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6 Essential Small Business Tools to Power Your E-Commerce Business

When I was running my agency, I remember days when work ground to a halt because of an issue with our internal file server.

I also remember trying to work from home while waiting for files to trickle into my computer through a rickety VPN (virtual private network) - then giving up and heading back to the office. I remember file conflicts and losing work. And I remember the bills I paid to external IT vendors to come in and fix problems.

Well, those days are nearly history. We are in the midst of a quiet revolution in the way applications are distributed and used, fuelled by rapid growth in mobile technology and internet bandwidth.

The result is that businesses are increasingly using cloud applications to power and enhance their operations. And since I've come on board at our e-commerce business, I’ve made it a priority to get virtually all of our systems into the cloud to ensure we stay nimble and efficient.

Cloud-based technology refers to applications that are hosted on the internet and accessed through a web browser. (Many also provide mobile apps that must be installed on a device; however, the data itself lives in the cloud).

Cloud applications provide you with a huge amount of freedom and efficiency as they can be accessed from any machine and don't require you to invest in building any internal infrastructure. 

Here are the 6 core cloud applications that run our business:

1. Website Storefront: Shopify

Shopify is the most visible of our applications since it powers our e-commerce store. What I love about Shopify is how it takes care of the most tedious and complicated aspects of setting up an online store, such as creating a shopping cart, connecting to a payment gateway, picking an overall design, creating navigational structures, and creating product pages. I literally had our store up and running in a week or 2 - and I’m someone who spends a lot of time tweaking design details.

2. Email Marketing and Automation: Mailchimp

We used to use MailChimp (Before the Shopify Breakup) to manage our list and send all of our email correspondence to subscribers.

Now we use Omnisend - it has an app that allows us to connect directly to Shopify so we can see right in the dashboard what products a customer has purchased when their last purchase was as well as other behavior related to their email activities such as opening and clicking.

In addition to sending email broadcasts to all of our subscribers, MailChimp also allows us to create sophisticated automation sequences based on purchase activity. So, for instance, if someone purchases a diaper bag on our site, we have a sequence of emails requesting they write a review, and offering similar products that they may be interested in.

3. Accounting: Xero

Xero is quickly becoming known as one of the best cloud-based accounting options available. We looked closely at QuickBooks Online as we were already using the desktop version but chose Xero because they are strictly a cloud platform and have a head start over QuickBooks in that space.

Moving our accounting to the cloud is perhaps the trickiest move we’ve made - and the last major piece in our automation plan. We are still in the process of our transition and there are a few things we are getting used to. However, we definitely won’t miss the cumbersome process of lugging “the accounting computer” around as we did with Quickbooks Desktop.

4. Customer Service: Helpscout

If you field any volume of customer service inquiries - and especially if you have more than one person handling that task - you will benefit from a platform like Helpscout.

Helpscout allows us to easily log correspondence with customers across multiple employees and seamlessly hand off tasks.  It allows also us to use templates for responding to common inquiries or issues which saves a ton of time and streamlines what used to be a very tedious process.

5. Sales Process Management: BaseCRM

BaseCRM is not as well known as Salesforce in the cloud applications CRM (customer relations management) space, but it is growing steadily due to its focus on superior user experience.

We primarily use Base to manage our sales process and follow up with retailers that we either have connected with at tradeshows or have targeted as a good fit for our products. We also use it to manage our press and blogger contacts.

Like most CRMs, Base provides the ability to create templates that can be tailored to individual situations and track the sales process through its various stages and participants.

6. Internal Files: Google Drive

If you’re still using the desktop version of Microsoft Word, switching to google docs is a major paradigm shift in how you think about managing and sharing documents - and it can take a little getting used to initially.

However, once you realize the beauty of never having to save a document - and being able to update documents you’ve already shared in real-time, you’ll never look back.

We use Google Drive as our intranet and “internal” file server. Sophisticated file permission management allows us to keep certain files private to just the company principals while others, like our press kit are public to anyone with the link.

Conclusion

The six core cloud applications that we’ve implemented at our e-commerce business over the past year have had a huge impact on the way we run our business. While these specific applications may or may not be the right fit for your business, the efficiencies, and advantages of using cloud technology to power your operations are undeniable.

6 comments on “6 Essential Small Business Tools to Power Your E-Commerce Business”

    1. Actually, no. This is probably the hardest transition to make and the only one we haven't undertaken on our own. We found a great accounting firm who are totally invested in cloud technology that have been a great help. We're still in the process so I may do a more in depth post on this when we're done.

  1. Great list. I use all of these except I left Help Scout for ZenDesk because there was a feature missing and I use Agile CRM instead of Base CRM because Agile has sophisticated web triggers that I have found helpful. I use Yesware to send emails to sales leads but it's super expensive so I'm looking to replace it. I might use Agile CRM as it also tracks opens.

    1. Thanks Tara. There are a ton of CRMs out there. I never looked at Agile but I will. So far we're relatively happy with Base CRM, but don't use anywhere near its full potential.

      It seems like ZenDesk has the lead in Helpdesk software. I can't remember why we chose Helpscout but it's served us well.

      I should also update the list with Dear inventory Systems, which we are just in the process of implementing to get better line of sight on our inventory. (more shortly!)

      All the best, Dan

      1. Inventory and bundling (I sell kits with lots of parts) are the weak points in my process right now. I will look into Dear Inventory as it ties into Shopify.

        I have found getapp.com indispensable for helping me discover and review different apps out there.

About the Author

Dan Chadney
Ever felt like your business should be getting more attention online? I felt the same way until I learned how to leverage SEO and digital marketing tactics to scale my e-commerce business to 6 figures per year. My name is Dan Chadney and before starting this blog, I spent 20 years as a web designer, front-end developer and SEO marketing specialist. Check out my online business guides and learn how to make money online!
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