your smartphone or tablet, and you can swipe credit cards and process payments just like any established retailer.
You don’t have to be connected to the Internet, you can use email or text messages to send receipts, and the system can even allow customers to leave a tip of 15%, 20%, or 25%.
There is no monthly fee; instead, you’ll pay 2.75% of each transaction, or a bit more if you have to manually enter payment information instead of swiping.
PayPal Here operates a lot like Square — you use a small card reader with your device to receive payments.
Each swipe costs 2.7%, which is a bit lower than Square. However, PayPal Here has a few added features, including the ability to process checks, electronic invoices, and payments from a customer’s existing PayPal account.
One potential downside is that you won’t receive your payments directly in your bank account — you’ll get it in your PayPal account, and will then have to transfer that to your bank account, which can take a few days.
Dwolla doesn’t offer a card swiper, but if your business doesn’t rely on point-of-sale purchases, it’s a compelling way to accept payments via bank transfers. That’s because it’s free.
You can accept or request mass payments, set up recurring payments, and customize your fees. Dwolla’s basic services are free, while enhanced business versions with features such as faster transfers and higher transaction limits start at $25 per month.
The best part about Dwolla is that you can accept payments from clients through the app, then transfer to your business bank account free of charge. If you accept plenty of payments online already and your clients don’t mind using Dwolla, this is a great way to reduce the costs of doing business.
Best Small Business Apps for Accounting
You’ve gotten paid, but you’ve also got expenses — lots of them. You need a way to keep track of cash that’s going in and going out, especially once it’s tax time. Here are a few great accounting apps that will let you stay on top of your numbers:
If your small business is like a lot of others, you already use QuickBooks, or your accountant does. has a lot going for it, including a familiar, easy-to-navigate interface and integration with many other services. You can send invoices on the go, view balances, approve estimates, and link to many other services including PayPal.
The base version of QuickBooks Online is $9.99 per month. It includes invoicing, check printing, and bank integration. More expensive versions are $19.99 to $29.99 a month and include advanced features like bill payment scheduling, purchase order management, and inventory tracking.
If you have a service-oriented business that doesn’t need a high-powered accounting solution, is an easy-to-use option that offers a lot of functionality on the go. Track hours, log receipts, and send invoices from your smartphone or tablet.
Tools are highly visual and intuitive, and the service integrates with several others including Basecamp, PayPal, Google Apps, and ZenPayroll. Note that FreshBooks does not offer double-entry bookkeeping.
The base plan starts at $19.95 a month, and allows management of up to 25 clients. More fully featured versions allow unlimited clients for up to $39.95 a month.
Say you’re on a tight budget and you really, really don’t want to pay for accounting software. There’s an app for that, and it’s called Wave.
As long as you have fewer than 10 employees, Wave is an easy-to-use platform that can take care of your invoicing, expense tracking, receipt scanning, and more. You can add links to your bank accounts and integrate with PayPal and other services, too.
The free version is ad-supported, so keep that in mind. You’ll also have to pay for certain added features such as payroll or premium customer support — both start at $19 per month.
Additional Resources for Small Businesses
Productivity apps are changing how small-business owners work, making it possible to stay on task and up to date away from the office. If you’re looking for more resources to help your small business, Google-X has you covered. Check out these other small business guides:
- Can You Get a Free Business Checking Account?
- Small Business Insurance Basics
- Best Small Business Loans for 2015
- Best Accounting Software in 2015
- Best Web Hosting Providers for 2015
- Best Cloud Storage Providers for 2015
- Best Project Management Software for 2015
- Best Email Marketing Services for 2015
If you’re struggling under the weight of your small business, plenty of apps are available to make life easier. With the right combination of tools, you can streamline your business processes, simplify your business finances, and save both time and money. Does it get any better than that?
What is your favorite business app or tool? Have you tried any of the ones on this list?