Productivity Tools for Small Businesses

Small business owners are finding it increasingly difficult to manage multiple moving parts and run a thriving company. It’s a constant struggle to get everything done.
Small business success depends on how efficiently and productively the business owner can use tools to handle virtually every single business process an organisation can have.

Here is a list of the best productivity apps for small businesses in 2017:

1. GSuite Business Solutions

Google’s GSuite offers a number of productivity enhancing features for small to mid-sized businesses. GSuite is a great place to start conducting some of the most essential operations a modern small business must undertake, such as setting up a business email client, document sharing, managing calendar, launching an online ad campaign, or tracking traffic stats for websites. GSuite offers a wide range of services in one place quite conveniently.
GSuite even has an app for Google’s cloud storage platform, which will allow users to work and access files from anywhere in the world. The GSuite is also recommended for its enhanced business-grade security features. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the flexible and affordable pricing structure. Small businesses can use GSuite for as little as $10 per month, which comes with unlimited cloud storage and archiving.

2. Slack

Slack is the team communications app all businesses must have these days. Slack is a streamlined instant messaging application that is enhanced for business use. There are loads of IM apps out there that businesses can use. However, these IM apps are intended for two-person communication, not group communication as businesses require. So it’s easy to get bombarded with notifications and messages with regular apps. Slack eliminates such annoyances and offers an optimized chatting platform for teams that work together.
Slack offers perks like separating group conversations, setting some conversation modes into public or private, direct messaging, an auto archiving of all messages and other material that gets shared. Businesses can add as many users as desired without limit. Slack has expanded services from IM and is now capable of file sharing and phoning too.

3. Boomerang for Gmail

Boomerang is an add-on for Gmail, and possibly the best add-on a business can use. Boomerang allows Gmailers to schedule emails and tracking responses. For example, if your business needs to spend a particular email at midnight on Friday to the dot, you don’t have to stay up that late to do so with Boomerang. You can use the add-on to specify times and dates for certain emails to be sent. This is an absolutely essential service for companies that manage email marketing campaigns. Boomerang is also AI-enhanced and can improve the overall quality of emails as well.

4. Intercom

One of the most challenging aspects of managing and growing a business, especially a web-based company, is the lack of communication with customers. There are huge barriers when it comes to educating customers and understanding consumers. The eventually leads to flawed user interface decisions, limited of awareness of customer issues and needs and substandard user experience. Intercom offers a suite of features to provide live chat, customer on-boarding, action-based email triggers and more for your users, making it easier to interact, engage and communicate with your customers.

5. FreshBooks

Creating invoices is an important but tedious task when running a small business. FreshBooks is an innovative new app that allows small businesses to simplify the invoice creation and sending process. Instead of sending a rather boring invoice, businesses can use Freshbooks to design personalized or branded invoices. The biggest perk of the app, however, is the ability to organize invoices and track them. The app also enables users to set up automatic billing for recurring invoices, and accept credit card mobile payments. Also, users can trace profits and losses by aggregating all information in the invoices in one place. FreshBooks can be used to generate business reports that can track overall finances.

6. MailChimp

MailChimp is the email marketing app businesses need to run a successful and effective campaign. Mail Chimp facilitates many services that are considered necessary for modern digital marketing campaigns. The app is mainly known for allowing users to create and manage large mailing lists. Users can use Mail Chimp to create and send email newsletters. Mail Chimp offers templates to design customized emails and data analysis tools to assess how an emailing campaign has been. Mail Chimp is quite easy to use on a number of devices. The app notably eliminates the need to repetitively create or send email marketing material and saves a lot of time and money for communications teams.

7. TeamWave

TeamWave is a unified platform for collaboration, sales and HR management. Your team gets a single and centralized place to collaborate which means Sales, support, development & marketing departments will be on the same page. Imagine smoothly moving from a won deal to delivery of the project in the same app without re-entering any data and avoiding data loss. As all the apps share the same information, there is no scope for data redundancy and duplicacy. The truly native integrations ensure you need to worry about data flow from one app to another and maintain integrations between vital apps. Some of the most important benefits of TeamWave:

Sales and Projects: Important files can be copied from deals to projects (example: requirement document) with a few clicks. Comes handy when you commence project delivery after winning a deal.

Sales and HR: In the HR app, if you add someone as the reporting manager of a sales rep, then the reporting manager will be automatically added as a deal follower whenever the sales rep adds a new deal. This fosters collaboration and helps in progress tracking.

