Free Business Tools For Small Businesses
Running and growing a business can be an expensive enterprise. There are many costs involved, some obvious (like office rental and equipment) others not so much (like insurance and marketing). And even though many of these costs could be relatively small, It’s very easy to get carried away and they’ll eventually start to add up. On top of this, business owners are often involved in every aspect of their business, meaning they’re often the Managing Director, Finance Director and Marketing Director – all on the same day. With this in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of products and services that have helped me run Monologue cost effectively. This list of free business tools should have something for almost everyone.
Online and Social media
Most businesses have some sort of online presence. The internet may have started out as a tool for sharing research data but now it’s so much more. I couldn’t do my work without the internet and chances are you’re the same. From email to e-commerce – the internet has changed the way we do business today.
SurveyMonkey – Online survey software. Free version available for individual use. This is a great tool for running your own online surveys. The design is already there, no coding to worry about – just input your questions, save and send. It couldn’t be easier! And there’s plenty of tips and advice on the site on how to write good questions and best-practice when it comes to surveys. Cost: From Free.
Google Analytics – The industry standard in tracking and reporting website traffic. Due to the complexity of the tool – there is quite a steep learning curve if you’re just starting out. But Google offer plenty of free online courses which will teach you the basics. Cost: Free.
Mailchimp – Email marketing software. Free plan available for individuals. Great option if you want to start an email newsletter for your customers. Cost: From Free.
Siteliner – Online tool that can help you identify broken links, duplicate content and more on your site. Run tests regularly to ensure your site isn’t loosing you any business due to bad usability or performance. Cost: Free
H.A.R.O – H.A.R.O or Help A Reporter Out is a site that connects subject experts with journalists and bloggers. Useful if you have a new product or service to launch and you want some professional write-ups and exposure. Cost: From Free.
followerwonk – Online tool that helps you analyse your Twitter account. Find out more about your followers, compare Twitter accounts and target influencers. Cost: From Free.
Google Alerts – Choose a search term, such as your company name, and Google Alerts will send you an email when a match is found online. A great tool for staying up to date with your own company as well as your competitors or alternatively prospects. Cost: Free.
TweetDeck – Twitter tool for real-time tracking, organising and engagement. A great tool if Twitter is your primary social media channel. Available through the browser or as an app on your PC / Mac. Cost: Free.
AdParlour – Useful platform that allows you to create social media ad mockups with very little effort. Cost: Free.
Tawk.To – Online chat tool that easily integrates with your website for a quick and easy messenger bot that gives potential customers a direct line to you. Easy and quick to implement. Cost: Free.
The productivity category is one of the biggest software categories, with an estimated value of USD 33 Billion in 2018 . Productivity apps are everywhere, from time-tracking to to-do lists. But with so many to choose – how do you pick the right one for you? The list below is in no way exhaustive but it’s a good start. The tools here are easy to use and have helped me in my day-to-day running of my business. Some have even proved useful in my private life too.
Trello – A visual way to manage your projects and organise your home as well as work tasks. Integrates with many other tools and apps, including Google Drive, Slack, Jira and more. Cost: From Free.
Google Drive Office Suite – Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms are online set of productivity tools from Google. Docs is their version of Microsoft Word, Sheets is Excel, Slides is PowerPoint and Forms is a survey tool. All online-only (you can’t download these apps to your computer). Cost: Free.
LastPass – Password manager that stores your passwords in an encrypted environment. Very easy to use and the paid version lets you sync across multiple devices. Cost: From Free.
Regardless of your company’s size, you’ll need to keep on top of your finances. Receipts needs to be recorded, bank statements consolidated and invoices chased. A good accounting software should help you do all of this, and more. The two suggestions below do that. And even if you have a professional accountant helping you out, these tools can help you keep a good overview of your finances without spending too much time on it.
Manager – Full-features accounting software for small business. Features include: general ledger, expense claims, estimates, quotes, invoicing and much more. Free to download and use on your own computer. If you want the cloud version you’ll need to pay. Cost: From Free.
Bullet – Irish online accounting software based in Ireland and tailored to the Irish accounting system. Includes: payroll, invoicing, bank reconciliation, receipt tracking and more. Cost: From Free.
