Running a small business is challenging. You often find yourself pulled in different directions, struggling to keep up. You have limited resources – more often than not, its you and may be one more person from each department managing the different aspects of your business.

If it all seems overwhelming sometimes, take a deep breath. You’re not alone. Every small business is in the same boat as you. You can, however, find your edge with a careful selection of apps that will help you get things done.

So which apps are best? That depends entirely on your business and your preferences. There are several lists of the best apps for each type of requirement online. We’ve put together our own list of favourites – we’ve used every single one of them and recommend them highly.

BASECAMP for Project Management & Collaboration

As project management and collaboration tools go, look no further than Basecamp. We’ve been using Basecamp since 2011. Yes, there are project management tools with far more sophisticated bells and whistles but we are a small business, and for our needs, Basecamp is a well thought out, beautifully engineered, easy on the eyes workhorse. It has an incredibly short learning curve which helped with faster adoption. Basecamp has been through a few iterations since its launch in 1999 – Basecamp 3 is the current version and includes some cool new features as well as long-awaited upgrades to some old ones. It’s available on the web, and as iOS, Android, Mac and PC apps.

Basecamp works especially well for us because our team is spread out geographically and also because we like working from home.

It’s simple to use. We keep track of all our client projects; all our to-do lists are all in one place – nothing falls through the cracks; we connect to our files in Dropbox and G-drive; use colour coded shared folders and catch up on discussion boards and via chat. It’s also a great tool for fostering team spirit and managing productivity when you have a geographically spread out team.

While Basecamp has just about everything a small business needs to manage projects and stay on top of things, the all-in-one rather than per user pricing in Basecamp 3, however, limits the number of small businesses that should be using it. (Bring 2’s pricing back, Jason. You can do it!) Basecamp 3 does offer a one-project free option, and you should definitely give that a try.

MAILCHIMP for Email Marketing

Content marketing and social media are increasingly the best ways for your customers to find and engage with you. Social media lets you connect with different segments of your audience, manage your reputation online and provide a rich customer experience. Content marketing helps your customers find you at every stage of their buying journey.

However, what is equally true is that email remains your most powerful marketing and storytelling tool yet. It is relatively inexpensive and allows you to share customised messages to diverse audiences quickly. You can use email to sell, evangelise, educate and engage.

Which is why it makes sense then to invest in a robust platform that does not break the bank. Which is where MailChimp comes in. We use MailChimp for all our email campaigns, as well as campaigns we run for our clients. And it works for us on every single count.

Pricing? MailChimp has a “forever-free” option for up to 2000 subscribers and 12000 free emails per month. Perfect for every small business. And their paid plans aren’t too expensive either.

Integrations? From Google Analytics to WordPress to Salesforce to shopping carts to Facebook ad campaigns, MailChimp integrates with them all.

Teams? Not only can you create multi-level access for your team, but you can also collaborate with your marketing agency using MailChimp. MailChimp also has a Comments feature that allows you to collect feedback on individual campaigns too.

Here is the complete list of features Mailchimp offers. Just make sure your list follows best practices and Mailchimp will ensure optimised performance.

BUFFER for Social Media Management

Do you have a social media strategy for your business? If you don’t, you definitely should build one.

How else will you be able to increase brand awareness, build loyalty, tell your stories and engage your audiences? With the proliferation of channels, it’s always confusing to decide which ones are right for you. (We decided on a mix of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.)

Then when you do start going social, managing the channels you’ve selected can seem overwhelming. When to tweet, what to say on Facebook? Is any of it delivering my objectives? How do you measure success?

A measurable strategy and a content plan will help you decide what you need to say and when you should say it. And Buffer will help you get all of it done in one place.

Buffer allows you to manage a whole range of social media accounts. You can create and schedule posts to be shared across networks. You can even install the browser extension to quickly share interesting and relevant content you find online across your social feeds. You can automate posts for each social account in advance. All you need to do is create content, and set it up on Buffer.

And Buffer has something we love even more: Analytics. Rich analytics. That allow you to see how each of your social accounts is performing and also how each of your posts is performing.

Buffer has apps for Android and iOS, allowing you complete mobility while managing your social calendar. (You will need the apps for Instagram anyway.)

On the pricing front, Buffer admittedly needs some work, but they do have a Free individual account that allows you to add up to 5 social accounts – 1 per network – on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google Plus.

Buffer can seriously simplify the time spend on social, leaving you to focus on creating rich content to share with your networks.

CANVA for Design

Whether you manage your own or customer social media channels, email marketing or content marketing programs or even need graphics for any reason, at some point, the creative tap could run dry. But we have a solution: Canva.

Canva is a brilliant resource that allows you to make fully customisable graphics for any platform. Need an Instagram post? Check. A Twitter header? Check. A Facebook profile pic? Check. Infographics for that white paper? Check. Presentations? Letterheads? Ebooks? Album art? Check. Check. Check. Check.

Canva has a free account that allows you to create graphic resources for whatever you might need with a whole lot of templates, artwork, icons, fonts, layouts and more. You can even upload your logos, photographs and artwork to personalise your creations. And if you upgrade to a paid plan (beginning $9.95 a month), you can also create team folders and upload your own brand fonts, colours, footers, and much more.

If you have any kind of content plan (marketing, blog, social, email), then you will find Canva an invaluable addition to your storytelling arsenal.

GOOGLE for Business

“Google? I’m not searching for anything.”

We had to add Google to this list, specifically G Suite. Why? Let’s see. What does every small business need? Tools for communication, storage and collaboration – G Suite has them all. You can set up professional email addresses, backup all your files in the cloud, create and manage all your documents online, and conference video and voice. And that’s only the start of an impressive suite of solutions. You can also book domain names, build and host websites, track analytics, launch digital ad campaigns.

While G Suite is not free (pricing begins at $5), you will be hard-pressed to find a platform that meets the everyday needs of small businesses in one integrated suite of solutions. And you won’t even need to hire an IT team to set up or manage all this for you. You can do it all yourself with the intuitive, self-serve dashboard.

So that’s our list.  If you have apps not on our list that you would like to recommend, please do tell us in the comments. Don’t forget to also tell us why you’re recommending them.

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