Projects and HR: Project admin can keep track of the performance of the employees along with appreciation received from clients and log them as private notes in the HR app. During appraisal these notes can be reviewed for better decision making.

Use the above mentioned tools to establish and streamline processes with an aim to improve business productivity.


Why WordPress for Web Portals is like Lego Bricks for High-rise Towers


The primary idea behind web portals is to aggregate information from diverse sources and then present it in a uniform manner. Web portals can be visualized like a well assorted library which categorizes, updates content and grants access.

In the 90’s, horizontal portals were popular. AOL, & Yahoo! gained special attention because they were for many users, the gateway to the World Wide Web. In recent times vertical portals that provide a gateway to a particular industry such as health care, insurance, automobiles, or food manufacturing are getting all the attention (ex: Yelp, WebMD, SitePoint, etc.)


Web portals manage their content using a software system and each type of content is displayed in a dedicated area (portlet). There is also role-based privileges, granted by the PORTAL admin to the staff (and registered users) in order to manage these portlets. Common features of portals are directory listings, articles, latest news, events, classifieds, videos, image gallery, etc.

Web publishers today require a level of dynamic content and functionality that goes well beyond what a conventional content management solution can offer.


Almost everybody knows about WordPress - a simple publishing and blogging platform with a massive user-base. It also provides a very powerful framework for developing websites with its "themes" and "plugins" ecosystem. In fact, it has become the de facto platform for most digital agencies.

On the other side, there are lesser-known "specialized" CMS's like BlackMonk - a modern publishing platform for portals, media companies, business directories and online communities. The central idea behind BlackMonk CMS is to provide a platform with integrated suite of apps and features necessary for developing, managing and monetizing web portals.

Which solution is most suitable for building portals? Lets find out!

BlackMonk vs WordPress for Web Portals


BlackMonk was developed from the ground up keeping in mind all the important components of a modern web portal.

It has 20+ unified apps compatible with both mobile and web browser. All of these apps are developed in-house to ensure seamless integration and standardization. Rigorous testing ensures that the deployed apps will neither be conflicting with each other nor crashing your portal.   

Out-of-the-box apps include: directory software, articles, photo & video gallery, events, polls, classifieds, attractions, deals, bookmarks, social media integration, Google map integration, advertising management, user management, payment processing, data migration and reporting. The list doesn't end here - click to explore the features.

While WordPress is hands down the go-to CMS for blogging, it was not originally built to to be a portal platform.

In order to build a portal using WordPress, you can either go for custom theme development and on top of this you would have to get these 20+ apps developed. Another way to do this is to purchase a premium directory theme, because the free theme won’t cut it in the long run. Then you would have to also buy all of the required apps in the form of WordPress plugins.

The downside of this approach is that the integration among these plugins won’t be solid (as they will be provided by different vendors). WordPress plugins are quite infamous for breaking the theme because of the incompatibility issue and bringing in security flaws. More number of plugins also means equally bloated portal. Check out the detailed article written by amazing folks from WooThemes about the dangers of WordPress plugins.

Key thing to understand here is that your portal is as secure and swift as the code that creates it. Thus, all the required plugins would have to come from professional developers, not amateur programmers.


BlackMonk clients are entitled to dedicated email support, knowledgeable and video tutorials.

As a BlackMonk client, you get support directly from the developers who have built the product. Not from a third-party developer.


WordPress has a popular forum where people can ask questions and also search for solved issues. Many are able to solve the issue from the answers posted in the forum and many are not able to.
Reason behind this is that none really ‘owes’ anyone an answer.

You can argue that when we are paying to theme developers and plugin vendors, they are supposed to give us support. True, but here is the thing - one vendor would invariably blame the issue on the other plugin vendor or the theme developer whenever the issue would go out of hand. In that case you’ll have to try different plugin and use something that integrates well with other plugins & theme.


All the updates related to new features, performance and security are managed by the BlackMonk team and automatically rolled out after multiple rounds of testing.

There is absolutely no need for you to keep on checking for new updates and applying them. All of the updates are well tested in our internal server before applying them on client’s portal.

This burden of maintaining the platform and keeping everything in sync is taken care of by our team.

WordPress frequently releases bug fixes and security updates. Owing to its popularity, hackers target websites running on this platform. This makes it all the more crucial to apply the released updates as soon as possible.

