One of our Burners James Banks, Founder of jamesbanks.co, wrote about his top 30+ startup business tools and why.
With thanks to Recomazing on their stack of recommendations and James Banks on his essential tools to getting started.
Do you feel like you could be running your startup better?
Are you overwhelmed by all the startup business tools out there, and confused by what ones to use?
Each startup and startup founder has their own unique way in which they get stuff done. Knowing which tools to use for your startup can save you from wasting a lot of time and money as you scale.
Since starting my own business in 2012, I’ve used hundreds of different software tools. I’ve also advised hundreds of early-stage businesses on what startup business tools to use. In this post, I’ve narrowed down my top 30 for start-ups in no particular order.
Manage your teams, projects and company-wide communication in one organised and centralised place with Basecamp. All tasks, communications, schedules, and files are all under one roof for everyone to see so everyone knows what to do when a task is due and what they need to finish a task without asking around. Basecamp helps you:
- Get your conversations out of your email inbox and into Basecamp’s discussion boards
- Set to-dos, set due dates and assign them to your team
- Keep your client/customer and team conversations on a project together in one place
Basecamp is a great solution if you need a relatively robust yet simple project management solution. Try Basecamp free for 30 days here.
Send and receive money or make an online payment from anywhere in the world through Paypal. Being one of the largest internet payment platforms in the world, PayPal payments are accepted by millions of stores. Some key features of PayPal are:
- Link all your cards and bank account into one place to speed up purchasing
- Straightforward pricing based on your volume of sales
- Accept MasterCard, Visa and American Express credit card payments in addition to PayPal account payments
With PayPal being a large and well-known brand, I’ve personally found checkout conversions increase when you offer both pay with credit card and PayPal options. The power hack is to offer credit card payments via Stripe (more competitive rates than PayPal for low-volume sales) and PayPal account payments via PayPal on your checkout page. You can sign up for a merchant account here.
Canva is a user-friendly online graphic design platform that’s for everyone, not just for designers. You can have access to its library of more than 1 million photographs, graphics and fonts to create just about anything from book covers to infographics. You can get started here.
Slack is a team communication tool that helps you get the work done. Immensely popular with tech companies, Slack is used by millions around the world. Some key features of Slack are:
- Organise your messages in channels, share files, send direct messages to any team member
- Share updates to groups of people through private invite only or public chat channels
- All messages are synced on all your devices such as your desktop or mobile phone so you receive all important notifications.
I find that Slack’s integration with other leading software apps is the reason why I love it so much. For example, you can have your WordPress website fire form enquiry details to you as they happen. You can get started with Slack’s extremely generous free plan here.
Buzzsumo is a free online marketing tool that helps you better understand what type of content works best for your business allowing you to reach your target audience. Specifically, BuzzSumo helps you to:
- Get an insight into what content has gone viral in your industry
- Gain intelligence on your competitor’s best performing content
- Get notified on content that is new and trending in your space
I personally love using BuzzSumo to figure out what types of blog posts have gone viral in certain industry niches. Start by typing your primary keywords then follow it up with your competitors’ domains. With the results, you can have a clear idea what content works best for your business and for your target audience. From this information, you can better plan your content marketing strategy and SEO campaigns. You can try BuzzSumo for free here.
Whether you like it or not, your business needs social media presence in order to survive. But just thinking of regularly putting fresh content to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms is indeed daunting considering that you have other more important things to do to run your business. That’s where Buffer comes into the picture.
Buffer is one of the best and most popular marketing tools for social media management. With Buffer you can:
- Schedule the publishing of your social media posts
- Publish your post to all your social media accounts in seconds
- Track interaction and engagement from your followers in Twitter, Facebook and other platforms
With Buffer, you can easily create a social media marketing roadmap and set it to run on autopilot. Get started with Buffer for free here.
To succeed with your online marketing plan, only knowing your site hits is not good enough. You need to know and understand their behaviour and how they interact with your content. And Google Analytics is the tool to help you do just that.
- When your website has Google Analytics installed, you will have access to the following:
- What keywords drive the most traffic to your website
- How successful are you with your social media content
- Where visitors to your website live
- How long people are staying on your website
- Which pages of your website are the most popular
You can start using Google Analytics by installing the tracking code and soon you will find out how powerful this tool is and why it is one of the best online marketing tools to help accelerate the growth of your business. You can create your Google Analytics account for free here.
If your website is built on WordPress and you are wanting to boost your marketing efforts, try using the Yoast SEO plugin. It’s a powerful tool to help you write better content that will attract customers to your website. Here are some of the key features of Yoast SEO:
- Simple, easy and free to set up on your WordPress website – just download and install the plugin
- Easy to edit meta titles and descriptions.
