I like buying things. Don’t you? It’s fun. If’ you’re like me you know your debit card number by heart. Oh and the expiration date too. Why? As business people we spend money. Lots of it. However if there is something available for free that does what we need wouldn’t you want to know? I thought so. Here are my favorite free small business tools:
Time Keeping and Payroll
Why it’s worth your time: Fantastic timekeeping application that is free for several users, works on iOS devices with front facing camera and allows for individual employee portal. Run reports, export to .pdf and send to your payroll service. Fast, free, easy to setup and a no brainer for an small business with one to fifteen employees.
Why it’s worth your time: Simple and elegant time tracking just doesn’t get any easier than this. Available on your smart phones too it makes tracking time for your self, productivity or billable work and projects a sinch. Beautiful reports show where you’re spending your time and help you conver that to an invoice if needed. Runs on any browser and isn’t intrusive. Even reminds you via email if you forget and leave your timer running! That’s happened to me a couple (<<< often) of times.
Why it’s worth your time: If you run a business of any size you know how hectic these businesses can get. So much activity and so many fires to put out. Surely at the end of the day you’ve said to yourself at least once, “Did I even get anything done today?”. With so much chaos it is hard to put some order to your day and at times it can be a fight to just get the basics done in your business like use the restroom or even eat a snack.
To ensure I get my vital tasks done daily, okay MOST of my vital tasks, I rely on a constantly-evolving time management worksheet (free for you to download!) that helps me see clearly and quickly what tasks need to be done, organize them as a priority in my head and check them off when I’m done. This helps when I get interrupted so I can get right back to focusing and make sure if nothing else happens in a day at least my daily tasks are mostly done and I have a little peace of mind each evening when I crawl home exhausted from the mayhem.
Cloud File Storage
Why it’s worth your time: Fast simple access to any file you can store on your computer. Safe from computer failure. Available anywhere you can get mobile access via iPhone or Andriod app or web browser. Auto-syncs via desktop application to a normal folder. Have your files EVERYWHERE!
Why it’s worth your time: Integrates seamlessly with all your other Google stuff like email, calendar and more. Enable document sharing on a per document, per folder basis. Simultaneously allows editing by multiple people. Sharing is lighting quick. All stored in the cloud so safe from computer problems. Access via mobile apps, smart phones, tablets and web browser so you can work anywhere.
Video Meeting Tools / Webinar Tools
Why it’s worth your time: Just about the fastest way to get a face to face meeting going with one or as many people as you can stuff on a call! This service is free, but there are premium services that offer sign up management, reminders, recording and even follow up marketing. All around another great service by Google that works on smart phones, tablets and browsers.
Why it’s worth your time: The original VOIP phone provider that brought free long distance and international calls to the masses and then free video calls as an encore. Still the standard in free VOIP and cheap international calling Skype is pretty much a household name around the world. Whether you’re calling your employee in the other room, scheduling a conference all with freelancers around the country or a video call with a contrator in Dubai you’ll likely be using Skype. I use it to talk with all my contractors from places like oDesk.com and eLance.com. Not to mention family and friends!
Task Management / Project Management
Why it’s worth your time: Asana will tell you they are a replacement for using email for task management. I’d like to say they are way beyond that. If you’re not keeping all your projects, to dos, deadlines and routines in front of you daily then you’re forgetting things often and wasting a lot of time. Asana is a no brainer task manager that goes way beyond a reminder service like your iPhone or Andriod has. Start a project, build out tasks and workflows, assign to team members or freelancers, follow projects, discuss them on a task by task level and get notified when things change or are completed. Integrates with your iOS and Andriod devices seamlessly. I couldn’t build the teams I do without Asana. We’d all be lost!
Why it’s worth your time: Okay so this isn’t free. It’s $17. So let me share why if you’re going to step up to Asana, which is free, then you’d be dumb not to spend the $17 on this guide. Asana is simple, but robust. The 70 page Asana guide will ensure you don’t fart around with learning how to set everything thing up, get the project settings correct, add your team members, learn how to add tasks, assign people and deadlines etc. I thought if it waste just 30 minutes less getting this working right then the $17 is well spent. I’d say it saved me a whole lot more than 30 minutes. Plus they provide lifetime updates at no charge.
Direct Mail Marketing
Why it’s worth your time: Finally the USPS, notorious for “snail mail”, came up with a few genius products and solutions that meet a REAL business need. One of which many local businesses (any business really) desperately needed was a cost effective method of direct marketing to prospects without the headaches of buying a list, cleaning the list and mailing to the list, recleaning the list etc. EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) solves that problem when all you need to do is target an area and choose between Residential, Businesses or both. The online tool makes doing your research, selecting routes and getting your paperwork straight a breeze. Almost creepy good… for the Postal Service anyway.
Why it’s worth your time: There are a few reasons Google Voice would be worth your time.