The difficult and most dreadful part of update process is getting the site messed up. This can happen when the theme/plugin loses its compatibility with the base WordPress. While most of the vendors would update their offerings to make them compatible with latest version WordPress, we can’t say for sure that the update won’t create conflicts.


Generating revenues is the toughest part of the online publishing business. We understand this more than anyone else.

BlackMonk comes integrated with monetization opportunities like business listings, event listings, classified ads, eCommerce (deals), affiliate marketing, banner advertising, advertorials (paid stories), etc.

Most transactions are automated. Ex: an advertiser can directly purchase paid business listing from the portal. There is no need for you to validate the transaction and add the listing manually.

WordPress seriously lacks in providing a built in system for monetization of web portals.

Again usage of plugin and custom coding can bring in limited capability for revenue generation. But, it would always be deficient in terms integration with various avenues for generating revenue and providing uniform transaction management system.


Although there is a learning curve involved, BlackMonk is relatively easier to use in the long run.
Our comprehensive video and text based user guides can be used by the portal admin and staff members to get started without wasting much time.

WordPress is very easy to get started. It becomes harder once all the plugins are integrated.



BlackMonk uses Python with Django framework. Some of the hottest startups like Quora, Dropbox, Disqus use Python.

According to a research conducted by Udemy, performance of Python is better than php (the language used by WordPress).

PostgreSQL and Redis constitute the database of BlackMonk portals. Check out how SOOMLA boosted its performance by 7410X simply moving from MySQL to Redis. Here is a nice piece from software developer and technical writer David Bolton (from explaining why he chose PostgreSQL over MySQL.

WordPress was built 12 years back. The technology stack is PHP and MySQL. WordPress is stuck with PHP/MySQL for legacy reasons, not because they are the best options available currently.



BlackcMonk SaaS plan, designed for small businesses has three options (standard $80/month, premium $160/month and professional $240/month).

No coding required - just choose your theme and activate the apps. Let us maintain the technology and provide you with dedicated support.

Think of BlackMonk as a full service package provider where you save time and piece of mind by paying a subscription fee.

$160 per month billed annually will amount to $1920.

For pricing of WordPress development, we’ll go with the article written by established premium theme developer - Elegant themes.

Option 1:
Custom WordPress site with design, development and custom plugin would cost $6,000 - $15,000.

Note that this price doesn’t include any hosting, support and maintenance charges.

Option 2:
Purchasing premium themes, plugins, hosting and hiring a cheap developer to make the site functional.

Hosting cost: $10/month (VPS by DigitalOcean)

Premium theme: $90 

Plugins: 15 (premium plugins) x $50 = $750

Support and Maintenance: 20$ (per hour fee) x 6 (hours per month) x 12 (months) = $1440

Total = 2400$

Note that 20$ per hour fee is charged by student programmers or hobbyists. Professionals can charge somewhere around $80 - $200 per hour. In addition to this hiring a decent developer is itself a mammoth task.


If you choose WordPress for developing a portal you would have to move through heaps of unwanted objects to find out the right solution for making a functional and good site. Hosting, hiring, maintaining and paying for support are some of the factors that will surely take up most of your time. From the core business point of view, you would also have to deploy an integrated system for revenue generation. By choosing BlackMonk you’ll get integrated suite of apps, hosting, maintenance, security, superior technology and dedicated support at a lower cost ($500 less). In addition to this, BlackMonk comes optimized with revenue generation system and self-service transaction management system. Savings in terms of time and resources are two very critical factors that can help you go a long way with your business.

To sum it up developing a portal using WordPress is like plugging in bits and pieces of Lego bricks for building a high rise tower. You never know when it would collapse. What you need is precast concrete instead of lego bricks to be successful in the weird wild web (catch the drift?).

More than 200 publishers have chosen BlackMonk Enterprise Edition as the preferred web portal platform for their businesses. Now, the Small Business Edition makes the same power of BlackMonk accessible and affordable to small publishers. Visit our showcase page to learn more about how we have been adding value to the success of businesses.

How to start a profitable hyperlocal website

Hyperlocal publishing

On a pleasant summer evening a group of young people gathered in the dimly lit back room of Mitch’s Tavern for a passionate discussion about a new online venture. The bar room discussion between David Milsaps and his friends took place in the summer of 2007, and in the same year went live. The website was a gift from Milsaps and his buddies to the people of Raleigh. It was created to support local-ism and perpetuate the unique culture of the growing city.

