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The 5 best SMS apps for small businesses in 2021

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10 min read

The 5 best SMS apps for small businesses in 2021

By Harry Guinness · January 18, 2021
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Email inboxes are overflowing. Everyone gets so many email updates, notifications, and special offers that it can be hard to get customers to open yours—no matter how important they are. Gartner reports that the average open rate for emails is only about 20%. But do you know what people open 98% of the time? SMS or text messages. 

If you've got a small business and you want to make sure your appointment reminders, invoices, and promotions are actually seen by your customers, SMS marketing tools are a great way to do it. You can use these text message marketing apps to personally message your customers, or you can set them up to automatically send texts based on your booking calendar, marketing list, or the like. Even better, with all the apps I recommend, your customers can also text you straight back

I considered more than 30 of the most popular options for this list. Here are my picks for the five best SMS apps for small businesses. 

Get even more out of your SMS platform by adding automation.

The 5 best SMS apps for small businesses

  • TextMagic for getting started quickly with an SMS service

  • SimpleTexting for easy-to-run SMS marketing campaigns

  • Salesmsg for small, local businesses using SMS

  • EZ Texting for non-technical people who want some guidance on SMS marketing

  • Twilio for customizing your SMS marketing

What makes a great SMS app?

SMS marketing is a big industry, and there are dozens of different apps out there. Not all of them, however, are appropriate for small businesses. A lot of text message services are designed for enterprise companies sending thousands of SMS messages a day as part of a marketing push, rather than for smaller businesses that have a more personal relationship with their customers. Similarly, a lot of popular options are API services for developers looking to build their own apps, rather than a service anyone can sign up for and use straight away.

To cut through the crowd, I set five key criteria that every app needed in order to make the list.

Easy to use, even for the non-technically inclined. Setting up an SMS app for your business shouldn't require a doctorate in software engineering. Some of the SMS API services (and even a few of the dedicated apps) just aren't user friendly enough to recommend. I've only included apps that a regular person could set up, connect to their existing systems, and use. Yes, you might need to read through the help documents or ask the support team a question or two, but all of my picks are easy to use. In practice, this means that almost all the apps on the list have a dedicated web app you can use to send and receive messages. A lot of them also have the ability to send and receive text messages through your email client or with mobile apps.  

Capable of true two-way messaging, so you can have a conversation with your customers. There are some great marketing SMS apps that can send 100,000 text messages with the click of a button. None of them are on this list. They're for enterprise companies operating at a huge scale. For small businesses, that kind of one-way, mass marketing is kind of unnecessary—and even inappropriate. It could only be used to spam customers. Instead, as I said, I looked for apps that have proper two-way messaging, so you can have a normal text conversation with your customers if needed. You can still automate responses and collect survey data with a lot of them, but they aren't completely hands-off platforms. 

Able to integrate with other apps and services, so you can automate things like reservation reminders. Integrations with other apps and services were a must. This means that, in addition to texting your customers directly, you can also (for example) have your reservations service automatically remind customers about a booking and follow up with a customer satisfaction survey.

Affordable with low volume requirements, so small businesses can get started. When it comes to sending SMS messages to your customers, pricing matters. I required all the SMS services on this list to be affordable for small businesses. This meant no high monthly pricing or large volume requirements. Instead, all the services are either pay-as-you-go or have low volume, low fee monthly plans. 

Able to scale with your growth and seasonal needs, so you can send out more messages as part of a holiday campaign, for example. Being locked into a plan that's too small for your business is no good either. So as well as being affordable when you're starting out, I also required the services to be able to scale up, either as you grow or because you're doing a shorter-term marketing campaign. 

I tested all sorts of apps that met these criteria, and here are the five best.


Best SMS app for getting started quickly

TextMagic

TextMagic screenshot

Within moments of signing up for TextMagic, I'd already sent my first SMS. Sure, it was just a test message to my own cell phone, but the process was super easy. The Setup Wizard and intuitive interface meant all I had to do was enter the phone number, type my message, and click Send. And bam!, my phone beeped and distracted me from writing this. 

