This is a guest post by ResourceNation’s Merrin Muxlow.
There’s been a lot of conversation lately about how “free” is the future of business. Companies across all industries are figuring out ways to make a profit without actually charging for a product. For start-up company owners and new entrepreneurs, this is great news. Who doesn’t like free stuff? Here’s a quick list of some free tools for business owners.
This site is a one-stop shop for free software downloads. Need POS software, an inventory management program, accounting, or scheduling systems? Fileguru probably has it. The site is easy to browse. Each program has a quick summary on what it should be used for, and downloading is simple and fast for most simple software offerings. Most programs are designed open-source style, so free upgrades are available, too.
A simple website builder that allows even the most technologically oblivious entrepreneurs to build a flashy, functional website. The user interface is similar to that on a Mac computer–think drop-and-drag features, intuitive functionality, and simple, clean lines. The basic service, which allows you to build a simple site, is free, a paid, upgraded version is also available.
Okay, so this one you’ve probably already heard of. If you haven’t switched to this free, downloadable browser, you’re missing out: add-ons allow you to do everything from shortening URLs to speeding up browsing to managing alerts and news feeds. Still need convincing? Programs like Xmarks allow you to access bookmarks, unread sites, and other “marked” pages from any mobile device.
Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) is still the gold standard for most big companies, and is the one program that nearly everyone on the planet knows how to use. Licenses (which typically allow for non-simultaneous use on up to three machines) can run into the hundreds of dollars- a price that might be out of reach for many startups. OpenOffice provides an easy, flexible alternative to programs like Google Docs (which earns an honorable mention as a great free product in its own right).
Google is the king of free offerings, and Analytics is often cited as one of the most valuable free tools there is. Using this program, you can track activity on your website (traffic, conversions, visitor behavior) easily and in real-time. The best part is that the information is presented in an easy-to-understand format (think simple graphs and visual aids). You can also use it to track e-commerce website sales, marketing campaign efficacy (even if you don’t use a Google advertising program, like AdWords) and just about any other valuable statistic.
Finding an accounting service, a phone system, a background check service, or any other highly specialized business service vendor can be tough. For example, asking Google for the “top payroll processing providers” can return literally thousands of results to sift through. Resource Nation screens these vendors for you, and returns results based on your specifications (local companies, those that serve smaller businesses, etc.). While you’re looking for a vendor, check out the free guides on everything from setting up a payroll company account to forming a business entity.
This is a great tool for hosting and sharing large files. It’s easy to use, doesn’t require a lengthy signup or registration, and allows you to manage (send, save, catalog) files easily.
Web conferencing for up to 20 people that works seamlessly-for free? That’s what you’ll get using this free service. Dimdim also offers paid versions that are more advanced (Enterprise and Webinar features) in addition to the cost-free service offering.
This invoicing, time-tracking and expense-monitoring program is available for smaller businesses (those with three or fewer clients) for free, offering an upgraded version for companies with lengthier client lists or more advanced billing requirements. FreshBooks software allows you to manage client billing easily without an accountant or bookkeeper, and send professional-looking invoices to clients. The program can also be integrated with PayPal, Microsoft and Mac time tracker programs, and other commonly used programs.
So there you have it… a few tools that are easy to use and easy on your wallet. Any I missed? Please let me know in the comments section, or contact me. A good bargain always deserves to be shared!
Merrin Muxlow is a writer, yoga teacher, and law student based in San Diego, California. Merrin writes extensively for Resource Nation, an online resource that provides expert advice on purchasing and outsourcing decisions for small business owners and entrepreneurs. She frequently contributes to several sites and programs that offer tools for business owners, including Dell, BizEquity, StartUpNation, and bMighty.