We get overloaded with useful websites, and there are more every day.  It’s hard to keep up with them form the time we hear about them until the time we can actually evaluate them for usefulness.  Some of the most valuable websites are actually more accurately called WebApps.  These sites actually perform a task much like software installed on a computer and many offer free versions that can do tons for your business.

I am a huge fan of automation and simplification.  In our business I’ve spent most of the last 10 years working on reducing complications, mistakes, mis-shipped cases, and bad workflows.  Amazingly I’ve found some great apps to help in the process, but I had to go through a ton of crappy ones to get to these.

#5: Feedly

Feedly has come in to fill the void from the days of Google Reader and to give us hope for the future of syndicated news sources.  It also works (almost) seamlessly with #4 below.

Syndicated websites (those that allow you use RSS technology [?]) allow you to merge new posts and information in to a single source.  Feedly is that source.  Feedly allows me to pull in the RSS feeds from hundreds of sources that I care about so that I can both distill down what’s important and identify important news to share via social media.

When combined with a social media management platform like Hootsuite and a good social media strategy you can have tons of new content ready to share with your audience in very little time.

#4: Hootsuite

Although there is a free version, we should just talk about the paid plans with pricing starting at only $20/month for the Professional level.  Hootsuite is a tremendous tool to move all of your Social Media in to one interface.  As a bonus they offer Hootsuite University at only $35/month for as long as you need it.  With Hootsuite University you get training on effective social media engagement and strategy at a pace that lets you learn on your own.

Hootsuite is packed with features that make it easy corral your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts and to share content across those platforms.  In addition, you’ll get to monitor your feedback.  The most important feature is the ability to schedule posts.  This is the real value in using a social media management tool – being able to systemize your work and move on to something else instead of constantly watching a screen or a phone to see when it’s time to post again!

For more on how we use Hootsuite, check out my series on A Small Business Social Media Strategy starting with Part 1!

#3: Dropbox

Dropbox has been around for a while now and  yes, there are lots of alternatives since their launch in 2007, but Dropbox has a key feature that Small Business owners should really consider: simplicity.

We use Dropbox in our office for one reason above all else: it’s a single folder you can do anything you want inside of.  It’s easy to explain to people not to use “My Documents” in Windows, and to just save all of their files in Dropbox.  This has saved our collective asses on a number of occasions when computers die.  It also decreases the total load on the primary server because we don’t have to use complex back-up schemes for each user.  Save that stuff to Dropbox instead.

#2: Asana

Keeping track of all the things you’re working on as a Small Business owner is a pain in the ass.  I’ve used several different systems in the last decade including Day-Timer (before the iPhone), Basecamp, Moleskine Journal systems, Evernote, and others.  The reason I have thus-far settled on Asana has to do with the flexibility of organizing tasks and projects and with it’s API system which allows me to integrate with other systems easily it was the hands down favorite of all the systems I tried.

#1: Zapier

I don’t know if it’s even fair to list Zapier as a web-app.  It’s kind like listing Google in a list of search engines after talking about Bing, Yahoo and AltaVista.

Zapier is an API integration website that allows you to merge different applications’ APIs together in new and unique ways.  For example, you can generate a new email in Gmail whenever you get a new Twitter follower.  You could add details from a webform on your wordpress site directly to your CRM Software.  You can merge Technical Support data from systems like Jira together with Customer Support data in places like ZenDesk.

We’ve used Zapier to automatically register people who fill out a form on our website to the webinar they want on GoToMeeting and simultaneously add them to a mailing list on MailChimp all while sending a thank you email from Gmail from my own personal account.

I happily pay $20/month for Zapier access because basically any automation I want to create can be achieved with their tools.  Some of my most useful automations include posting upcoming scheduled vacations of employees to our Slack channel or notifying all of the right people about files being added to Dropbox from clients in way that actually gets attention!

Honorable Mention: Slack

Although it hasn’t quite made it in to our Top 5, Slack is a fast mover.  At it’s core Slack wants to replace inter-office email.  It’s more like a really intelligent chat program with lots of direct and Zapier integrations.  In our business not everyone has access to it because they don’t need it, but it’s a great app with iOS and Android versions available.  It can also be easily modified to do things like notify your team about Social Media responses so that you can focus on being an engaged company.