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6 Must-Have Business Software Systems for Startups and Small Businesses

Explore six business software systems that are indispensable for startups and small businesses. Learn about system features and app examples.

Carla Groenewegen
Writer at Motion
May 24, 2024
Table of contents

Business management software systems are key for small businesses and startups. They streamline operations and reduce the need for extra hires to keep everything on track.

But with countless apps that all promise to make your life easier, choosing the right ones can be overwhelming.

Here, we clear up the confusion by showing you the most important categories of business software systems for startups and small businesses. Plus, we list the types of software features to look for and point out some of the top contenders in each category.

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What are business software systems?

Business software systems are programs and applications designed to help you manage and streamline various aspects of your business. These tools simplify all kinds of tasks, from accounting to customer relationship management (CRM).

Using the right business software has powerful implications for productivity, competitive edge, and business success. But companies need to be aware of what’s available to make use of these success accelerators.

Here's a look at some of the common types of business software systems and what they’re used for:

  • Accounting software: To help manage finances and automate tasks like invoicing, payroll, and tax preparation.
  • CRM software: To help manage interactions with current and potential customers.
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software: To integrate various business processes, such as inventory management, order processing, and human resources.
  • Project management software: To plan, organize, manage, and monitor your projects.
  • Marketing automation software: To automate repetitive tasks associated with marketing campaigns, such as email marketing, social media posting, and ad management.
  • Inventory management software: To manage inventory levels, orders, sales, and deliveries, as well as prevent overstocking and stockouts.
  • Ecommerce software: To manage online stores, from product listings and sales to customer service and shipping.
    Depiction of an online store
  • Tax software: To keep track of business taxes owed and quickly and easily file tax forms.
  • Human resources management (HRM) software: To streamline the management of employee data, such as payroll and performance evaluations.
  • Data management and analytics software: To collect and analyze data to make better business decisions.
  • Cybersecurity software: To protect sensitive data, such as customer information and financial records.

There are a lot of apps on the market for each of these systems — and it can be tempting for a startup or small business to jump in head-first by investing in one of each.

But the truth is that not all of these systems are useful for small businesses. They can be too expensive, require too much manpower or expertise to operate, or simply be too complex for your needs.

Below, we describe the most helpful, must-have business software systems for startups and small businesses. We’ll point out important features to look for and add short descriptions of excellent software systems in each category to help you put together a winning tech stack for your company.

6 essential business software systems for startups and small businesses

Certain software systems are particularly valuable for startups and small businesses due to their ability to streamline operations, reduce costs, and enhance efficiency from the outset.

Here’s our list of must-have systems and why they're beneficial:

1. Accounting software

As a small business owner, staying on top of your financial health is critical.

Accounting software is indispensable because it automates critical financial tasks like invoicing, payroll, and tax reporting. This saves time and reduces errors. This software also helps you manage your cash flow more effectively and stay compliant with financial regulations.

Important features to look for:

  1. Ease of use: A user-friendly interface and simple navigation.
  2. Integration: The ability to integrate with other business tools, like banking software, POS systems, and payroll.
  3. Customization: Options to customize features to fit specific business needs.
  4. Scalability: Capability to grow with your business.
  5. Real-time data: Access to up-to-date financial information.
  6. Multi-user access: Allows multiple users with varying levels of access.
  7. Mobile compatibility: Provides a mobile app for managing finances on the go.
  8. Reporting capabilities: Advanced reporting features to analyze financial data.

A page from a financial report

‎Top accounting systems for small businesses:

  • QuickBooks Online: Widely used for its comprehensive features, integration options, and scalability.
  • FreshBooks: Great for invoicing and financial management, with a focus on ease of use for freelancers and small businesses.
  • Xero: Known for its strong accounting features and easy integration with a multitude of third-party apps.
  • Wave: A cost-effective option that offers basic accounting functions for free — ideal for startups.
  • Zoho Books: Part of the larger suite of Zoho applications; a good choice if you’re looking for a full business solution.

2. Project management software

Project management software helps you plan and execute your projects. Its main benefits include helping your teams complete their tasks on time and assisting managers in properly allocating available resources.

