In the early days of your company, you’re more likely than not the captain of a one- or two-person operation. And when that’s the case, it often makes sense for you to deal with admin tasks as they come—after all, you’re just trying to find your footing. But if you’re growing and finding you need more hands on deck, the best thing you can do for your company is look into HR software for small business.
The biggest reason above all? Picking the best HR software for small business—your small business, particularly—will save you money. If you invest up front to automate tasks that you do over and over again, you’ll not only get back time in your day, but your software will end up paying for itself.
With the right HR software for small business, you can centralize the majority of your human resources needs, including your benefits administration, timekeeping, performance reviews, and more. The key to that sentence, though? The right software.
Let’s go through what you should look for when you evaluate your HR software for small business options, and how to pick the best fit for your company.
As you read through the list of the best HR software for small business, remember that not every option is best for every business. HR software does a number of tasks, so while you read about each, think about your priorities. What does your business need most?
Consider these features:
Plus, you’ll want to think about whether or not you care about having access to an app version for Android or iOS, or whether a web app is just fine. Keep in mind that some of this HR software for small business offers trial versions, too, so you might have a chance to give things a go for free before committing (we’ll note those below).
Here’s a list of the best HR software for small business:
Best HR Software for Small Businesses and Startups
We like GoCo as one of the best HR software for small businesses overall. That’s for a few reasons. First, GoCo really feels all-in-one in its approach to HR, but in a no-fuss kind of way—just what a small business needs in HR software.
GoCo tackles employee documentation, including personal details, vacation, and timesheets, and also handles onboarding. You’ll have a dashboard, too, to manage your employee benefits. One thing that sets GoCo apart, though, is their network of benefit advisors that you’ll be able to access for support—because everyone has trouble with benefits, even the people who administer them.
Although GoCo doesn’t take care of payroll entirely, it’ll sync with your existing payroll software (including Gusto below), whether you’re using QuickBooks, Xero, ADP, or something else. It’s an extra fee of $3 per employee per month, but you don’t have to pay to configure pay cycles or pro-rate employee pay, etc.
GoCo also integrates with Slack and has a clean user experience that’ll make it (almost) pleasant to get your HR tasks done. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all software for everything, if you’re not sure where to go, GoCo is a great place to start.
Cost: Base price of $6/employee + $29 flat fee per month
Free trial: No, but you can ask to see a demo
Best Small Business HR Software for Payroll
Gusto is considered one of the stronger picks in HR software for small business. It’s a favorite for business owners who find themselves spending too much time on payroll tasks with both staff and contract employees.
Gusto will help your business handle direct deposit and check payments and tax filings, and integrate directly into many common business accounting software programs to help you get a hold on paperwork and organization. You can also manage onboarding including offers and e-signing, insurance, and commuter benefits, and 401(k) and 529 programs.
Gusto can only accommodate up to 100 users, so this won’t be the best pick for you if you’re a medium-sized business. Plus, the per-user fee is on the higher end, so larger organizations will want to keep this in mind. The other thing you’ll want to consider is that health benefits admin is only available in 24 states as of this writing, so check that you’re within one of them if you’d like to use this as a benefits portal.
Cost: Mid-tier plan starts at a price of $12/user + $39 flat per month
Gusto also has a new option for contractor-only employers, who simply pay the $6/employee rate and no base price.
Free trial: Yes, one month
Best HR Software for People Management
You’ll probably recognize the Zoho name from the company’s well-known accounting software, Zoho Books. And, just as Zoho Books is an excellent pick for very small organizations, Zoho People is, too—pricing starts as low as $1.25 per user per month for the Essential HR plan.
Even if you’re not a teeny operation, there’s still a lot in Zoho People that can work for you, especially if you’re seeking help on the people operations side of things. This HR software for small business is especially adept at employee recordkeeping around vacation and leave, tracking billable hours, managing attendance and scheduling shifts, and more.
This is a great pick for businesses that work often with contractors and hourly workers. Since it’s more focused on the employee itself, giving them a self-service portal, and less on your own HR tasks, you’ll want to lean on another software pick to help with staff administration.
Cost: Starts at $1.25 per user per month for the Essential HR plan. Free plan available for five users (only includes employee database and time off management).
Free trial: Yes, 30-day
Best HR Software for Hiring
If you’re hoping to tidy up your in-house processes as you’re bringing on more team members, then BambooHR, a cloud-based HR software for small business, could be a fit. One of the software’s best features is its applicant tracking, which allows you to post your job openings, create hiring managers on your team, and allow them to customize their hiring process and review candidates as they apply.
BambooHR also helps to automate other time-suck tasks, such as onboarding and offboarding, paperwork, and vacation management. BambooHR doesn’t do payroll within their app—they offer an add-on that’ll export your data to a third-party payroll platform. So, this is a much more people-centric platform.
The biggest benefit here is the job listings—and since BambooHR may be priced slightly higher than other offerings, you’ll have to make certain that your organization needs this functionality before you decide to sign up.
