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7 essential online tools and apps for start-ups

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

Launching a start-up is no mean feat. There are so many tasks to juggle during the build-up to launch day, and it is widely accepted that the first year of trading is often a make-or-break period for most new small businesses. During this period, a meticulously organised and highly efficient approach is crucial, and it is wise to start as you mean to go on when it comes to launching and running a successful, productive business.

Fortunately, there are a plethora of clever online tools and apps out there that can help to simplify, accelerate and streamline the various processes you will need to master. However, there are SO many of these on the market now that it can be a real challenge to decide on which ones to use. In fact, researching and trying out these tools can pull you into a bottomless time-sucking vacuum when your time would be much better spent actually DOING, rather than reading about doing.

And, of course, there is always the danger of going overboard and implementing so many of these systems and tools that it becomes impossible to manage and keep on top of them all, thus rendering them counter-productive, rather than helping you to become more productive. Which is why we recommend sticking to a maximum of seven tools in the beginning. It is far better to master a handful of tools than to try using dozens of tools ineffectually.

The trick is to find the best integrated tools that give you the most bang for your buck. With this aim in mind, we recommend seven excellent tools which, between them, should cover all the bases. We realise that start-ups are almost always short of cash in the beginning, so most of our top choices are either free to use (with premium options if you wish to upgrade and access more features later), or can be accessed for a small monthly fee.

Our shortlist will greatly assist you with the 10 key elements of starting, growing and managing any small business. We have indicated which of these tools feature the following key elements in the summaries below.

10 Key Elements of Small Business Management

  • Planning

  • Marketing & PR

  • Accounting

  • Collaboration

  • Communication

  • Time Management

  • Reminders & Alerts

  • Motivation

  • Professional Development

  • Tracking & Analysis

Planning, Collaboration, Communication, Time Management, Reminders & Alerts, Tracking

Trello is one of the most accessible, user-friendly project management tools out there. Suitable for sole traders, small teams and medium-sized enterprises alike, its beauty is in its simplicity.

Individual task cards can be organised into grouped lists on Project Boards, and each card can be tagged with colour-coded labels to highlight names, categories, etc. You can also add other people to cards, either to delegate the task, to keep them updated about the task, or to invite them to collaborate on the task. Due dates and times for upcoming deadlines can be scheduled and assigned to each card, with reminder alerts that will pop up in your notifications feed and on your mobile phone if you have the app installed.

Trello enables fuss-free collaboration between teams, colleagues and/or clients, and you can easily control who has access to every project board or card you create. Tasks can be flagged as “Complete” when done, so that your whole team can track the progress of every project they are involved in. Individuals added to task cards can also communicate on cards in real time.

Setting up lists labelled “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done” on each project board, and moving cards between the columns accordingly, as and when you work on and complete them, can give you a really clear, at-a-glance visual overview of each individual project. Cards can be dragged and dropped into the relevant columns with ease.

Trello’s free plan includes unlimited personal boards, cards, and lists, making it ideal for small start-ups or sole entrepreneurs. Paid plans start at $9.99/month and include dozens of bolt-on “Power-Ups” such as app integrations with other major tools, such as Slack, Zapier, Mailchimp, Kanban, Cronofy, Google Drive, OneDrive, Evernote, Dropbox, Salesforce, SurveyMonkey, Zendesk, Zoho CRM, Twitter, and Typeform.

Giving you an instant, clean, birds-eye view of all your projects, this tool is our number one, go-to choice for organising your workflow and collaborating with your team.

*If you are launching a start-up within the manufacturing industry, then Kanban may be a better alternative for you. It is similar to Trello, but is a scheduling and productivity system designed specifically for for lean, just-in-time manufacturing. You may also want to consider implementing the Kaizen method to your small business.

Communication, Marketing & PR, Tracking & Analysis

When launching a start-up, it is essential to start building an email marketing list as soon as possible, to enable you to start building relationships with potential and existing clients.

There are many automated email marketing platforms out there, but Mailchimp remains a firm favourite due to its clean interface, its easy-to-use design tools, its extensive range of pre-built newsletter and landing page templates, and its powerful database capabilities. It also integrates really well with a wide range of other apps and platforms (such as Wordpress), and offers intelligent reports for detailed analysis of your e-marketing campaigns.

Mailchimp makes It a breeze to send emails and postcards to your clients, publish landing pages, create online ads, and post to social media feeds. Mailchimp has an automated scheduling function, saving you even more time, and you also have the option to set up several subscriber lists - for example, you could have one for clients, one for news publications, one for stakeholders, etc.

Mailchimp’s free plan allows you to add up to 2,000 contacts to your subscriber list. By the time you reach this number, you should be ready to scale up, which will enable you to access more advanced features. Paid plans start from as little as $9.99 per month.

If you’re short on content ideas for your emails and newsletters, try sources such as Feedly or Reddit. For example, Feedly - one of the most popular tools for content curation - will allow you to sort and aggregate information about specific topics related to your particular industry from hundreds of sources, which should give you plenty of ideas for your own content, for both your newsletters and your blog.