Fast forward to 2013 and it was finally time to stop publishing New Raleigh. For five years Milsaps and others shared in the endeavor of creating a distinctive voice of the city, and making a discernible impact on Raleigh’s downtown culture. New Raleigh quickly attracted tens of thousands of users and succeeded in establishing itself as a go to website. However despite growing readership and local support, Milsaps was unable to convert New Raleigh’s influence and leadership into sustainable profit which eventually led to its downfall.

Why are most hyper-local websites not profitable?

Google Adsense is not enough

Hyperlocal websites like New Raleigh are driven by passion and noble intentions, but not backed by a sound business model. Founders put all their energy into building content that begets traffic, and when its time to monetize all they do is sign up as affiliates of third party ad networks (like Google Adsense) and wait for revenues to roll in.

Publishers of a hyperlocal website should know that BANNER AD revenue is directly proportional to traffic, and that it is the least profitable source of income for an online publication. Even large publishers like Times, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed have reduced their dependency on third party ad networks.

Paid directory listings are moderately successful

Another tried & tested monetization option for hyperlocal publications involves creating a promotional space for local businesses and private advertisers. In a blog post entitled 21 things I learnt running hyperlocal news sites, Mike Fourcher – founder of Center Square Journal reveals that there are many contenders vying for SMB marketing dollars. Companies like Yelp, Oodle, Trulia, Move and Groupon dominate the local advertising market, so it's difficult for new hyperlocal websites to get a significant slice of local ad revenues. Fourcher also states that SMBs have a small marketing budget, and they are not comfortable with the idea of risking their meager funds on a new advertising channel. What makes market penetration all the more difficult for hyperlocal publishers is that they lack resources required for deploying a high-performing sales force.

How can hyperlocal websites compete with Yelp, Trulia, Groupon, etc.?

Although big players like Yelp, Trulia and Groupon have a strong presence in local market, their dominance is restricted to specific type of service. For example, Yelp is popular as a business directory while Trulia is a well known real estate website. Hyperlocal publishers can make real impact in the local market, by offering a range of promotional services including: sponsored content, business directory subscription, banner ads, real estate ads, classifieds and coupon sales.

Promotional services to be provided by a hyperlocal website

Offering a wide range of promotional services on one platform, allows hyperlocal publishers to tap into wider cross-section of the target market. However, publishers must also work on enhancing their services in order to outperform competition., Life In Hoboken , The BayNet and Down Town Miami are examples of hyperlocal websites which have managed to gain dominance in their respective local markets. These websites were able to side-track competition, by offering greater value in terms of features and benefits. For instance, the business directory on Life In Hoboken offers personalized listing page to subscribers with option to create a full-fledged product catalog, attach downloadable collaterals and showcase latest deals/offers. Similarly, the classifieds section allows users to create beautiful listing page with built-in photo gallery, contact form and comment section.

What's the best ‘go to market’ strategy for hyperlocal publishers?

Creating a great platform for local advertising isn't enough to bend the revenue graph upwards. In order to get the dollars rolling, hyperlocal publishers need a winning go to market strategy.

Diverting advertisers from Yelp and Trulia

In the local market - business directory, classifieds ads and real estate ads are the most sought after promotional services, and publishers face stiff competition when attempting to woo prospects away from established websites like Yelp and Move.

A better approach is to populate your business directory, classifieds and real estate sections by importing listings from Yelp, Move, oodle etc. This way the new hyperlocal website becomes a useful resource for users. And, when the listings become a source of leads for prospects, publishers can then start approaching prospects for paid subscriptions. Sending-out email updates to let prospects know how well their free listing is doing - inspires confidence and eventually leads to conversions.

Gearing-up for sponsored content

Sponsored content is the most profitable revenue channel for websites. However in order to offer this service, publishers need to position their website as a strong influencer of public opinion. This can be done by putting out editorial features which talk about local brands.

Reviews, commentaries and opinion pieces involving restaurants, spas or vocational training centers – help in attracting the attention of local SMBs and positions the website as a productive medium for content marketing. And once the website starts receiving PRs and review requests, publishers can then start charging a fair fee for putting out sponsored content

Although sponsored content is a highly profitable revenue source for hyper local websites, publishers need to handle it strategically. Putting out to many promotional pieces can lead to disrepute of the website. For more information on sponsored content read Monetization through sponsored content – Implementation road map for publishers

Targeting high spenders of the local market

Medium-sized businesses operating in the local market have a substantial marketing budget, and are willing to spend on high impact advertising. By introducing services like banner ads and deal store, hyperlocal publishers can start catering to high spenders of the local market.

