Small Business Management: Books, Apps & Tools + Business Partnership Advice

small business

Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, CloserIQ, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

Welcome to the SwipeClock guide to small business management. This guide is for entrepreneurs, start-ups and small business owners.

Table of Contents

  1. The Best Small Business Management Software for 2020
      • Accounting
      • Project Management
      • Inventory Management
      • PTO Management
      • App Recommendations From the Reddit Business Community
  2. The Best Books For Learning About Running a Business
  3. The Do’s and Don’ts of Starting A Small Business Partnership (Mostly Don’ts)

On our blog, we have featured many types of small business software. In this guide, we have compiled all of our software reviews. In addition, we explore the books that business experts recommend. Lastly, we talk about a decision many entrepreneurs are faced with: whether or not to enter into a business partnership.

Let’s dive in.

Chapter 1. The Best Small Business Management Software for 2020

The Best Accounting Software for Small Business

Is QuickBooks the only game in town when it comes to small business accounting software? No one can question its popularity—QuickBooks claims to have 80% market share and over 2 million users.

Some small business owners, however, prefer other software. Let’s talk about additional accounting programs you should consider.

First up, what does accounting software do?

These are the 7 most common functions:

  1. Invoicing
  2. Purchase orders
  3. Bill management
  4. Payments
  5. Expense tracking
  6. Financial reports
    • Profit and loss statements
    • Income statements
    • Cash flow statements
    • Balance sheets
    • Customer balance summaries
    • Accounts receivable aging summaries
  7. Inventory management

What small business accounting software offers an alternative to QuickBooks?


Lite plan: $6/month
5 billable clients
Plus plan: $10/month
50 billable clients
Premium plan: $20/month
500 billable clients
Custom pricing for 500+ billable clients


Free 30-day trial

Early plan: $9/month

  • 5 invoices and quotes
  • 5 bills
  • Reconcile 20 bank transactions

Growing plan: $30/month

  • Invoices
  • Quotes
  • Bills
  • Reconcile bank transactions

Established plan: $60/month
Features of Early and Growing plus:

  • Multi-currency
  • Expenses
  • Project tracking
  • Customers can pay from invoice with PayPal, Stripe, Apple Pay.

Zoho Books

Free 14-day trial

Basic plan: $9/month

  • Maximum of 50 contacts (customers and vendors)
  • 2 users
  • 5 automated workflows
  • Bank reconciliation
  • Custom invoices
  • Expense tracking
  • Projects and timesheets
  • Recurring transactions
  • Sales approval

Standard plan: $19/month
Features of Basic plan plus:

  • 500 contacts
  • 3 users
  • 10 automated workflows
  • Bills
  • Vendor credits
  • Reporting tags
  • Purchase approval
  • Budgeting
  • Twilio integration

Professional plan: $29/month
Features of Standard plan plus:

  • 500+ contacts
  • 10 users
  • 10 automated workflows/modules
  • Purchase orders
  • Sales orders
  • Inventory
  • Custom domain



  • Free accounting software designed for entrepreneurs
  • Fees for payments: 2.9% + 30 cents per credit transaction, 1% per bank transaction
  • Multi-currency
  • No limits on transactions or users
  • Intuitive interface

Fun fact: In July 2019, Wave was acquired by H&R Block for around $400 million.

Did we mention that Wave is free?

For comparison, here is the pricing for QuickBooks:

Self-Employed plan (for freelancers): $5/month.
For small businesses there are four plans:
Simple Start plan: $10/month
Essentials plan: $17/month
Plus plan: $30/month
Advanced plan (6 or more users): $60/month

Most small business accountants and bookkeepers are familiar with QuickBooks. There are over 50K accountants/bookkeepers who have been certified by QuickBooks as QB Pro Advisors.

If you choose a QB alternative, make sure your financial people are okay with it. If you haven’t hired an accountant or bookkeeper, you can choose your software first. Then find an accountant who is familiar with your software.

Quickbooks Basics for the Newbie

What is QuickBooks?

QuickBooks is the most popular accounting software for small business.

What is the difference between QuickBooks and QBO (QuickBooksOnline)?

