Resources and Tips / Best digital tools to level up your business

Best digital tools to level up your business

By SME Institute

For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), innovation in the digital economy means there are more tools available than ever before to help streamline operations, cut costs, and deliver better service and products for your clients and customers.

From marketing and analytics to productivity and accounting, there is a huge array of online and app-based tools to help you get things done quickly and efficiently. If you’re not leveraging these tools for your SME, it means you’re probably doing some things the hard way.

While many of the best digital tools are free (or have free versions), there can be some costs associated with taking your business digital. The good news: you might be eligible for government funding to help accelerate the process.

In 2021, the Government of Canada launched the Canada Digital Adoption Program (CDAP) to help Canadian businesses grow their online presence and upgrade or adopt digital technologies.

Under CDAP, SMEs can assess their digital readiness and apply for grants and loans online to help leverage e-commerce opportunities, upgrade or adopt digital technologies, and digitize their operations.

Any business considering an investment in digital tools should explore the CDAP program to see if they are eligible for assistance:

Now let’s take a look at some of the best digital tools to level up your small business.

  1. Marketing

    Direct email marketing generally offers the best ROI compared to other digital channels.

    Mailchimp is an industry leading digital marketing platform for small businesses, offering both free and paid plans. The free version maxes out at 500 contacts for email marketing campaigns, but you can increase that to 50,000 contacts for just $15/month. Mailchimp also offers AI automations and analytics that can help you target the right segment of your customer base, make your content more engaging, and send the right message at the right time to increase conversions.

    Though Mailchimp is widely appreciated by small businesses for its low overhead options, there are other solid options for customer relationship management (CRM) marketing like

    ActiveCampaign ,which can manage your email marketing, marketing automation, sales automation and CRM with one streamlined tool.

    ActiveCampaign features powerful automation and messaging tools, including SMS and social media messaging ability. Plans range from $37/month with limited functionality to $193/month for a comprehensive suite of marketing tools.

  2. Analytics

    Google Analytics ,available in both free and paid versions, is the global benchmark for online analytics tracking.

    The free platform gives you an in-depth look at your website or app performance, and integrates with Google’s marketing and advertising tools (including Google Ads, Search Console, and Data Studio). Many SMEs will likely be satisfied with the free version, which offers powerful tools for creating data-rich reports. The downside of Google Analytics’ feature-heavy interface is that it can take some time to learn how to set up, implement and maintain it. You’ll also need some understanding of how to interpret and use the data from the platform, which can require spending some serious time exploring the platform’s features.

    For the business looking for simpler analytics options, there are a few options:

    Hubspot is a free CRM platform that comes with marketing, sales, service, operations and website-building tools. With its streamlined user interface and strong customer support, it’s a good option for businesses looking for a free analytics solution that, while less powerful than the Google tool, will also get them up and running sooner.

    For social media analytics, Brand24 is a low-cost media monitoring tool that can give you instant access to brand mentions across social channels, news, blogs, videos, forums, podcasts, and reviews. With such broad coverage, the app can help make sure you never miss a mention of your brand online. Though Brand24 previously offered a free version, it only offers a free 14-day trial now. Plans range from $49/month for small brands to $249/month for an enterprise account targeted at big businesses.

  3. Productivity

    There’s a lot of productivity tools out there, and they do many different things. What works for your business will depend on your needs, but here are some of the most widely used in the SME space.

    Calendly is a simple but powerful scheduling tool that can help your customers make bookings or schedule appointments. It’s free, easy to sync with your calendar, and easily added to your website.

    Grammarly is a great free tool for copywriting, helping eliminate errors, add clarity, and save valuable writing time. It can be used daily for website and marketing copy and integrates well with browsers, word processors, and email clients.

    Toggl is a free and popular time management tracker that boasts a simple, user-friendly interface and integration with a variety of other digital tools. Ideal for freelancers and agencies looking to track billable hours.

    RescueTime is a low-cost tool that delivers a personal analytics report to help you track how long you’ve spent on any given task. Offering automated insights and recommendations to help you manage your day, RescueTime is great for employees trying to stay productive while working from home.

    Google Drive helps you create, edit, and share all of your documents from one centralized platform. It makes collaboration with colleagues easy, allowing shared viewing and editing of word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, with communication tools built into the document editor. Best of all, because it’s cloud-based and saves instantly, you’ll never lose your hard work again.

    ProcessStreet is a free but full-featured workflow management platform to help manage your team’s recurring checklist and process tasks. ProcessStreet helps you save time by creating simple workflows that can be reused for multiple processes like approval chains, and allows you to track progress and collaborate with multiple users or teams.

  4. Accounting

    Intuit Quickbooks ,developed in Canada, is perhaps the most well-known and comprehensive budgeting software on the market. Primarily targeted at solopreneurs and small businesses, it’s also powerful enough for most medium-sized enterprise accounting needs.

    The cloud-based platform offers payment, payroll, banking and bookkeeping tools from both desktop and on-the-go through the Quickbooks mobile app.

    Toronto-based Wave bills itself as a one-stop solution for managing small business finances and offers invoicing, payments, accounting, banking and payroll tools, and many of the tools are free. Wave’s online and app-based interfaces are well-designed, cleanly organized and easy to use.

    The accounting app makes it possible to sync all your banking accounts in one place to monitor your cash flow, and the free version offers unlimited income and expense tracking, bank and credit card connections, and unlimited linking of partners or collaborators.

    Xero is a cloud-based accounting software designed specifically for small businesses. Designed to make things easy for users with little or no accounting experience, Xero can help you pay bills and claim expenses, connect to your bank, and enable collaboration with employees or partners. It has powerful automation features for tasks like invoicing and reporting, and an excellent, full-function mobile app to help you manage expenses on the go.

    Xero is not free to use but they do offer a free trial, and plans are fairly low-cost, starting at $17 monthly for the “Starter” subscription and topping out at $54 a month for a premium account.

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