We are celebrating six years in business! Check out the 5 evergreen practices we revealed on our 5th birthday: self-awareness, core values, compatibility/client fit, systems, and experiments. This post combines systems + experiments.

In 6 years we have tested a bunch of small business software to help run our cloud-based legal services business. We cancel services when we don’t need that type anymore. And because it’s a good opportunity to trim our small business budget. Or we switch to a better service of the same type.

Tools come and go, but we are using these 12 services right now. And we have been with the majority for 3+ years. Below you will see if we use the free or paid version, and our current cost (in some cases we have old/special pricing). The year we signed up. And if we ”LOVE!” or “Like” each.

Also, because we care about the responsible business practices of our suppliers, you will see a note about how each company either values its employees and/or demonstrates concern for the greater good.

We hope this list will help you build & systematize your small business!

Small Business Software: Management – clients, collaboration, tasks & projects

1) Airtable | Free (used since 2015) Database/anything organizer – LOVE! 

Airtable has become our cloud central.

This San Francisco-based startup is on a mission: “To democratize software creation by enabling anyone to build the tools that meet their needs.” We’re on board!

From the dashboard we can see the different bases we’ve created. We toggle between our client database, strategic planning dashboard, admin organizer, and marketing activity tracker. Plus Elizabeth’s legal workflow for clients and other as-needed bases.   airtable for small business A sheet-database hybrid, Airtable is new-user-friendly because it is spreadsheet + dynamic, customizable relational database. Plus there are multiple ways to view data: grid, form, calendar, gallery, kanban, and groups. Airtable offers a number of templates to use when you are building your bases. And a dynamic rollout of what’s new.

From day one, I loved the simple, colorful, screen-maximizing-goodness of Airtable’s user interface (UI) and it keeps getting better.

And the fact that our small business team gets all this for free? Definitely, LOVE!

The Greater Good: Check out Airtable’s Creatives & Creators series, with a recent feature on Karen Thurman, who switched to environmental activism after a career in tech.

2) Asana | Free (used since 2015) Admin task management – Like

We use Asana for basic administrative task management and as an agenda organizer for our Google Hangouts.

After experimenting with the communication features in Asana a bit early on, we didn’t stick with them. We use Slack for team collaboration – see Slack below.  Basically, Asana is our to-do list combined with a meeting agenda. We integrate Asana tasks with Harvest (see Financial below) to link our tasks and time.

Asana isn’t a LOVE for me because I don’t spend much time in it. And I am “meh” about the UI. But the company is making a lot of improvements, so we’ll stay tuned for Asana’s evolution.

And the fact that the free version works great for us … that’s LOVE too!

Responsible Employer: Here’s a big LOVE for Asana: the company practices radical inclusion.

3) Basecamp 2 | $20/month (used since 2013) In-depth collaborative project management – Like

In the past, we used Basecamp for all client projects. But now we use it for one of our General Counsel clients. And we still have access to past client projects at no additional cost!

Elizabeth helps General Counsel clients with a variety of projects. Basecamp’s all-in-one collaborative features are helpful for an all-in-one-type legal service. For when Elizabeth works closely with a client and her team over time.

Would we adopt Basecamp 3 at the $99/month rate? No, because we aren’t using the all-in-one software features. However, that price may make sense for a new small business to pay for one service vs. a patchwork of other services with fees that add up quickly.

Since we are using Basecamp 2 at the low rate, we are happy to stick with this old timer! Basecamp is approaching it’s 20 year anniversary in the small business software / remote work “space.” That’s staying power.

Responsible Employer: Basecamp is a pioneer of valuing employees by allowing them to live their lives how and where they want to.

4) Slack – $160/year (used since 2015) Collaboration/communication – LOVE

We started recommending Slack in 2016, continued in 2017, and the love affair continues in 2018 and beyond!

Slack has become an essential part of our internal communications. And it is a rich, searchable database of operational records.

And the service, like all the good ones, is closely watching and responding to workplace evolution.

The Greater Good: Slack has launched a podcast about “the meaning and identity we find in work”–check out the diverse stories from all kinds of people!

5) vCita – $239/year (used since 2015) First point of client contact via web/appointment scheduling/database – Like

Another integral small business software service, we tested vCita in 2015 and then committed to using this easy-to-use app.

We use the vCita plug-ins for WordPress like the Client Portal Widget (pop-up) and Contact Us Form. And for scheduling, we invite clients to schedule a legal Quick Call for example, via the vCita Scheduling Calendar.

Since many of our clients first come in through vCita, there is an excellent store of data in the system. This CRM aspect of the service includes records of conversations. Plus what page of our website the client was on when they contacted us. v

Cita has many features that we don’t use. For example invoicing – we use Harvest, see Financial below. And email marketing – we use ConvertKit, see Marketing below.

Do you need scheduling with payment? And a way for potential clients to message you (see below) via all pages of your website? Then vCita is a solid choice.   vCita sample

Responsible Employer: vCita’s international team, based in Seattle and Tel Aviv, is nearly 50% women!

Small Business Software: Marketing – email, social media & website

6) Buffer | Free (used since 2012) Social media scheduling – LOVE!

As you may know, Twitter rules changed in the first quarter of 2018. With the changes, we went back to Buffer for simple, free social media scheduling. The Free plan allows for scheduling 10 posts at a time for up to 3 social accounts.

Buffer is perfect for a small business like ours; we want to maintain social media engagement with thoughtfully curated content while maintaining low overhead costs.