Before cloud computing, QuickBooks was sold as a product you installed on your business computers. You paid a one-time upfront cost. You used the software for a few years and paid again if you upgraded to the latest version.

With QBO, the software is housed on Intuit’s (the company that makes QuickBooks) servers.

This method of delivering software to customers is also called Software as a Service or, more commonly, the acronym SaaS. SaaS is pronounced ‘sass.’

What is the ‘cloud?’

The cloud is another name for the internet. With cloud computing, software is housed on remote servers hosted on the internet. You access the software with a web browser.

How do you pay for QBO?

Software hosted in the cloud works like a subscription service. Instead of buying the software in a box and paying once, you pay a monthly fee. The software described in this post is cloud-based as well.

Project Management Software for Small Business

Capable project management is key to achieving business objectives. Yet few teams believe they are successful. Expressed in starker terms: few teams believe they do their work well.

Choosing the best project management software can help improve your outcomes. Project management software allows you to organize, track, assign, and visualize project tasks and timelines. This results in higher quality products and services. Well-designed software helps you stay within your project budgets. Meet project deadlines to better serve your clients. Just as importantly, good software improves performance and job satisfaction.

Project Management Software Features

Task Management

  • Milestone Tracking
  • Recurrent Tasks
  • Percent-Complete Tracking
  • Resource Management
  • Critical Path
  • Time Tracking
  • Gantt, Kanban Charts


  • Budgeting
  • Cost-to-Completion
  • Billable Hours


  • Discussions
  • Notes
  • Assign Tasks
  • Activity Feed
  • Auto Email Updates

Project Management Software Recommendations

Here are our picks for project management software. The following five platforms are top sellers for good reason. They contain the most popular tools and are intuitive to use. On multiple software review sites they have received hundreds of 5 Star Ratings.

1. Wrike

  • Website
  • Paid Plans: $9.80-$24.60/month/user
  • Free Version
  • Free Trial


  • Website
  • Starting Price: $7/month/user
  • Paid Plans $25-$118/month

3. Zoho Projects

  • Website
  • Free plan 5 users/2 projects
  • Paid Plans $25-$150/month

4. Asana

  • Website
  • Starting Price $9.99/month/user
  • Small team discount
  • Free Version
  • Free Trial

5. Freedcamp

  • Website
  • Free Version
  • Paid plan $1.49/year/user
  • Free upgrades for non-profits, students, teachers

Workforce Management Software

Managing your workforce is as important as managing your projects. Human Resources software has similar tools and features that help you manage your labor force. Project management software used with Human Resources software transforms productivity.

SwipeClock’s WorkforceHUB is an all-in-one Human Resources portal. It handles all core HR functions from one web-based interface.

If you are shopping for project management software, consider workforce management software at the same time. That way, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. They work together to help you successfully manage your projects and people. Smart businesses use both.

Inventory Management Software

It can be an important advantage.

43% of small businesses either don’t track inventory or they use manual processes. Organizations that use software will be more competitive and grow faster.

The Benefits of Effective Inventory Management

Good inventory management ensures that you maintain a steady production schedule. You can deliver products on time and never lose a sale or customer because you’re out of stock.

It will prevent you from storing extra inventory that ties up working capital. It’s essential for managing cash flow.

Free Inventory Software For Small Businesses

Small businesses can use free or open source inventory management software while they’re small. A freemium software pricing model starts with a free plan with basic functions. This may be sufficient for a small business that sells relatively few products.

Freemium software also has paid levels with more features and capacity. In this article, we’re focusing on free and open source systems.


Features in the free plan:

  • Free for one user
  • 1 own company
  • 1000 products
  • 1000 clients and suppliers
  • 1000 transactions
  • 50mb storage
  • Visit website


Features in the free plan:

  • 1 user
  • 1 sales channel
  • 50 orders per month
  • Batch create shipping labels
  • USPS, UPS, FedEx, Canada Post shipping
  • Return labels
  • Split shipments
  • Tracking number writeback
  • Visit website

Zoho Inventory

Features in the free plan:

  • 20 online orders per month
  • 20 offline orders per month
  • 20 shipping labels per month
  • 20 shipment tracking per month
  • 1 Warehouse
  • 2 Users
  • Composite items
  • Ecommerce integrations
  • 5 Automated workflows per module
  • Visit website