- Perhaps you don’t like giving out your cell phone number so people can’t call you at any hour (or text message) so a Google Voice number can be used instead and it can ring your cell phone. This allows you to screen calls and only pickup if it’s an important call. Also text messages received to your Google Voice account will be forwarded to your cell phone.
- This also keeps you form publishing your cell phone online.
- It’s a free service so you’ll never lose the number.
- If you have several phones and you want them all to ring at the same time you can set Google Voice to do that too. Smart phone app allows access and calling out using your Google Voice number masking your personal number. Also you can call straight from a web browser.
- All domestic calls are free. International rates are very affordable.
- If you change your number or ever want to route business calls elsewhere you can just update your account and you’re done. No worrying about updating business cards, websites etc. Life saver!
If Google Voice is too simple for your needs (my business is small but too big for Google Voice), then check out some Google Voice alternatives here.
Why it’s worth your time: If you’re frequently in contact with people around the globe then Skype has it nailed. Being nearly a household name in developed countries you can connect with anyone no matter the time zone. I use it for contractors I hire around the world as well as domestic when video calling is appropriate. Simple to setup, free to use and works on nearly every smart device like phones, tablets and more.
Market Research / Customer & Employee Feedback
Why it’s worth your time: SurveyGizmo is a powerful survey tool for those times when fresh or real time data is helpful. What’s crazy is it just WORKS! This type of thing can go horribly wrong, but SurveyGizmo has refined this process so well that something so complex is straightforward to execute at a high level. More importantly it helps you get the information you need with loads of question types, keep the information organized in a single place and understand what the information is telling you through advanced visual reports.
We’ve used it to survey teams to understand policy adoption, goal setting and perception of leadership. We also use it to survey random groups of people to understand what services/products they use, what they wish was available and how they perceive our products/services/business. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s even kind of fun!
Social Media Marketing / Management
Why it’s worth your time: Basically if it weren’t for Hootsuite I wouldn’t give social media the time of day. Perhaps you’ve asked the same question I have. “What is the point of Social Media? What a waste of time!” Right? Who could possibly keep up with all those feeds, walls, messages and turn it into a profitable venture? You can’t. Teeneagers maybe, but not the average business person. At least not on your own. It’s just too much to manage with hard to measure ROI.
Enter Hootsuite. It’s a single dashboard for dozens of social media accounts. It’s like seeing all of your KPI in a single place. Not only is all the information in one place, which makes it easy for even a busy professional to manage, it takes it one step further. One giant step! It allows you to schedule posting to every network you manage. Why is this critical?
Put simply you can sit down (or better yet delegate) and prepare and schedule an entire week (or more!) of posts to drip automatically from a single place with a single interface. So it’s almost like you’re always tweeting or posting on all your networks, but you get that done and off your list for a week or more in under an hour. This helps your content go farther, last longer and get more exposure. In fact it can add untold value to existing content you’ve already published by getting it in front of people more instead of collecting dust in the archives.
A few more awesome features are the ability to interact with your followers all from one place. Imagine the hours you’ll save not logging into all those different sites, reading each one and moving to the next? Add those hours to the piggy bank!
Why it’s worth your time: So before BuzzBundle came into my life I thought I was limited to publishing my content to, interacting with and getting content feedback or ideas from my existing social networks and followers. This is challenging, but what else can you do? That’s just how social media works!
However you and I know there a millions of people out there using social media like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and lots more channels who are NOT in your network, but are discussing a topic which you happen to know a thing or two about. Now if only you could just find those people and join that conversation right? Are you ready for this? BuzzBundle!
It’s a search engine for social networks. Well that’s putting is simply. It’s a full blown social media promotion software that enables you to scour the web constantly for people talking about things you want to talk about, learn about or get a word in on. This is brilliant as you’ll never find this stuff on Google and if you did, then what? What a mess that would be registering for all those accounts, managing the user accounts and doing this day in and day out. Never going to work.
Save a headache. Just buy premium to begin with: BuzzBundle has a free version which works okay at first showing you about 70% of what it finds (blurs out the rest), then after trial period ends it still works, but shows 30% of what it finds. Don’t get me wrong it’s better than nothing, but once you see what you’re missing you’ll see why skipping the tease is just good sense. If you’re diehard FREE here then go ahead and use the free version until you see what I’m saying about how annoying it is to finally find that ONE conversation on the interweb you want to join and you can’t because the software is blocking you.
It sounds like a small nuisance, but you’re just wasting time you can’t get back since you won’t have time again tomorrow to go back and look for those conversations again as there are new ones found and you want to jump on those instead. Point is this software is available for free, so you have no excuse not to use it, but I’d like to just say right now if you use it for free, get annoyed because after all that effort it’s blocking conversations you want to join, then I told you so!
Whether you go free or go Premium, get BuzzBundle and start looking for conversations to join and promote your content, ideas, thoughts or just be a plain nuisance.