Responsible Employer: A progressive, fully remote/nomadic company, Buffer is well known to be an employer that values its employees’ lives. Buffer has a podcast as well: The Science of Social Media.

7) Canva | $12.95/month (used since 2015) Social media graphic design – LOVE!

Bringing basic graphic design skills to the digital masses since 2012, this terrific Australian service has become a favorite. We create all of our social media graphics in-house thanks to Canva. Including the graphic for this post!

The possibilities are endless! Once you get the hang of the easy drag-and-drop interface, you can get all kinds of creative. Upload your own photos or use free stock images.

For repeating posts like our client spotlight series we created template graphics.  It is fun to imagine and create new designs that tie into our lifestyle business. Like our safari-themed sales series!  

Canva sample

Earlier this year we switched from the free plan to a paid Canva plan. Now we use the transparent background feature as well as “Magic Resize.

Caveat: We have noticed a bit of clunkiness with Canva and have had some moments of frustration with lost work. As of October 2018 the service doesn’t offer previews across web and mobile devices. Maybe Canva 2.0 will remedy some glitchy and disappointing aspects.

Otherwise, it’s LOVE!

The Greater Good: The idea for Canva came about when graphic design teacher Melanie Perkins was inspired to create a tool for her students to design their own yearbooks. The company is still focused on education, and offer its premium version free to registered nonprofits!

8) ConvertKit | $29/month (used since 2017) Email marketing – LOVE!

After many years on AWeber, we switched to ConvertKit at the end of 2017 and we haven’t looked back. In 2017 AWeber felt outdated – stagnant UI, difficult to adjust, not evolving.

In comparison, ConvertKit felt dynamic, fresh, simple, and robust. Setting up sequences, automations, and tags is easy and intuitive.

ConvertKit has been an excellent platform to launch and maintain our quarterly Legal Lucidity™ Newsletter. Check out ConverKit FAQ’s to see if you agree on the features that work well!

The Greater Good: One of ConvertKit’s core values is “Teach Everything You Know.” This is the focus of the company’s Tradecraft blog.

9) WP Engine | $287/year (used since 2015) WordPress hosting – LOVE!

We had many negative experiences with our old host Rackspace, including our website being down for three days. Looking for alternatives, our client Nathalie Lussier’s positive experience with WPEngine pointed us in the right direction.

Our experience has been positive as well. We have had smooth sailing with the service and we haven’t had to troubleshoot much at all. That’s the point of a solid web host! It just works and you kinda forget about it. They update your WordPress automatically (with notice) and provide backups.

Bonus: In 2018 WP Engine acquired StudioPress, creators of the Genesis Framework!

Responsible Employer: Check out these stats from the company’s About page!  

WP Engine

Small Business Software – Financial: invoicing, payroll & time tracking

Note: We’ve listed our subscription-type services below. For heavier accounting pieces like our S-Corp taxes and monthly bookkeeping, we use Renee Daggett’s full-service firm AdminBooks.

10) Gusto | $51/month (used since 2012) Payroll – LOVE!

Yep, we LOVE paydays. And Gusto makes the process pretty seamless. Plus the UI is friendly and easy to navigate. We knew Gusto in its ZenPayroll days. Another old timer. 😉

In a small business budget, $51/month is significant. But payroll used to be a HUGE time burden before the proliferation of software as a service (SaaS), making Gusto a smart investment.   Gusto sample We LOVE you too, Gusto! The Greater Good: Gusto Giving has raised more than $1 million in donations!

11) Harvest | $32/month (used since 2012) Invoicing/time tracking – LOVE!

Harvest is an integral part of the back end of our business and it saves us money. We rarely bill clients by the hour. But we track time to pay employees and to track the efficiency of projects.

We tested many time-tracking systems and Harvest was the least invasive and easiest to use. Some time tracking systems were creepy, tracking every keystroke on each staff members’ computer!

We also use Harvest for invoicing. When we send an invoice, our clients can pay us via credit card through Stripe or via PayPal. When they pay via PayPal, the merchant fee is only $0.50, even if they are paying thousands of dollars; this can be huge savings!!

Responsible Employer: Like many on this list, Harvest is committed to offering its employees remote work. Quality of life is right up our alley here at EPW Small Business Law! Because our “alley” might be in Colorado or California or Argentina depending on where we are living our location independent lifestyle.

Small Business Software – Legal

12) RightSignature | $49/month (used since 2012) Contract E-signatures – Like

Do you have clients, vendors, or contractors who sign contracts with your company? Most businesses do!

We highly recommend using digital signature software to manage those relationships. No one wants to mail or fax or scan signatures and keep track of those miscellaneous pieces of paper.

If you have people sign documents online, RightSignature creates PDFs that are just as binding as a pen-signature. In many cases, you have even more data than a pen-signature. You have their ISP (location) and the date/time of their signature, too! And we like the fact that RightSignature allows customization of the emails so we can explain the document.

Caveat: Uploading the documents and adding the signature blocks does not always work seamlessly. But we have not found another solution with the same features, with as good security, at a lower price.

Responsible Employer: Like all of the companies on our list, there are positive signs of RightSignature/Citrix treating employees well. ~ So there you have our 12 favorite small business software services! 

What small business software are you using? Talk to us on Facebook or Twitter about a service you LOVE that we haven’t tested yet! Do you need legal services for your dynamic, evolving small business? Try a Quick Call with Elizabeth

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