Sortly Pro

Features in the free plan:

  • Track with QR or barcode
  • Notifications
  • Manage your stock on any connected device
  • Supports multiple users with permission levels
  • CSV and PDF reports
  • Spreadsheets support photos
  • Supports 30 currencies
  • Visit website

inFlow Inventory

Features in the free plan:

  • Barcode compatible
  • Customizable pricing models
  • Cost tracking
  • Inventory overview
  • Inventory optimization
  • Reorder management
  • Purchase order management
  • Shipping management
  • Supplier management
  • 13 reports
  • A total of 100 products and clients (combined)
  • Visit website

How Does Inventory Management Software Work?

Inventory management systems allow you to categorize your stock. Then it helps you organize it in a logical fashion. It ensures you have the right materials and the right amount at all times.

If you carry perishable items or those with a limited shelf-life, inventory management software will ensure they don’t expire.

Your software tracks inventory through your supply chain. This may require moving it to multiple warehouses, fulfillment centers, or retail stores.

With automatic alerts, you know when to order more supplies or products. You’ll be alerted when to offer a discount or promotion to clear out slow-selling stock.

How to Set Up Inventory Management

  1. Create a database
  2. Label each item
  3. Categorize items
  4. Create and document processes
    1. Purchasing inventory
    2. Receiving inventory
    3. Storing inventory
    4. Moving inventory between locations
    5. Fulfilling orders

Components of the Supply Chain

Inventory management is a function in the larger process of supply chain management.

A supply chain includes the following components:

  • Non-capital assets
    • Parts
    • Raw materials
    • Work-in-process
    • Finished goods
    • Supplies
  • Processes
    • Ordering
    • Storage
    • Production
    • Packaging
    • Distribution
    • Transport
    • Recordkeeping
  • Supply Chain Entities
    • Your company
    • Producers
    • Vendors
    • Warehouses
    • Manufacturers
    • Shipping companies
    • Distribution centers
    • Other service providers
    • Customers
      • Retail customers
      • Business customers

Inventory Management Fuels Business Growth

“Inventory management software will be the keystone of your inventory management system, as it tracks, manages and organizes product sales, material purchases and other production processes. It essentially allows your employees to switch where they spend their work hours: less time inefficiently searching for products or tracking inventory by hand and more time analyzing and planning for growth.” Paul Trujillo, Informatics

Small businesses that use inventory management software combined with best practices will be poised for success in 2020 and beyond.
Solve small business PTO accrual problems.

Small Business PTO Management

For this section, we look at how PTO tracking software solves common workforce management problems.

Problem #1 Managing PTO with spreadsheets takes too much time.

Solution: A small business PTO accrual app tracks accruals as your employees clock in and out.

It’s accurate and automatic. It can save you several hours every month. It syncs to payroll so you don’t have to transfer hours manually from spreadsheets.

Online Timecards

Plus—it creates virtual time cards so you don’t need to track down paper timesheets every pay period.

Problem #2 It’s hard to keep track of vacation requests.

Solution: A small business PTO accrual app allows employees to request vacation time from their smartphone.

Employees log into the app on a mobile device to request vacation time. Managers approve or deny PTO requests in the app. Managers can see all requests in a centralized location. This makes it easy to see if there are conflicts.

Automated Notifications to Employees

When a manager approves or denies a request, the app sends an automated message to the employee.

Problem #3 PTO causes scheduling confusion.

Solution: A timekeeping/scheduling/PTO app syncs PTO to scheduling.

If you try to schedule an employee when they’re on PTO, it will alert you. You won’t have to scramble to find someone to cover a shift because you didn’t realize an employee was on leave.

A Better Way to Track Small Business PTO Accruals

Spreadsheets don’t make sense when there are inexpensive PTO tracking apps. Cloud-based solutions are plug-and-play.

How Do I Buy a Timekeeping/PTO Tracking App?