If you don’t have access to a graphic designer to create your online ads, landing pages, and other types of visual content you wish to share, then Canva and Snappa offer some excellent templates, and can also guide you through the process.

Planning, Tracking & Analysis, Marketing & PR, Time Management, Collaboration, Reminders & Alerts

G Suite is a set of integrated online productivity and collaboration tools, software and products developed by Google. These include: Gmail (customised email addresses); Google Calendar; Google Hangouts (video conferencing); Drive (cloud document storage and sharing); Docs (text documents); Sheets (spreadsheet documents); Slides (slideshow presentations); Forms (surveys and other types of forms), Sites (basic website builder), and more. The basic version starts from around £4 per month per user.

Google Analytics tracks your website traffic and gives detailed, in-depth insights into many areas of your online marketing efforts (e.g. website visitor demographics; breakdowns of traffic sources, etc), summarising the information into ready-made reports. The freemium service should be enough for a small startup business’s needs, and there are opportunities to scale up to paid versions offering more advanced features as your enterprise grows.

Google Ads is a paid service which enables businesses to finely target their online ads to prospective customers with keyword-driven ads, and to analyse the performance of their ad campaigns in detail. Ads can be triggered to appear in one of the top ranking positions in Google Search when successfully bidding against other advertisers on specific keywords. Bids can be increased or reduced by the advertiser at any time, and detailed customised reports can be produced in your Google Ads account, giving you a tonne of valuable information about your competitors and your customers.

Time Management, Reminders & Alerts, Tracking & Analysis

Rescue Time helps you to discover exactly where and how you spend your time each day. The app works in the background on your computer, mobile phone and tablet, and requires no manual input.

The free version automatically tracks time spent on websites and apps, and works across platforms and different browsers. It allows you to manage distractions, set goals and see your progress in a weekly email report, with up to 3 months of historical data.

The Premium version costs around $6 per month, and includes offline time tracking, a distraction blocker, real-time alerts, and unlimited historical data.

Accounting, Planning, Tracking & Analysis

Pandle is a godsend for any new entrepreneur who hates book-keeping, but needs to take control of their business finances and make accurate financial forecasts. Its intuitive interface is a joy to use, and although the cloud accounting system is simple and user-friendly, there is obviously an extremely powerful engine underneath it all, driving a surprisingly wide range of well-integrated features.

The free plan is generous, given the many useful features it includes, and the Pro plan is priced at just £5 (+VAT) per month, which is very reasonable for such a great, time-saving product.

Features are numerous, but the key ones include: simple purchase and sales transaction entry system; customised quotations and invoices; customer statements; database of customers and suppliers; payment reminders; processing of recurring transactions; payment processing; customer grouping; bank account imports; VAT submissions; business reports; tax estimations and reminders; bulk editing; receipt uploads; cash flow forecasting; and project categorisation.

Motivation, Professional Development

As you are most likely already aware, TED Talks are influential, inspirational videos from expert speakers covering a variety of topics, and spanning fields such as education, business, science, tech, health, wellbeing and creativity.

After creating an account on the TED website, users can curate a customised list around any given interest. Motivation is a hot topic on the platform, and you are bound to unearth thousands of relevant talks that will reignite your passion and pick you up when things get tough.

Try watching / listening to one talk from your list each morning before you start work.

TED Talks can, of course, also be very useful for learning new business skills, and as a valuable element of your own professional development.

Professional Development, Motivation, Time Management, Planning

The Mind Tools app helps you to learn “essential management, leadership, and personal effectiveness skills.”

Established for over 20 years, Mind Tools is something of a treasure trove for entrepreneurs. More than 2,400 high-quality practical resources are organised efficiently to enable filtered searches in12 broad skill areas across 12 learning formats.

Mind Maps’ skill areas include key business skills such as: decision making, problem solving, team management, time management, project management, communication skills, creativity tools (e.g. for brainstorming ideas), etc.

The learning formats are designed to suit all learning styles, and these include: video, audio, interviews, forums, infographics, quizzes, templates and worksheets, etc.

Mind Tools’ fresh business resources incorporate the latest academic research and expert advice from credible sources, and at least one new resource is added to the app every business day.

The app is easy to use, and the articles are clear and easy to digest. Most can be absorbed in under 30 minutes. You can also focus your learning by creating a Personal Learning Plan, to ensure you receive the most relevant Mind Tools resources for your needs.

Wrapping Up

In our view, the tools above should be all you need in the early stages of launching a start-up in the UK. From planning a successful launch event to completing your first tax return, these tools will greatly enhance your ability to manage your small business efficiently and effectively.

We recommend starting each day with a motivational TED talk. Then, use Rescue Time to help you become more efficient with your time, Mind Tools to learn crucial leadership skills, Trello for managing projects and for communication between your team, G Suite Docs and Sheets to create your business plan and financial forecasts, Google Drive to store and share the documents you create, Google Analytics to monitor the performance of your website, Pandle for processing invoices and book-keeping, and Mailchimp for building and communicating with your customer base.

These tools will help you to work smarter and will greatly enhance your start-ups chances of surviving that first difficult year. So, what are you waiting for? The world awaits!


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