- Relatively useful SEO tips and warnings that are fed to you as you optimise your website pages
Yoast’s definitive guide to WordPress SEO is a great place to start if you are new to SEO. You can download the Yoast Plugin here.
With Ahrefs, you can learn more about your competitors, why they are ranking higher and how you can outrank them. Ahrefs is a tool that helps improve your marketing efforts by providing answers to questions such as:
- How many backlinks are pointing to your website?
- Which keywords are driving the most traffic to your website?
- How engaging is your social media content?
- What is your competition doing?
At the onset, you may be overwhelmed by the numbers, but as you become familiar with the tool, you will find that it’s easy to use and understand. Start by searching for all your competitors, see keywords they are ranking for they are ranking for. If you’re wanting to improve your search engine marketing strategy, try Ahrefs free 14-day trial before committing to a paid monthly subscription plan here.
When looking for ways to accelerate the growth of your business, you can try using SEMRush for your online marketing. Although I find that Ahrefs has the slightest edge on SEMRush when it comes to search engine data, there are a few features that SEMRush has over Ahrefs. Those are:
- Detailed website audit reporting. Simply plug in your website URL into the SEMRush projects section and task it to generate a detailed site report. You’ll be able to see what SEO mistakes you are making so you can fix them and improve your rankings.
- SEMRush allows you to create a lead generation opt-in that you can place on your website to generate marketing leads. This can work well if you have a marketing or SEO related product.
You can start trying SEMRush without needing to input a credit card here.
When you want to promote your new business, email marketing is a way to go. In fact, 80% of B2B and B2C companies use email marketing in order to connect to their customers.
To date, MailChimp has more than 12 million subscribers, making it one of the top email marketing providers in the world. These are the reasons for its popularity:
- Simple and well-designed user interface that is friendly to people who are new to email marketing
- Easy, fast and free to get email automation campaigns up and running.
- It’s free for those with less than 2,000 subscribers and those who don’t send more than 12,000 emails per month
MailChimp is a good platform to get started with if you are completely new to email marketing and have zero or next to zero subscribers. However, as your startup grows, you may find MailChimp is no longer cost competitive and lacking in advanced email marketing features. Get started for free here.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one tool for your marketing, sales and CRM, then you’ll want to try Hubspot.
Focusing on its marketing software solutions, Hubspot is designed to help you attract more visitors to closing customers, making it a top choice for those starting a business.
Hubspot can help bring your marketing funnel together with the following sales & marketing tools:
- Social Media
- Lead Management
- Landing Pages
- Marketing Automation
I find their free CRM product fantastic for startups who are needing a basic turn-key CRM to track their sales pipeline. You can get started with Hubspot’s products here.
Trello is a task management tool that helps you to stay on top of things. With Trello, you’re always on the same page with what everyone else is doing. You can even share files and communicate with the team without the need for sending emails. Here’s some things that I particularly like about Trello:
- Everything you need to know about any project in one single screen
- The whole app is built around the to-do/doing/done Kanban methodology, which greatly simplifies task management
- It’s mostly free to use, with only a few “nice to have” features requiring a paid plan
There are a lot of tools to help you collaborate with your marketing team, but with Trello’s features and ease of use, it is one of the best. You can get started for free here.
Without question, your business needs social media to survive in this digital world. But with the sheer number of social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google+Linkedin, etc.), have you got time to publish your posts? Hootsuite lets you do that with ease.
With Hootsuite, you can schedule your social media posts in advance, saving you loads of time to spend on other tasks. Hootsuite’s features are a great help as you launch your business. For example, you can:
- Identify influencers for your marketing team and leads for your sales team.
- Reply to comments and mentions through the Hootsuite dashboard where you can see all your social network streams.
- Take advantage of pre-written responses.
Let Hootsuite work as your social media management tool. You can get started with their free account here.
Zoho Social is another social media management software tool. With Zoho Social, you can manage multiple social media platforms, plan an unlimited number of scheduled posts, and keep track of your keywords. Your marketing team can work real-time using a common dashboard so you can share ideas and create better marketing strategies more efficiently.
The feature that sets Zoho Social apart is its integration with the Zoho CRM. You can have each social interaction that your potential customers have with your brand printed to their CRM profiles. This makes it easy to measure the effectiveness of your social media marketing in closing new customers. You can get started with Zoho Social here.
Whether you are a small business or a large enterprise, Zoho CRM can work for you. Its core function is to attract, retain and satisfy customers through lead and contact management, sales pipeline management and purchase control.
With Zoho CRM, you can automate your daily business activities, track sales and engage your customers in different platforms by:
- Automating your vital sales operations
- Giving you access to important real time data
- Maximising use of social media
- Allowing you to go mobile
- Integrating with Google apps & Office 365
Zoho CRM’s custom module feature allows you to build completely custom CRM pages tailored to your exact sales process. You can sign up to Zoho CRM’s base features for free with up to 10 users here.