This is how a cloud-based timekeeping/PTO app works:

  1. Choose an app online
  2. Start an account
  3. Enter your employees
  4. Choose your PTO policy from pre-programmed defaults
  5. Enter your settings—for example, your company might allow PTO to rollover
  6. Employees clock in and out in the app
  7. The app tracks PTO with employee hours
  8. Employees can start clocking in immediately after you set up your account


  • Employees request PTO in the app
  • Managers approve/deny PTO requests in the app
  • PTO syncs with employee scheduling
  • The app sends automated notifications
  • The app stores historical data for compliance and reporting

Keep Your Employees Happy

Don’t mess up vacation requests.

PTO is very important to all employees. If a PTO request is forgotten, it erodes employee trust and satisfaction.

With an app, busy managers won’t forget a verbal PTO request. The system is objective and transparent. It lets managers outsource their memory to an infallible system.

Clear Up PTO Confusion

Mismanaged PTO ALWAYS lowers employee satisfaction. It’s a common reason employees quit. Don’t risk losing your best employees because of PTO confusion.

TimeWorksExpress is an inexpensive timekeeping/scheduling/PTO app from SwipeClock.

What do TimeWorksExpress users have to say?

“Our ability to automate our time, attendance, and scheduling processes
gives us the visibility, efficiency, and lower labor costs we need to succeed today and tomorrow.” Charles Fortney, Co-owner of OHP Work Care and SouthernCare Walk-In Clinic

There are benefits for everyone—employees, managers, payroll personnel—and execs:

“Our employees like being able to easily access their PTO and send in requests for their time off as well. The time clock feature is good too because it is accessible online anywhere.” Kim T., CEO

Do Small Business Owners Have To Provide PTO?

Not at the federal level. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to provide unpaid leave. FMLA prohibits employers from terminating an employee who uses unpaid leave that qualifies under FMLA.


Your state may require it. Many jurisdictions (states and cities) mandate employers to provide a minimum amount of PTO. Some regulate whether employers must compensate employees for unused paid leave upon termination. This type of regulation is called a ‘PTO pay-out’ law. The size of your business and the type of leave may come into play. To be safe, consult legal counsel. Regarding pay-out laws, when in doubt, pay it out.

6 Types of Leave

  1. Sick Time: When the employee or family member is ill, recovering from surgery, or otherwise doesn’t come to work because of a medical issue.
  2. Vacation: When an employee takes time off for a trip or recreational activity.
  3. Holidays: Days recognized at the federal level as a holiday. Also called ‘company holidays.’ Government offices and banks are generally closed as well. Some companies give employees a day off for a state holiday.
  4. Bereavement Leave: The employee is paid for leave taken immediately after the death of a family member.
  5. Floating Holidays: This is another name for a random paid day off of the employee’s choosing.
  6. Jury Duty: Employers are required to permit employees to miss work for jury duty.

The concept of PTO (Paid Time Off) generally refers to leave that isn’t categorized. Small business owners can create their own PTO policies.

Manage Small Business PTO in 8 Steps

  1. Create a PTO policy and include it in your employee handbook
  2. Train managers on your policy and approval system
  3. Track employee time accurately
  4. Calculate employee PTO accruals
  5. Allow for year-end rollover if applicable
  6. Adjust for tenure if applicable
  7. Answer employee questions about their PTO
  8. Notify employees of soon-to-expire earned PTO if applicable

App Recommendations From the Reddit Business Community

Looking for proven apps and tools for small business?

Let’s tap the wisdom of the Reddit business community.

What are the apps and tools that YOU use in your small business?

Here are solutions to real-life business needs not mentioned on software review sites.

Do you purchase business supplies on Amazon?

camelcamelcamel can track millions of Amazon prices and let you know when a price drops. If you buy the same supplies on Amazon every month you can save time and money.

How can I separate calls from two different businesses?

With Dialpad, I pay $20 a month for two lines one for my side business and one for my main business as a cell phone so customers don’t have my personal line. Makes it easy to completely shut down for the day without the customers calling you at 9:00 p.m. with the flick of a toggle switch in the app.

Need to link Outlook to Android?

Akruto links Outlook contacts and calendar events with Android calendar and contacts apps

Need easy-to-use project and information management?

I use Trello both for to do lists and general information we all need access to all the time—like when staff members are not available.

