NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As much as software giants like Microsoft ( MSFT), Google ( GOOG), Intuit ( INTU) and Salesforce.com ( CRM) like to play the role of small-business trailblazer, the fact is, it's the little fella that stirs up most of the dust in cutting-edge small-biz applications.For everything from basic collaboration software to the newest transcription tools, I've found business software from smaller companies, when done right, offer better technology, more targeted products and nice value. You will need to keep your due-diligence hat securely in place: Smaller companies are, well, small. They can disappear overnight. But with a bit of planning and chatting up your vendors -- don't be afraid to walk if they even hint at not being able to service your needs -- even micro firms consisting of just a few people can add to your bottom line. Here are my five favorite low or no-cost small-business apps from small businesses. 1. Expensify, free to start, $5 per submitter per month after three submitters. San Fransisco-based Expensify has a neat trick: an app that automatically sucks expense information out of credit cards, random spending and other online ledgers. It then creates dead-easy reports that can be shared with your bean counters or, better yet, kicked directly into both QuickBook and Freshbooks. And while Expensify is seriously slick, this code often does not know its own strength: expenses flow in real time, so keeping closing dates and accruals straight takes discipline. But, still, live petty-cash reports?! I mean, wooooh. 2. MerchantCircle, free to start, search optimization and other services begin at $5 per month. Can there be any worse job than getting your dumb Web site a decent search ranking? Name, address, contact info for Google, Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo ( YHOO). Please. Enter Mountian View, Calif.-based MerchantCircle. The company provides a one-stop Web shop that helps the big search engines find you. Keyed off your company's phone number, the software offers a series of forms that tag your business and creates a decent-looking Web site. Do a bit of blogging, offer some coupons and -- voila -- you should see your search rank improve. It's pretty impressive.