But just because TextMagic makes sending simple messages easy, doesn't mean it's not functional or powerful. You can send messages from TextMagic's number so replies go to the API, web app, or your email, or from your own mobile number so replies go directly to your phone. You can build contact lists by importing an Excel spreadsheet or CSV file, manually entering them in the Contacts tab of the app, saving the number of anyone who texts you, or using a Click to Text form on your website.

In the Scheduled tab, you can schedule messages, for example, to send out a Friday Specials text every week. You can also set up templates in the Templates tab to make it faster to send recurring messages—like appointment confirmations—and automate responses to customer texts. And of course, you can quickly and easily send customers a text from the web or the iOS and Android apps.

You can also connect Text Magic to thousands of organizational tools, scheduling calendars, and other apps through Zapier, so you can do things like follow up on Typeform feedback surveys or automatically post text messages to Slack. 

TextMagic Price: Pay as you go starts at $0.04/text sent; dedicated virtual numbers from $4.00/month.

Best SMS app for easy-to-run marketing campaigns

SimpleTexting

SimpleTexting screenshot

SimpleTexting is the best option if you're looking to run marketing campaigns quickly. Like TextMagic, the user interface is intuitive with everything accessible from the main screen—I didn't even need to view any tutorials to grasp how things worked.

While you can contact customers directly, SimpleTexting is more focused on easy-to-run marketing campaigns where you text the same message to everyone on a list. Go to the Campaigns tab, click New Campaign, give it a name, and you're ready to start marketing to your customers.

To get new prospects on your list, set up a keyword in the Keywords tab. For example, potential customers can text SAUSAGE to 555888 and get put on your Sausage and Hot Dog Deals list. As soon as they join, an autoresponder can immediately text them with a discount code and ask them if they want more information. If they do, it can respond with another text. With SimpleTexting's built-in apps available in the Apps tab, you can also conduct more technical marketing efforts like running surveys, polls, and sweepstakes.

Of course, for any marketing effort, you need analytics. SimpleTexting's Analytics tab offers detailed breakdowns of how your campaigns are going with information like the number of new subscribers, what keyword they're using to join, how many autoresponders have triggered, how many people have unsubscribed, and what responses you've been sent.

SimpleTexting also integrates with Zapier, so you can do things like automatically add people to your Sausage and Hot Dog Deals list from Facebook lead ads or Google Forms.

SimpleTexting Price: From $25/month for 500 credits (enough for 500 texts). Additional credits cost $0.045 on the entry plan; there are higher volume plans if you need to send more texts.

Best SMS app for small, local businesses

Salesmsg

Salesmsg

Salesmsg is a great option for U.S.- or Canada-based small businesses—unfortunately it's not available internationally beyond that.

Salesmsg has the most basic web app of any of the services on this list. There are only four tabs on the sidebar: Conversations, Contacts, Broadcasts, and Triggers. Most of Salesmsg's power comes from how you integrate it with other apps.

As soon as you sign up, you're prompted to create a local number. This is the number that all your texts will appear to come from, and you can assign a separate number for each team member. If you want, you can also enable call forwarding, so if a customer calls your text number, they'll get forwarded to your personal or business phone.

Out of the box, Salesmsg has one-click integration with Outlook and Google Calendar to handle appointments. When a customer makes an appointment by text, just click Book Appointment to add it to your calendar of choice. For more powerful customer management, it integrates with CRM platforms like HubSpot, Pipedrive, and Zoho, so you can use your CRM of choice and have Salesmsg automatically handle the text messaging.

You can also use Salesmsg's triggers to create a webhook that you can use to send specific kinds of messages like appointment reminders. Or you can use Zapier to connect Salesmsg to any service you want, so you can do things like notify customers about Calendly invites or log all the messages you get in a Google Sheet.

Salesmsg Price: From $35/month for 750 text messages and a single phone number. Additional messages are $0.025; additional numbers are $10/month. If you need a higher volume setup, they offer custom solutions.