Zoho Mail is aimed at professional users with features that help you organise mail, identify key messages and contacts, and send frequently used replies.
With Zoho Mail, you can:
- Get a clean ad-free interface
- Get unlimited storage space and quotas for emails sent and received per day
- Set up other email accounts for sending and receiving mail
- Filter and delete mail
- Color-code emails to help organise and retrieve mail
What I like about Zoho Mail is that it allows you to have up to 25 professional business email addresses for free. If you are on a super tight budget, Zoho Mail is the cheaper business email alternative to G Suite or Office 365.
Zoho Invoice is an online invoicing software tool that’s simple and easy to use. You just setup an account with a few easy steps and you can use it to send invoices right away.
With Zoho Invoice, you can:
- View your finances and payments through its reporting feature
- Add customers and items to their respective lists
- Adjust description and prices in the invoice
- Use multiple currencies on a single account
- Include personal notes, terms and conditions and payment options
- Send a reminder manually or enable up to three automatic reminders
There’s even a private online portal where customers can login and view their invoicing history with your business. You can get started for free with Zoho Invoice for up to 5 customers here.
G Suite (formerly known as Google Apps) is a business email, cloud storage, docs and calendar solution. The Basic subscription plan includes these Google-hosted services:
- Business email through Gmail
- Personal storage space (currently stands at either 30GB or unlimited, depending on your pricing plan
- 99.9% guarantee of email uptime
- Shared calendar
- Documents, spreadsheets and presentations
- Business use of Google Hangouts for video and voice conferencing
- 24/7 phone support
- Security and administration controls
Google Apps is affordable and bring a lot of value to any startup team. Get started free for 14 days here.
Google Tag Manager allows you to easily create and update tags on your website or mobile app. Tags are snippets of code that send information to third parties such as Google. They are used for traffic analysis and market optimisation.
Using Google Tag Manager, you can integrate a number of web technologies such as Google Analytics, Hotjar, Facebook, etc. with one script. This helps to speed up your website and makes managing these platforms easier as they are all handled through the one system. You can setup your free Google Tag manager account here.
Hotjar is an Analytics and feedback software that visually analyses the behaviour of visitors to your website. Hotjar’s tools provide you a basic idea which part of your site visitors are spending more time on:
- Which part received more clicks
- Which areas of a page received more viewers’ attention
- Which page visitors lost attention and caused them to leave your site
- Which online form fields are giving users a hard time
With Hotjar, you can also collect feedback by asking questions from your site’s web and mobile visitors.
All these valuable information collected can help improve your online marketing strategy and eventually lead to increased conversions. Hotjar has a basic free forever plan that you can sign up to here.
In my opinion, Stripe is the best way to accept payments online. With the company handling multiple billions of dollars in transaction every year, Stripe is a truly global payment platform. Some of the benefits of using Stripe are:
- Deep development integration with a well-documented API
- Lots of support for once off and subscription based payments
- Competitive transaction rates
- Beautiful and intuitive user-interface
Stripe is constantly growing and evolving their product lineup with new and exciting products, like Atlas. If you are needing to take payments online, Stripe should be one of your top platforms to consider. You can create your free Stripe account here.
Invision helps teams better collaborate on design. Personally, I have used Invision weekly for over 3 years. When it comes to giving feedback on a design or prototyping an app or new website, Invision is my go-to tool. Here’s some of the key features that Invision offers:
- Annotate your design files with comments, animations, gestures and transitions, transforming your static designs into interactive prototypes
- Streamline your design feedback by having all project stakeholders provide their feedback all in the one place.
- Manage the design feedback process within Invision using a simple Trello-like task manager
- You can even create CSS style sheets based on static designs and export out the code for implementation
Those are just a few of the key features that Invision offers design and product teams. Best of all, it’s free to use for up to one design project. Get started here.
Hailing from Manly, Australia, BuiltWith makes it easy for you to discover what technology websites are built with. With almost 20,000 web technologies indexed in the tool, you can use BuiltWith list all the different website tools your competitors are using within seconds. Some of the top features are:
- Know what website tools your competitors, or potential clients are using
- Get an understanding of what market share each web technology owns
- Visualise market trends on what technology is trending upwards or downwards
With my WordPress Agency, I use BuiltWith to quickly understand what type of website CMS my potential clients are using. Considering the tool’s core feature of looking up what technology a website is using is completely free, I highly recommend using BuiltWith for sales intelligence and competitor insights. You can start using BuiltWith here.
Tired of forgetting what passwords you set for all these amazing tools? 1Passwords solves that problem. With 1Password’s browser extension, you can log into your favourite websites in one click. Some of 1Password’s key features are:
- Great desktop app design that allows you to organise your login types, and share them with colleagues
- Ability to automatically generate unique hard to guess passwords each time you create an online account
- Mobile app can be unlocked with fingerprint scanner
- Real-time syncing of passwords between devices, teams and users.