Features to look for:

  1. Task management: Allows you to create, assign, and track tasks and subtasks.
  2. Resource allocation: Helps manage and optimize the use of resources such as team members and budgets.
  3. Timeline and scheduling: Uses Gantt charts or other visual timelines to manage project schedules.
  4. Collaboration tools: Includes tools for team communication, such as message boards, chat functions, and file sharing.
  5. Real-time updates: Provides updates and alerts to keep everyone informed about project changes and deadlines.
  6. Integration capabilities: Integrates with other tools, like email, calendar, and file storage services.
  7. Reporting: Offers detailed reports and analytics to track project progress and productivity.
  8. Mobile access: Provides mobile apps or mobile-friendly versions for managing projects on the go.

Top project management apps:

  • MotionAn intelligent project management tool that measures how much your team can accomplish and builds a customized, prioritized schedule for every team member. It’s paired with a dynamic calendar and task manager.
    A view of Motion’s Project Manager
  • Trello: Known for its card-based layout, which intuitively manages tasks and small projects.
  • Asana: Offers a flexible interface with features suited for both simple and complex project planning.
  • Monday: Highly customizable, with a visual interface that's easy to use and scales with your business.
  • Basecamp: Popular for its simplicity and strong focus on communication and collaboration tools.
  • ClickUp: A versatile platform with capabilities that extend beyond project management.
  • Smartsheet: Combines elements of spreadsheets, project management, and collaborative work management.

3. Communication and collaboration software

Communication and collaboration tools enable team members to stay connected, share information, and work together well, regardless of their physical location. They make day-to-day operations smoother and more productive, contributing to a more cohesive team culture.

Features to look for:

  1. Instant messaging: Allows for real-time communication between team members and reduces email clutter.
  2. Video conferencing: Supports virtual meetings with video capabilities. Essential for remote and hybrid teams.
  3. File sharing and management: Provides a central platform for storing, sharing, and collaborating on documents and other files.
  4. Calendar integration: Syncs with calendars to help schedule meetings and manage deadlines.
  5. Mobile compatibility: Allows team members to communicate and collaborate from any device, anywhere.
  6. Security features: Provides strong security measures to protect sensitive company data.

Top communication and collaboration systems for small businesses:

  • Slack: Popular for its instant messaging capabilities, integration options, and user-friendly interface.
  • Microsoft Teams: Offers comprehensive collaboration features, including chat, video calls, file storage, and integration with Microsoft Office products.
  • Zoom: Best known for its video conferencing quality and reliability; ideal for businesses that rely on virtual meetings.
  • Google Workspace (formerly G Suite): Provides a suite of tools, including Mail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, and Meet.

Employees collaborating via video

‎4. CRM software

CRM software helps you manage customer and client contacts, sales opportunities, and customer service.

This type of business software helps you keep track of all customer interactions. It enables you to offer personalized communication and support, which is essential for retaining customers and growth.

Features to look for:

  1. Contact management: Stores and manages customer information.
  2. Interaction tracking: Records every interaction with customers, including calls, emails, and meetings.
  3. Lead management: Helps track and nurture potential sales leads through the sales pipeline.
  4. Email integration: Integrates with email systems for easy communication.
  5. Workflow automation: Automates repetitive tasks to streamline sales and marketing processes.
  6. Reporting and analytics: Provides detailed reports and insights into customer behavior and sales trends.
  7. Customization: Can be customized to the specific needs of your business.
  8. Mobile access: Offers a mobile version or app for team members.

Top CRM software systems for small businesses:

  • Salesforce: Highly customizable, with numerous features. Suitable for any size business looking for scalability.
  • HubSpot CRM: Free for basic services, with easy-to-use interfaces. Ideal for small businesses that need cost-effective solutions.
  • Zoho CRM: Offers a good mix of functionality with integration options that tie into other Zoho apps.
  • Pipedrive: Known for its user-friendly sales pipeline management, which aids in visualizing the various stages of customer engagement.
  • Freshsales: Part of the Freshworks suite of products. Known for its intuitive design and automation capabilities.
  • Insightly: Good for project management alongside CRM capabilities. Ideal for businesses that manage longer customer life cycles.

