April 21, 2016

Picking the Right Tools for Building Your Small Business


The following article is a guest post by Erin Gifford and our friends at cove – a fantastic DC-based startup that also happens to be a Humanity client. 

The idea of being an entrepreneur or joining a startup is exciting. Speaking from personal experience, it truly is. I joined a DC-based startup just over three months after launch. I was the second full-time teammate hired, I had never worked at a startup before, and I wasn’t dead set on working for a startup either. But the opportunity sounded cool, so I went for it.

I definitely didn’t realize how much truly goes into building a company from the ground up. Obviously, there are many different types of companies and they all require different tools, people, and timelines to get up and running.

But regardless, systems and processes have to be established to create efficiency and enable growth. Think about an established company you’ve worked for – did you ever submit an expense report? Did you ever receive a weekly update from your department? Those are systems that were established and hopefully are like second nature to the employees now. Getting the right tools in the right place at the right time is key, and it’s been quite an adventure to learn what the “right” things were while building cove.

A little background on cove: In September 2013, cove launched in DC with the mission to empower individuals to work when, where, and how they choose through a network of convenient locations. In the past two and half years, cove has expanded from one location in one city to 11 locations across two cities. The team has grown to 20 full-time and 90 part-time teammates.

All of this is to say that rapid growth requires a company to put processes in place that allow for that growth to happen efficiently and successfully. Fortunately, with the advancement of technology, there are many tools and services available for companies to scale quickly and effectively.

So what are the tools cove has implemented over the past couple of years? Here’s an inside look into what we were doing, what challenges we faced, and what tools have helped us overcome those challenges.



Particular to a distributed team, where you can’t just lean over and ask your colleague a question, communication can be challenging. Cove’s team is located in two cities, and even then we are not often in the same location within the city.

We started out using G-chat and Hangouts, but neither of those tools were ideal. We tested out Slack, and it quickly became our favorite form of communication. It’s great for collaboration and sharing information to all the right people simultaneously. Zoom has been a fantastic video conferencing tool – it’s reliable and easy to use.



When we had less than 20 employees and only three locations, we used a spreadsheet to schedule shifts and track time for compensation. Managing it quickly became a huge chunk of my week, and I knew we had to find scheduling software stat.

Humanity has been a lifesaver. It cuts the time it takes to make the schedule in half, employees can easily trade shifts, and it tracks hours worked with the click of a button. Both management and our staff love it.



Every company, no matter the size, needs a place to store documents for easy access. We use Google Drive, which is awesome because it’s free, easy to use, collaborative, and cloud-based. We’ve used it since the beginning and don’t have any plans to stop.


Customer Support

As a consumer-facing business, we started out by using the obvious support tool: email. But as we grew our membership, we needed something better – something more instantaneous that could track issues and be delegated to the right teammate.

We now use Zopim as a customer support chat tool, and Zendesk for issue tracking and response. Both tools save us time and make for happier members. It’s a win-win.


Marketing, Sales, Project Management and Accounting

To support new efforts and continue creating efficient systems, we have added on other tools to assist cove’s growing departments.

Concur is a great tool to control costs and cash flow with expense reporting and invoices.

HubSpot is a robust marketing and sales platform, allowing for drip campaigns, email marketing, blogging, template building, and offering a full CRM. And for inter- and cross-departmental collaboration, Basecamp has been huge for project management.


As we continue to grow and scale to world domination (aim high, right?), I imagine there will be more tools and services that we’ll need to incorporate in our day to day.

What tools have you used to overcome challenges and create systems for your business? Let us know in the comments.