1Password is one of those tools that I couldn’t imagine running my business without. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial here.
Zapier enables you to connect your tools and automate workflows. Imagine Zapier as the glue that sticks all these online tools together. Zapier allows you to integrate tools together that do not natively support each other. Some cool things that you can do with Zapier:
- rigger workflows from over 750 different apps
- Automate otherwise manual and repetitive tasks
- Build workflows quickly and easily, without needing to code
I find Zapier extremely useful at automating recurring tasks, such as firing off weekly reminders in Slack. Zapier is free to use for creating simple two-step workflows. You can get started here.
Balsamiq allows you to create mockups and wireframes quickly. With both a desktop and web app version available, you can get your app ideas out of your head and into a mockup with speed. Here are some of the key features that Balsamiq offers:
- Dozens of pre-built UI elements which helps to you save a bunch of time when prototyping
- Simple and stripped down elements that allow you to focus on nailing the layout and flow
- Quickly export your mockups to various different file formats
For a powerplay, try combining both Balsamiq and Invision together in your rapid prototyping process. Balsamiq is free to use for the first 30 days, with either a once-off purchase for their Desktop App or a subscription for their Web App. Get started here.
Intercom makes it easier to communicate with your customers. Intercom provides software for live chat, email marketing and helpdesk support. Some of the key features that Intercom offers are:
- Manage your customer interactions from live chat, email and social media all in one place
- Send targeted emails and push messages to onboard, upsell and retain customers
- Better support your customers with a public knowledge base of frequently asked questions
Personally, I find Intercom’s most useful feature is the seamless customer experience between live chat for lead acquisition through to customer onboarding in SaaS applications. You can signup up to a 14 day free trial for one or many of Intercom’s apps here.
WordPress.org is an open source website content management system that you can use to create websites, blogs or applications. WordPress is the world’s top content management system with a massive 28% of the web running on WordPress. Some of WordPress.org’s top features are:
- Massive global development community, with tens of thousands of (mostly free) website themes and plugins
- Good SEO compatibility out of the box
- The WordPress.org content management system is completely free to use
I’ve built hundreds of WordPress.org websites over the years, and it is hard to beat if you are wanting to get a website up and running quickly that can scale. If you are wanting to use WordPress.org, I recommend you deploy it on a high-quality WordPress hosting provider like WP Engine.
As part of Google’s G Suite, Google Meet is a video and voice call app that is great for face-to-face conversation. Google Meet runs natively from the Google Chrome desktop browser, meaning there is no additional software required to get it up and running. Some key features of Google Meet are:
- Schedule voice and/or video calls straight from your Google Calendar events
- Simple and lightweight user interface allows the callers to be less distracted with fluff
- Robust iOS and Android apps make joining calls on the move a breeze
I’ve personally used Google Meet for daily international team calls since it came out of Beta in 2016. I’ve found the HD audio streaming overall to be consistent and reliable. You can start using Google Meet here for free here.
Shopify is an e-commerce platform for people who want to sell online. With over one million active users, Shopify is one of the fastest growing e-commerce platforms in the world. Shopify excels at:
- Getting online stores up and running quickly without needing to hire a developer
- Rapidly growing extension marketplace that allows you to add powerful features to your Shopify store
- Easy and fast integration with leading payment platforms like Stripe
If you are wanting to launch a simple online store, Shopify is hard to beat. Shopify’s online store themes are exceptionally well coded, and the store builder interface is very intuitive. You can sign up for a free 14-day trial here.
Trint is a software platform that automatically transcribes your audio and video files. Currently in Beta, Trint removes the need to manually transcribe audio and video with their speech-to-text algorithm. Some of Trint’s key features are:
- Drag and drop auto-transcribing of MP3, MP4, WAV and MOV audio/video files
- Simple and beautiful text editor that allows you to correct any transcription errors.
- Surprising transcription accuracy however high-quality audio/video files are a must
When I used Trint for the first time, I was turned off by its poor transcription accuracy. However, I was using a video file where the speaker did not have a professional mic setup. I tried Trint again on a video where the speaker had a professional lapel microphone setup, and I was blown away by the accuracy. You can sign up for a free trial here.
There you have it, my top 33 tools for startups. What tools are you using right now to run your startup? Are there any tools on the list that you love or hate? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Milanote is a place to collect everything together—the brief, the assets, the inspiration, and most importantly, the people!
Designers, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers and all types of creative professionals gather together in Milanote to organize their creative projects.
- Flexible workspace to allow ideas to develop naturally.
- Track your tasks with integrated to-do lists.
- Upload any image to your boards. Milanote supports all common image formats, including JPG, PNG, GIF, SVG and many more.
- Drag files into your browser to upload them.