At Kicks Digital we've tried hundreds of different software solutions for a dozen different small business needs. Email provider, internal communication, client communication, accounting; there are several hurdles a small business must overcome to get beyond the startup phase. Each business is different and your business needs might not be ours and vice versa, but there are some basic needs that all small businesses must fulfill.
Below we'll discuss how we use online software to take care of those two issues.
Google's G Suite is the foundation on which the rest of our online software is built from.
G Suite takes care of the most basic of business needs; it's our email and calendar provider. G Suite takes all the things Google is doing for individuals and creates an environment where colleagues can work together. Sharing files and calendar events becomes trivial with specific permissions given to those in your organization.
Gmail has been around for years and started as a personal email provider but has expanded to the business sector. So for most of us that used Gmail for their personal inboxes, we had a seamless transition to using Gmail for business email as well. G Suite takes using Gmail for business emails to the next level. Instead of having an email address like [YOURBUSINESS].gmail.com you can have an email address that uses your website's domain like firstname.lastname@example.org. There are a number of host providers that will give you an email address like this, but none will have the familiar and intuitive Gmail user interface.
Sharing and collaborating on a single calendar can be critical for any size business. Scheduling becomes much easier when you know the meeting times for each person in your company. Each new event is created with a shared google hangout link for all participating members which eliminates any confusion when some members of the meeting are going to be remote. Again, there are several different calendar options out there, but few can compete with the natural integration with all other parts of G Suite.
Slack is by far the best business communication tool out there.
Being a startup or small business often means you don't have a consistent physical location. While this can save thousands of dollars in rent and associated costs it can create communication issues when your team is not together. Slack is by far the best business communication tool out there. In addition to standard direct messaging, you also create focused channels and invite your entire team or specific people to collaborate. Beyond chatting, Slack integrates with tons of other software that you're probably using. For example, when we get a support ticket we also receive a Slack notification that links directly to the task.
Slack is the standard for internal communication within a team and because you can control the permissions for each channel you could invite clients to collaborate in specific channels siloed from each other. This depends on the client, of course, but in theory could be a very effective tool to communicate. Instead of a giant email or, even worse, multiple different email threads, everything would be in one searchable conversation.
Slack also has a video chat component. Even as powerful a communication tool as Slack is, it's no match for a quick phone/video call to quickly clear up a matter. While chatting with someone normally, just hit the phone icon and Slack starts a phone/video chat automatically with that user.
Slack is the clear best option for internal business communication. It's powerful, affordable and diverse enough for any size business. We would recommend Slack to anyone who asks.
The most difficult problem for us to solve was what task management system to use.
We've used everything from Zendesk to creating own task management plugin. Unfortunately, when it comes to this type of software each one has strengths and weaknesses and those strengths need to work well with the people that will be using it. How we work, especially in an online business setting, can vary wildly from person to person. There's no box big enough to encompass the habits of everyone you work with.
The best solution we've found so far, and our current software of choice, is Wrike. It is a true task management system, unlike Zendesk which is more of a ticketing solution. What drew us to Wrike was the project and collaboration aspects which most closely aligned with how we work. Just having a "client" for task management wasn't enough for us. Our goal is to have long-term relationships with our clients so that generally results in many different projects over the course of the client lifetime. With Wrike, a client can have projects then tasks and even sub-tasks within those tasks. Wrike can also be used as a ticketing system.
With a support inbox, you can easily create an email support ticketing.
We use a service called Zapier that looks into a Gmail inbox, email@example.com, and grabs any new emails, formats them to create support tickets for our team. If you're like everyone else in the business world you get dozens of emails a day. Having a support email address that only forwards to your primary inbox can just add to the noise. Setting up an actual support inbox and inbox scrapper with Zapier can ensure that important emails find their way to appropriate team members as a task and not just another email.
As we said before, each business is different, but you can't go wrong with the software above. A good way to judge for us would be to ask, "Would stopping/changing this service dramatically impact the way we do business?" If the answer is yes, and the result is negative then you've found something that works for you. Of course, all things end, and we're sure there'll be something better in six months, and when that happens we'll write about it again.