Marketing and branding are integral parts of any business. And most business owners knows how important a good image or illustration can be to establish a company’s brand. However, music is often overlooked. Granted, you can’t see music. But in branded content such as videos, animations and online – music is key. A good soundtrack or audio logo (think McDonald’s “I’m Loving It”) can really help your brand connect to an audience through emotion and brand recall.
Free Music Archive – The Free Music Archive is an online repository of royalty-free music. Licenses varies so check individual tracks before using them in your work. Cost: From Free.
Freesound – Audio snippets, samples, recordings released under Creative Commons licenses that allow their reuse. Licenses varies so check individual tracks before using them in your work. Cost: Free.
Design and Editing tools
Design software can be out of reach for a lot of businesses, especially when they’re starting out. And they often don’t need all the advanced features that comes with applications such as Photoshop or Illustrator. However, learning a new software is time consuming so if that’s not for you there’s something for you too below.
Gimp – Software used to edit and manipulate photos. Cost: From Free.
Inkscape – Software used to edit vector graphics. Cost: From Free.
Crello – If you don’t want to use Gimp or Inkscape, this online design tool lets you create your own designs that can then be downloaded and used from your own computer, without the need for any design software. There are professionally designed templates if you don’t feel comfortable doing the design yourself. Cost: From Free.
Photography and Illustration
Today, your customers are bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands, different images every day. From brands they follow on Instagram to ads that appear in their Facebook feed – images speak to consumers, sometimes better than words could ever hope to do. But hiring a professional photographer or illustrator can be a difficult expense to justify for startups. Luckily – there are plenty of options out there for small pockets. Before you download anything though – be sure to read any terms & conditions and familiarise yourself with the various licenses before using content from the sites.
LifeofPix – A great mix of modern images and videos. High resolution. Cost: Free.
Startupstockphotos – Modern images with a business focus. High resolution. Cost: Free.
CC Search – Free content (photos, illustrations etc.) made available to the public through the Creative Commons license. Cost: Free.
Ireland’s Content Pool – Images and videos of Ireland supported by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. Account is free to create but content is only meant to be used to promote tourism-friendly activity in Ireland. Cost: Free.
Pexels – Great source of photos for professional and personal use. Cost: Free.
Unsplash – Great quality photos free for personal and commercial use. Used by some very big international brands, such as Squarespace, Medium and Trello. Cost: Free.
FreeImages – Great variety of photos but veers towards more ‘traditional’ stock (if that’s a thing). Most photos are free to use for both personal and commercial use but some may have restrictions. Cost: Free.
StockSnap – Free for personal and commercial use. Photos are submitted by various photographers. Cost: Free.
unDraw – Created by the talented Katerina Limpitsouni, unDraw (lower-case ‘u’ and upper-case ‘D’) is a great resource for clean, up-to date vector illustrations that’s perfect for websites, apps and much more. Once downloaded, use a software like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape to edit the illustrations or even animate them. All illustrations are free to use in both personal and commercial projects. We use Katerina’s illustrations on this site. Cost: Free.
Humaans – Is a project by Pablo Stanley, an illustrator from Mexico. His illustrations are free to use for both personal and commercial projects. They’re all vector so you’ll need software such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape to edit it. Cost: Free.
Vectorsland – Is a constantly updated library of free vector illustrations from various sources, collected for your convenience. The site itself doesn’t actually host the illustrations so you’ll be redirected to the actual host site for the download. You’ll need to pay attention here to what the actual license for the illustration is – usually they’re free for personal and commercial use, however, you may be required to provide attribution / credit to the author. Cost: Free.
Brandsoftheworld – Probably one of the world’s largest collection of freely downloadable vector logos. Cost: Free.
Pixelsurplus – An online market place for designers with everything from fonts to illustrations. They also have a pretty generous freebie section. Cost: From Free.
This is just a small selection of what’s available. And I’ve tried to focus on tools that I have some personal experience with and can therefore stand over/behind. As I’m a designer, a lot of these tools are directly related to what I do, which explains why there are so many sites with free images and only two for music! What are your favourite tools? Is it missing from the list? Feel free to comment below.
Attribution – giving credit to the author or artist. Often the license will explain exactly what’s required, ie. A visible note somewhere on the work that gives credit to the creator;
Vector – A type of computer graphics commonly used for illustrations, logo design and more.
Creative Commons – an American non-profit organisation that has released several copyright-licenses, known as Creative Commons licenses, free of charge to the public.