Do you want to save time with online forms?

Streak for CRM and waiver management. Zapier for automation. If you’re on Gmail, and use any sort of online forms, both are excellent. When I found Zapier last year it saved us 20 hours a week.

Do you lose track of voicemails?

Phone: FreePBX – self hosted on a Raspberry Pi type device (SBC). Love it because I can forward voicemail recordings to my email, since I’m always on the go. Plus the IVR that gives clients key options, based on the nature of their call

Want a free alternative to QuickBooks for receipt and expense tracking?

Many Redditors recommend Wave Accounting.

The invoicing system works great and helps me stay on top of getting money from clients. I’ve been using the payroll system as well, it helps me a lot with calculating all the employee / employer taxes as well as direct depositing money. (Source)

How can I improve mobile sales efficiency?

Google Maps/Google My Maps: Plan your potential client canvasing geographically to make the most use of your face-to-face sales campaigns.

How do I automate IT support?

Hesk is a simple open source way to track customer tickets, projects, and requests.

Need to create cool infographics for your website?

Try Visme, Canva, or Venngage. Create basic infographics with templates.

Looking for time and attendance software to sync with a biometric time clock?

TimeWorksPlus supports a wide range of standard hardware clocks. Options include clocks with PIN-based identification, magnetic and RFID readers with proximity cards and FOBs. All data collection devices can be used in conjunction with TimeWorksPlus services for reporting, time card management, and PTO accruals and payroll integration. (Source)

TimeWorksPlus and TimeWorksExpress are employee timekeeping solutions from SwipeClock. Small business owners on a budget can use TimeWorksExpress for only $3/employee per month + $15 site fee. TimeWorksExpress also lets you create employee schedules and manage PTO from your cell phone.

Chapter 2. The Best Books for Running a Small Business

Warren Buffet says he spends about 80 percent of his day reading. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Jeff Bezos are also voracious readers. Small business owners can gain valuable knowledge and inspiration from books of all genres.

First, we will tap the wisdom of the Reddit small business group. Then we will discuss the recommendations of notable business icons.

When a user asked, ‘What are the best books for running a business?’ fellow Redditors replied with the following picks:

  • The Lean Startup — Eric Ries
  • Blue Ocean Strategy — W. Chan Kim/ Renée Mauborgne
  • The Power of Habit — Charles Duhigg
  • Profit First — Mike Michalowicz

I’ve run a small business for a few years struggling to fully grasp managing the money coming in and out. This book [Profit First] provides a detailed breakdown to make sure that you are, first of all, making money and how to pay yourself just by setting up your bank accounts differently. It has been a huge help to me and my business.Reddit commenter

  • The 99U Book Series — Jocelyn K. Glei
  • E Myth — Michael Gerber
  • Small Time Operator — Bernard B. Kamoroff
  • The SBA Business Plan Builder
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Stephen R. Covey
  • The 4-Hour WorkWeek — Timothy Ferris
  • The 80/20 Principle — Richard Koch
  • Start Your Own Business: The Only Startup Book You’ll Ever Need — Inc.

I had absolutely no knowledge of business or how businesses work but after purchasing this book [Start Your Own Business—The Only Startup Book You’ll Ever Need]  I can say it really opened my eyes as to what is involved in starting and running a business. I feel this book is a crash course that covers everything in business and will also be used as a reference when needed and where to find even more info.Amazon review

Many high-profile business greats recommend novels and self-help books for business guidance. For example, Jeff Bezos’ favorite book is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Let’s look at top picks from some other notable business minds.

Oprah Winfrey: 10 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

  • Behold the Dreamers — Imbolo Mbue
  • The Seat of the Soul — Gary Zukav
  • Behave — Robert M. Sapolsky
  • The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom —Don Miguel Ruiz
  • A Return to Love — Marianne Williamson
  • The Power of Now — Eckhart Tolle
  • Tuesdays with Morrie — Mitch Albom
  • The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want By Being Present To The Life You Have — Mark Nepo
  • Present over Perfect — Shauna Nieguist
  • Love Warrior — Glennon Doyle Melton
  • Broken Open — Elizabeth Lesser

Source: Entrepreneur

Bill Gates’ & Warren Buffet’s Favorite Business Book

In 1991, Bill Gates asked Warren Buffet what he believed was the best book on business. Buffet told him Business Adventures by John Brooks. Buffet then sent him his copy. After reading it, Gates began singing its praises as well. In 2014, Gates affirmed that it was still his favorite business book.