5. Ecommerce software

If your business involves selling products online, ecommerce software is a must. It provides the tools you need to set up an online store, manage your inventory, process payments, and handle shipping.

Features to look for:

  1. Website builder: Offers tools to easily create and customize an online store without the need for advanced technical skills.
  2. Product management: Allows for the efficient handling of product listings, categories, and variations such as sizes or colors.
  3. Shopping cart and checkout process: Provides a smooth and secure shopping cart and checkout experience for customers.
    The online shopping process
  4. Shipping and fulfillment: Integrates with shipping carriers and manages rates, tracking, and logistics.
  5. Payment gateway integration: Supports multiple payment methods and integrates with various payment gateways.
  6. Inventory management: Includes tools to track stock levels, manage reorders, and update product availability in real time.
  7. CRM: Keeps track of customer information and purchase history to support marketing efforts.
  8. Analytics and reporting: Offers insights into sales data, customer behavior, and website performance to help refine sales strategies.

Top ecommerce software systems:

  • Shopify: Renowned for its ease of use and comprehensive features. A go-to platform for businesses of all sizes.
  • WooCommerce: A flexible, open-source plugin for WordPress sites. Ideal for those who want to customize their ecommerce environment.
  • BigCommerce: Known for its robust product search engine and scalability. Great for businesses that are planning rapid growth.
  • Squarespace: Offers beautiful templates. Ideal for small retailers focused on design and simplicity.
  • Wix: Provides a user-friendly interface with an easy setup. Suitable for smaller merchants looking for ease of use rather than advanced features.
  • Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento): Offers powerful customization options. Best for businesses with unique needs and the ability to manage a more complex system.

6. HRM software

Like any organization, small businesses need to manage their employee information and processes efficiently. HRM software streamlines tasks such as payroll processing, benefits administration, and compliance with labor laws.

As your team grows, having an organized system for HR projects and tasks means that you can manage your workforce effectively without getting bogged down by routine administrative duties.

Features to look for:

  1. Employee records management: Centralizes all employee data, including personal details, job roles, and performance records.
  2. Payroll processing: Automates payroll calculations, tax filings, and payslip generation.
  3. Benefits management: Helps manage employee benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and other perks.
  4. Attendance and time tracking: Integrates tools to track employee hours, vacations, and leaves.
  5. Recruitment and onboarding: Streamlines the hiring process, from job postings to onboarding new hires.
  6. Performance management: Facilitates the review process by tracking goals, feedback, and evaluations.
  7. Compliance features: Ensures compliance with relevant employment laws and regulations, reducing the risk of legal issues.
  8. Self-service portal: Allows employees to access their information, request time off, and manage their benefits.

An employee accessing an EES portal

‎Top HRM software systems:

  • Gusto: Known for its user-friendly interface and excellent payroll features. Particularly well-suited for small businesses.
  • BambooHR: Offers comprehensive HR tools with a focus on improving the employee experience from hiring through onboarding and performance management.
  • ADP Workforce Now: A versatile platform that scales well. Suitable for businesses looking to grow and needing advanced HR management capabilities.
  • Workday: Well-regarded for its enterprise-level features and analytics. Ideal for small businesses with plans to scale significantly.
  • Paychex Flex: Provides extensive HR solutions and payroll services, with strong support and resources for small to medium-sized businesses.

Need help deciding on the best software systems for your business? Try Motion

Finding the right business software systems can be overwhelming given the plethora of tools available to choose from. You’ll benefit from some solid project management software that helps you sort the information and plan out the steps — research, demos and trials, and price quotes — to make the best choices for your company.

Motion can streamline all of these tasks and simplify the selection process, saving you lots of time. Plus, Motion’s synchronized calendar function makes critical decision points visible in your daily schedule so you don’t miss important steps.

Motion also integrates with the many of the business software tools you may select — either natively or through Zapier — so you’re all set with intelligent, AI-driven project management software from the start.

Interested? Try Motion for free.

Carla Groenewegen
A certified content writer and SEO strategist, Carla Groenewegen writes about success principles and practices aimed at SMBs and not-for-profit organizations.
Written by Carla Groenewegen