Payment / Invoicing Services
Why it’s worth your time: If cash isn’t how you prefer to be paid then electronic payments are likely your bread and butter. It can be complicated to get all the hardware, software, training and more to manage electronic payments. Paypal removes all that complexity and all the inherent risks, learning curves and upfront costs. Send and receive money to and from anyone with an email address. Simple as that. Paypal is now offers payments on mobile devices so you can take payments just about anywhere. Priceless AND free!
Why it’s worth your time: If you’re a visual person you’ll love Coggle. If you’re still using a napkin or the back of your business card to map out processes, draw systems or doodle up concepts then it’s time to upgrade. It’simple, robust, beautiful and free. We love it for mapping out work flows, projects, training, job descriptions, website structure and so much more. We’ve mapped entire company structures by Division, Department, Job Title and Training/Skills needed. Wow that was a project, but it was so easy for anyone to understand when visually presented.
Social Networks for Business
Why it’s worth your time: Communication continues to evolve in the work place and SMS (short messages) and Feed style (think Facebook) is becoming the standard for getting things done quickly and with a team. No company however would want such sensitive information on a public social network.
Yammer is a closed group social network for your enterprise. Fully managed. Whether you have 2 people or 2,000 you can keep everyone connected and manage users for your company. Only those with a company email can join the group. Sort users out into sub groups so they can connect with each other more effectively. Publish polls, videos, documents and shore other files right in the software. Works on any web browser and available mobile apps for tablets and smart phones. Excellent for fast paced work environments especially with millennials as they take to this type of software like a duck to water. In fact not having one will likely hold back such a demographic from working at their fullest potential.
We get enough value out of Yammer to pay nearly what we pay for phones, but it’s free and worth every penny. Premium accounts are available and do provide important features for growing companies like more advanced administration.
Remote Access Software
Why it’s worth your time: If you are like me you don’t just use a single computer every day. You’re on the go. Laptop. Phone. Tablet. Desktop. You use them all. Perhaps you also have staff using a variety of terminals. There are just times when you need to get to that device from the one you’re on without being there physically.
Whether you’re 3,000 miles away and need that file that’s on your office desktop or you’re bookkeeper needs to remote in and do some work on your accounting software you need a secure and simple remote access software. We’ve been using TeamViewer for over 5 years and couldn’t go a day without it. Our bookkeeper uses it, our tech support uses it, I use it from my iPhone in the mornings to check on things at the office from wherever I am that day.
We need to be fair here and say that while it is free don’t be greedy if you plan to use it in your business to make money. Pay them their fair due as their product is valuable. So try it for free, but pay for a license when you’ve established it’s value for your needs.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software
Why it’s worth your time: If your sales cycle is anything beyond a vending machine and relationships are valuable to your business model then you need a way to manage them, organize them, understand them and take action on them. Sorry if that’s basic know-how, but it’s there in case someone reading this is still using a Rolodex or a spreadsheet to keep track of customers. ZohoCRM is simple enough a one person home business can use it or a 2,000 member enterprise can go gung ho with it too. Likely you’re a small business if you’re reading this so let’s take it from your perspective.
ZohoCRM bullet points
- Track, manage and move leads into your sales funnel.
- Manage, organize and keep in contact with your clients
- Manage your sales pipeline by tracking potential business both open and closed whether won or lost.
- Understand and visualize all of that data via reports.
- Customers are always with you via mobile apps for your smart phone
- Quickbooks integration (desktop and online) eliminating double entry and keeping data current
- Virtual pbx phone system integration so call recordings and notes are at hand for each customer
Free Email Services
Why it’s worth it: Have you ever wanted to schedule an email to send at a particular time (like you have time to write the email at 1:00am but don’t want to send it until business hours)? Well, now you can! Boomerang for Gmail allows you to schedule your messages, schedule recurring messages, track link clicks in your message, let you know when the recipient has read your email, and you can also send yourself follow-up reminders. The free plan gives you 10 message credits a month to use how you wish, but if you exceed that the personal plan for unlimited credits is only $4.99/month.
WiseStamp is a source of free professional email signature templates. If you are like me, you send many emails in any given day. Don’t miss and opportunity to brand yourself, encourage others to connect with you, and spread your marketing message! With WiseStamp there are many free templates to pick from and it integrates seamlessly with Gmail. You can include a picture or logo, name, title, company name, contact information and social profiles. The templates are quite sexy if I do say so myself. For the paid version, there are a number of additional options such as webinar promotion, most recent blog post, a disclaimer, and more.
Who wants to print documents to sign and then scan them back into the computer to email? Not me! Say hello to HelloSign. HelloSign gives you a fast, secure and legally binding way to sign electronically. It works seamlessly with Gmail, Docs and Drive. With the free account, you get up to 5 free signings a month.