Cost: Request a quote through BambooHR (other sources show BambooHR starting at $6.19/employee per month)
Free trial: Yes
Best HR Software for Maximum Flexibility
Zenefits also comes highly recommended by many small-to-medium-sized business owners as a best HR software for small business, and that’s because of its powerful suite of tools.
Zenefits aims to automate as much as possible, particularly onboarding and offboarding tasks, employee data and paperwork management, and even regulatory and compliance tasks. Case in point: You can perform a background check directly through the software (with Checkr, one of the sites we recommend as a best background check site). It’s a small detail, but a perfect time-saver when you’re dealing with lots of onboardings at once.
Along with its full-service benefits management portal, Zenefits offers a comprehensive payroll portal. Or, if you want, you can hook into another payroll provider.
Zenefits has a big focus on mobile—more so than many of the other platforms we’ve mentioned, even those that do have apps. They highlight integrations into often-used tech products, including Salesforce, G Suite, Asana, and more.
Pricing varies depending on the plan you choose. The basic plan (Zenefits Essentials) starts at $10 per employee, per month, while the most popular plan (Zenefits Growth) costs $18 per employee, per month. You can get a discount if you sign an annual contract.
Cost: Base of $10/employee per month for the most basic plan
Free trial: No, but you can ask to see a demo
Best HR Software for International Operations
Maybe you planned to have offices across countries from the get-go, or you’ve expanded to a point where you’re setting up satellites in Bogota, Malmo, and Cape Town. Whatever your situation, the best HR software for your small business will be one that has built-in capability to deal with varying international regulations.
Cezanne HR bills itself as a “modular” system, meaning that you’ll be able to pick and choose what your company needs from its platform. You can choose tools for people management, performance reviews, and even recruitment. These handle multiple languages. The platform offers payroll options, too, which can deal in multicurrency.
One thing Cezanne HR takes into account across its modules is local laws and compliance regulations across countries—meaning less research for you. But anyone who manages a distributed company knows bringing together teams is incredibly difficult, so having software to do that could be very helpful.
Although you’ll have to get a quote directly from the company, Cezanne HR seems to run on the more expensive side of things (as you might expect with their features). It can support up to 5,000 employees, so keep that in mind, too—this might be for future consideration as your company takes over the world.
Cost: Request a quote through Cezanne HR (other sources show Cezanne HR starting at $200 per month)
Free trial: No, but you can ask to see a demo
Honorable Mention: Best for Integration
If you use multiple software platforms and are looking to simplify, PeopleSpheres is a great option. It features a 3-in-1 platform that all your other HR services can plug into to create a centralized database. The integration platform synchronizes and automatically updates all employee data from the HR software connected to it, which can save you a lot of time.
PeopleSpheres creates a custom profile for each of your employees which can be updated with requests (leave, expenses etc.). You can then accept or reject those requests and send automatic notifications to employees’ profiles. The cross-platform reporting tool lets you generate a wide range of reports digitally, and a weekly digest notification e-mail can be sent to the entire organization.
The biggest benefit of this platform is its simplicity. Why hop around platforms when you can put them all in one place?
Cost: $5–$15/employee per month)
Free trial: Yes
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, as of 2017, about 20 million U.S. small businesses have fewer than 20 employees. Several of these enterprises don’t need an HR software for small business at all—they’re no less busy, of course, but they’re not in a position where tasks like benefits admin or recruiting are taking away substantial time from their day-to-day operations.
But that’s not everyone (which, hey, is why HR software for small businesses exists). See if you recognize yourself in these four very good reasons to get yourself the right software:
Spreadsheets: Great for pivot tables! Bad for tracking administrative tasks. If you’re keeping important data like time off or salary history in a spreadsheet, not only is your system inefficient, but it’s also not secure. You’ll want a better recordkeeping system.
As the owner of your business, you have a lot to do. But what you should be spending your time doing are things that you are uniquely qualified to do. Maybe that means drawing up complex blueprints or putting together an SBA loan application. It likely doesn’t mean sending out onboarding documents for signatures. Part of running a business is delegation—even if that means delegating to a piece of software.
Organization isn’t everyone’s strength, and that’s okay. But a lot of tasks fall under the HR umbrella, which means a lot of paperwork to boot. What’s the best thing to do if you know that keeping things tidy and neatly filed isn’t your best asset? (You know the answer.)
…and you’re probably on track to do the same next year, too. That’s a long way of saying that you’re growing. As you grow, your needs will only become more complex. If you can put an infrastructure in place now to streamline your HR processes, you’ll prepare your company for a much-needed, more efficient future.
Among the best HR software for small business, each has its strengths—and, of course, its weaknesses. Again, the key to understanding which will serve you best is figuring out where you’re spending the most time and where you can start streamlining.
Consider performing a time audit—you might be surprised that more of your time goes to, say, onboarding and offboarding than benefits administration than you thought. Once you have a clear picture of how your day goes by, you can pick the software that helps you start doing what you do best: running your business.
Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a GM at NerdWallet.
Meredith launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014. She has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending and financial management.