Chapter 3. The Do’s and Don’ts of Starting A Small Business Partnership (Mostly Don’ts)

Starting a small business is not easy. You might think it makes sense to enter into a partnership. But you should go into it with eyes wide open.

The numbers aren’t encouraging. Estimates of failure rates are as high as 80 percent.

Yet thousands of entrepreneurs enter into partnerships every year.

Let’s look at the pros and cons. For our purposes here, we are mainly talking about a two-person general partnership in a small business. However, some of the issues are universally applicable.

Advantages of Taking on a Small Business Partner

Shared Startup Costs

Pooling your resources lessens the financial burden of launching your venture.

More Borrowing Power

You may not be able to borrow the capital necessary on your own. A partner may tip the scales in your favor.

Shared Debt Liability

You secured your loan. Now you’re on the hook for payments. Many business owners want someone else to share that responsibility.

NOTE: Shared debt liability can be a disadvantage as well.

Possible Tax Benefits

General partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships are pass-through entities. As such, the business doesn’t pay business income taxes. Each partner includes their portion of the income/losses on their personal returns. They pay the individual rate as if it was personal income. Pass-through entities avoid the double taxation that occurs with a S- and C-corporations.

Increased Knowledge and Experience

A broad range of skills might be necessary. Few people are good at everything. Some entrepreneurs don’t believe they can manage a business on their own.

Small Business Partnerships are Easier to Set Up

A partnership can usually be launched more quickly than an S-corporation or C-corporation. For example, you don’t have to create and file articles of incorporation.

Fewer Regulations

Partnerships avoid much of the regulation that a corporation is subject to. That said, make sure you have counsel to guide you on your legal responsibilities.

The Disadvantages of a Business Partnership

Shared Financial and Legal Liability

Shared liability. Think about that. You are liable not only for debts. Each partner is an ‘agent’ of the business. That means each is liable for the actions of the other. What if the business becomes insolvent due solely to the actions of your partner? Your personal assets could be at risk. You could have legal exposure if your partner does something shady.

Difficulty in Defining Roles

Who’s responsible for what? Disagreements about the division of duties have doomed many partnerships. When one partner feels like s/he is doing more than the other, resentment sets in. This spreads like a cancer in the relationship. Business partners who were friends in the beginning become enemies. Not a recipe for success.

Small Business Partnerships are Less Secure

Life happens. When a partner dies, retires, or quits for other reasons, the partnership dissolves. An unexpected turn of events can threaten the business’ survival. A corporation is more stable in this respect. The stakeholders must take formal actions to dissolve the entity. Partnerships that grow large and profitable should consider restructuring. At that point, there are many reasons to form a corporation.

Do You Really Need a Partner?

If you are only considering a partner because you can’t start a business on your own, reconsider. There are other ways to get startup capital. A sole proprietorship also has tax advantages. You can hire people with the expertise you need.

Do you want to be your own boss? A partnership isn’t the way to go.

Do you lack the confidence to do it on your own? This isn’t reason enough to take on a partner.

I’m Already in a Small Business Partnership and it’s Going Bad!

Get out now. If you don’t have a competent acquisitions attorney, get one. Hopefully you started with a contract that anticipated this possibility. (More on that below.)

You may have to buy out your partner. Or set up a royalty schedule. This is complicated and messy. Seek competent counsel and do what it takes.

Starting a Partnership Anyway?

Perhaps you’ve considered everything we’ve discussed. Maybe you trust your partner implicitly and want to proceed. Maybe your shared passion is fueling your confidence.

Protect yourself. Create a legal, highly-detailed partnership agreement. Outline your goals and expectations. Make sure they align. Thoroughly define your roles. Get everything in writing!

Once you’ve set up your business, communicate constantly. Solve little problems before they become big problems. We wish you success!

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