Best SMS app for non-technical people who want some guidance

EZ Texting

EZ Texting screenshots

As I look at the EZ Texting web app right now, it's offering me help in every corner of the screen. In the top-left, there's a phone number to call; in the bottom-left, it's a pop-up explaining how they've overhauled reports; in the bottom-right, it's the help chat; and in the top-right, it's a bar explaining that text-enabling my business line is included in my plan—do I want to learn more? This is pretty typical. 

EZ Texting doesn't do anything that the other apps don't. You can text your customers as a group or 1-on-1 from the Inbox; you can set up various kinds of marketing campaigns from the Campaigns tab; you can configure a signup keyword in the Keywords & Numbers tab; and you can view those (new and shiny!) reports in the Reporting tab. What makes it stand out, though, is that at every step, EZ Texting makes it very clear what to do. 

As soon as you sign up, you're asked whether you want to use EZ Texting to "Delight Customers," "Market & Engage," or "Simplify Operations," so it can walk you through the right features. Once you've chosen your adventure, you're strongly encouraged and actively guided through sending a test text to yourself. And then, once you're in the app, every time you go to a new tab or feature, you're given instructions on how to use it. If you haven't grown up with computers or just aren't really comfortable with using new apps, it's hard to beat this level of onboarding. And, as the signup emails will keep reminding you, you can always schedule a call with one of their team members if you need more help. 

EZ Texting doesn't oversimplify a complex product, it just makes it very accessible. It's as powerful as any others on this list. You can even use EZ Texting's Zapier integrations to do things like remind people via text about Google Calendar events or create contacts from Eventbrite attendees. 

EZ Texting Price: From $24/month for 200 text messages, one textable number, and one signup keyword

Best SMS app for customization

Twilio

Twilio screenshot

Twilio is a blank canvas. They offer a range of APIs, so companies can build SMS messaging, phone number redirection, and dozens of similar features into their own apps to do whatever they want. Uber, Airbnb, and Netflix are just a few of the companies that use it behind the scenes. 

And while Twilio is mostly aimed at developers, you don't actually need to be one to use it. Instead of building your own apps, you can use services like Zapier, HubSpot, and Zoho CRM to connect to Twilio's API directly, without the need for you to do any coding. For example, by connecting your Twilio account to your Zapier account, you'll be able to send and receive text messages using your email account or collect texts in Slack or a Google Sheets spreadsheet. 

And, if you do want to build your own app or something like it, Twilio also offers a few ways to do it with little or no coding knowledge required. Studio is a drag-and-drop app builder for creating things like SMS surveys and autoresponders. You start with a trigger, like an incoming message or a calendar event. You can then create reply criteria based on what's happened. It's all very intuitive, and the built-in tutorials and project templates make it possible for anyone to get started.

There's also the CodeExchange, which is in beta at the moment. It's a library of code samples for basic features like sending text auto-replies, sending SMS receipts for Stripe payments, and even building a video chat app, that you can quickly add to your Twilio account and then tweak to meet your needs without much coding knowledge. As features go, it's a little beyond most small businesses' needs—but if you really want to cut costs or roll your own app-like setup, it makes it possible. 

When you sign up for Twilio, you're asked whether or not you're a developer. Whichever option you choose, the interface is customized to your needs. If you're not a developer, you get links to all the information you need to connect Twilio to third-party apps or use Studio so you can quickly get started. CodeExchange currently gets pushed with a big banner on the login screen. 

For most use cases, Twilio should work out cheaper than the other services if you're prepared to do the work to get it up and running. You can also simply use it as the text service for your other apps by connecting it to Zapier

Twilio Price: Since Twilio is more of a platform than an app, its pricing is a little different from the others on this list. Text messages start at $0.0075/message sent and received—although there's an additional $0.005/message carrier fee on messages you send. Dedicated phone numbers start at $1/month.

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Harry Guinness picture

Harry Guinness

Harry Guinness is a writer and photographer from Dublin, Ireland. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Lifehacker, the Irish Examiner, and How-To Geek. His photos have been published on hundreds of sites—mostly without his permission.

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