How many times have you heard about those “must-have” business tools that will supposedly make it easier to run your business (and life)? I don’t know about you, but to me it’s getting pretty overwhelming. How are we as entrepreneurs, small business owners, and self-employed professionals supposed to know which tools are really right for us; which programs will really save us time and money, rather than wasting more of it? And how are we supposed to keep up with the constantly changing sea of technology and platforms, given that we need to be spending time working so we can pay the bills?
When I was first starting out online, it took me a long time to figure out that answer for myself. I wished that I just had a list of essential, quality tools and products to start off with instead of spending hours looking at product websites, reading reviews, and going through an extensive process of trial and error. What follows are the fruits of my labor. It’s basically an up-to-date collection of free business tools and services that I’ve come across along the way. The majority of these applications are well-known open-source products (you may already recognize some of them). A few are proprietary products with free “lighter” versions that may be more than enough for many businesses, and if not, they provide budget-friendly upgrades.
- Open Office- Full-featured office suite, compatible with all other major office suites including MS Office.
- Kingsoft Office- A great MS Office alternative; it’s a bit lighter than Open Office, but provides a full suit of apps including word processing, spreadsheets, and Powerpoint-like presentations
- TurboCASH- A powerful fully-featured, multi-user accounting system.
- GnuCash- A personal and small business accounting software
- Wave Accounting- Full-featured online accounting software specifically for small businesses
- Sage Billing Boss- online invoicing specifically geared towards small businesses and freelancers
- Freshbooks- Not free, but I really recommend it. It’s probably one of the best online invoicing services out there.
- Photofiltre- A full-featured image and photo editing program; a good Photoshop alternative
- Paint.NET- A solid image and photo editing program; a good Photoshop alternative
- The GIMP- the GNU Project’s excellent image manipulation program.
- Blender 3D- Richly featured 3D content creation and animation program. Check out the features and gallery section.
Collaboration and Project Management
- OpenProj- an open-source desktop project management application similar to Microsoft Project.
- Teambox- File-sharing, task management
- Freedcamp- Robust project management suite
- Teamlab- Create your own online virtual office
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- SugarCRM- Probably the most well-known, and powerful, CRM open source options. It is better suited to bigger businesses, however.
- Daffodil CRM- Full-featured CRM application
- ConcourseSuite- Formally CentricCRM, it is a “front office application suite to integrate Customer Relationship Management (CRM), web content management and team collaboration capabilities into a single, easy to user web application.”
- vtiger- Easy to use CRM software. Good option for smaller businesses.
- Openbravo POS- Popular Point-of-Sale application designed for a wide range of retail businesses.
- NolaPro POS- A Web-based accounting, inventory, POS, and business management suite.
- MailChimp- Free email marketing service with paid upgrades
- Thunderbird- Open source, cross-platform email and news client developed by Mozilla
- Skype- Free Internet phone calls and webchat
- Google + Hangouts- Part of the Google+ social network, conduct a webchat with up to 10 people. There’s also the option to let others watch without actively joining in.
- Shoeboxed.com- Scan receipts, invoices, and even business cards into usable data for maximizing tax deductions, expense reports, and for savings on bookkeeping. This is a life-saver for business owners struggling to stay on top of their paper clutter. (Note: I’m an affiliate… and a fan)
- SohoOS- Your one-stop-shop for your business management needs. Get an integrated suite of tools for CRM, invoicing, billing, inventory management, marketing and more. I’m truly amazed that this service is free.
Online Backup/Storage/File Sharing
All of these services offer various forms (and amounts) of free online storage, backup, and easy, remote content management (I’m currently using Dropbox):
Free Website Builders
If you want an easy, free website builder and want to be happy with the results when you are finished, then consider the options below:
Other Useful Tools
- CCleaner – A system optimization, privacy, and cleaning tool
- AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition. Anti-virus, anti-spyware program for Windows
- Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware Free 1.51- If you are a Windows user and you’re online, you need this tool
- LastPass- Online password storage
- Toggl - Time tracking
- Audacity - Sound recording and editing
- TeamViewer - Screen sharing and more
- PicPick- A very robust screen capture and image editing program
- Any Video Converter - convert any video format
- FileZilla - FTP management
- Evernote- This service helps you remember all the little bits and pieces of information along the way
If I’ve missed any really handy free tools for business, leave me a comment below.