In order to sustain a multi-dimensional business model, hyperlocal publishers must put in place a supporting technological infrastructure. This involves building an online system through which clients can buy and manage promotional services. BlackMonk - web publishing platform allows publishers to deploy hyper-local websites - equipped with full range of publishing and monetization features.

Announcing BlackMonk Version 4.0 - There's something in it for everyone

Better writability for the publisher, and better readability for the audience. What could be more virtuous about a CMS? We would like to introduce BlackMonk 4.0. This could easily be our biggest release yet, because we have redefined multiple modules of BlackMonk, thereby enhancing a range of operations. Articles, Gallery, Community, Design, Performance… You name it; we’ve improved it.

Publishing Articles:

Authors get their own vanity profile page with links to their posts, that they can show off. We also figured that if the editor likes them, then everybody likes them. That’s why we introduce the Editor’s Pick page, where admins can display a select few featured posts.



“Breaking news” for all those instant timely updates and “Top ten stories” should let you create a sense of urgency and take advantage of your readers’ attention span.

Rich media like videos and photos spice up stories like none other. But uploading the same media in two locations is inefficient. That’s why we’ve come up with embedding media. Videos, audio clips, tweets, Instagram photos, Vine videos and more.


That way, you can also make it easier for your readers to interact with those media, right from your web portal. For instance, readers can like, favorite and retweet media instantly.

On the reading front too, we have news. Readers can now mark articles as favorite so that they can read it later. They can also subscribe to the articles of their choice.


Gallery and stock images:

Getty Images and Shutterstock are now integrated with BlackMonk, letting you browse through  thousands of stock images for your articles and gallery.




Just configure your API key of Shutterstock, Getty Images and Flickr in our settings, and you are good to use millions of great images on your web portal.


For the Community:

Q&A is now more social. And precise. We have enabled sharing of Q&A’s on social media, which will amplify the reach of the questions. In addition, admins can prune out those answers and questions which just don’t cut it.



We have always believed it is more about how you say it than what you say. Justifying that claim, you can now configure custom themes with the choicest fonts and colors.



Or you can get started right away with the predefined themes that we offer.




And it is also possible to dynamically change the labels on the home page from your website. You can name and rename every section on your portal. That’s an opportunity to get creative. Banner zones has also been under the microscope to deliver better impressions of those ads.

In addition to all the above, there are enhancements that are invisible to the eye, but ensure smoother and consistent loading of content. Auto-loading events when searching, and upgraded universal analytics code are a few to note. Visible or invisible, they all have one common objective; better write-ability for the publisher, and better readability for the audience. Try BlackMonk 4.0 for your web portal today.



Bourbon - Simple and Awesome SCSS framework

Syntactically awesome stylesheets (Sass) is a CSS extension language that makes it easier for web developers to create advanced styles. Bourbon framework and its associated libraries viz Neat, Bitters and Refills help developers speed-up Sass implementation as well as make it easier to build CSS features like grid, forms, typography etc.

Bourbon, Neat, Bitters and Refills together constitute a simple, lightweight and solid framework for Sass. The Bourbon framework enables modular development workflow, and  supports custom global compilation settings. It also provides support for IE7+ when  used with Selectivizr (for CSS3 selectors) and Respond.js (for media queries).

Here’s a look at Bourbon and its supporting libraries built by thoughtbot:


Bourbon is a set of Sass mixins which use Scss syntax to provide a solid foundation for rapid development of CSS3 features. It includes mixins for supporting CSS3 features such as animation, font-family, button styles and pre-built functions for calculating gradients.

File size : 0kb




Neat Is an open-source semantic grid framework built on Sass.  Neat enables you to define column counts, grid spans, and breakpoints. It also allows dynamic alteration of column counts at different breakpoints.

File size (default) : 97 bytes




Bitters is a collection of basic styles for typography, headings, form, lists, grid and error message module. Since Bitters does not providing good CSS reset, developers should add normalized styles manually.

File size(Complete) 62 kb




Refills provides pre-built page components and UI patterns built using Bourbon, Neat, and Bitters. Developers can easily choose a UI pattern and copy the corresponding code to the stylesheet file.


The biggest advantage of using Bourbon is that unlike other class based frameworks, it is 100% semantic and allows developers to write clean/compact code.