Did you know that you can get anything from customer websites to business plans without having to dish out a single penny? These days, with the contribution of so many programmers, techies and just plain generous Internet users, there are more valuable open source tools and applications available to us than ever before.
By ‘open source’ I’m referring to software applications whose original programming source code has been made freely available to anyone who wants to redistribute or modify the program or application.
The result is: totally rockin’ software applications that anyone can use for absolutely no cost whatsoever. This is stuff that I used to shell out hundreds of dollars for, and in many cases they function better than those old programs anyway.
There are literally thousands of these apps online for the taking, but I have wheedled out twelve of them that I think are worthy contributions to anyone trying to keep expenses to a minimum while starting or operating a business.
1. Open Office
Apache OpenOffice is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.
Score is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and helping entrepreneurs with over 13,000 volunteers and 370 offices around the US. SCORE also has a section on its website with free templates and tools. This treasure trove includes business plan forms, financial templates, contract samples/templates and more. You can even ask a question to a local volunteer mentor right through the website.
Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring your photos, documents and videos anywhere and easily share them. Store and sync files and documents on different devices and computers. No more hunting and searching for stuff on the cell phone, laptop, desktop or tablet. Plop your training materials into Dropbox and now you can access it anywhere. Same goes for important contracts. What a total time saver.
4. Design a Website: Weebly
Weebly is an easy-to-use online tool lets you pick a website template from about 150 choices and add photos and text using drag-and-drop tools. You can also add a full e-commerce portal, photo galleries, and slide shows, and register your domain right on Weebly.com. The result? A polished, professional site that’s up and running in a day, if not hours. Cost: Free for a basic site, then starting at $3 a month for a custom URL and advanced features.
If you’re like me, you diligently strive to “be safe” and use different passwords on different sites across the internet. However, the downside to this “safe behavior” is that I can never remember any of my darn passwords. I would spend hours each week hitting “Forgot your password?”, waiting for my new password, getting re-authenticated, only to do the whole rigamarole over again the next week. Dashlane to the rescue. With one master password, Dashlane covers you across the internet undefined airline frequent flyer numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, addresses, pin codes. Never forget an online password again. Brilliant.
We all know how important it is to put our best foot forward when communicating with existing or potential customers. PaperRater offers a free in-depth online grammar and spelling check. Just cut and paste your letter, email or other communication into the checker and PaperRater allows you to find those pesky mistakes and correct them before sending out important correspondence.
ZOHO offers free productivity, collaboration and business applications. A centralized collection of tons of free spreadsheets, presentation tools, management software and much, much more. There is even a new section of apps for your small business needs. Everything you could possibly need for operating a more productive business.
8. Wave Accounting
Wave Accounting is a completely free app that helps you manage your business finances from any place you can get online. For an entrepreneur or freelancer, it also allows you to separate and track your personal finances, too, so you can handle all of your financial management from one location. You’ll find invoices, expense tracking, reports, and more. It has its limits, of course. It doesn’t track timesheets and some of the other features you’ll find in a paid app, but for those getting started or with a small business, it might be the perfect choice for you.
9. Jax Works
JaxWorks has hundreds of Excel spreadsheets available on their site for downloading at no cost to you. These free offerings cover a number of financial, accounting and sales functions at all skill levels. Browse the selections and save any number of these for future reference. The free downloads are available for Windows Excel, Apple Macintosh Excel and Apple iWorks Numbers.
Use this free business forms download service available on Entrepreneur.com. Save yourself time and expense by using these free business form templates and documents available in Microsoft Word, Excel or Adobe pdf. Categories include accounting, credit and collections, insurance, inventory, human resources, leasing, marketing, management, sales, shipping and starting your own small business. No more creating documents from scratch!
These days I can’t imagine building a business without LinkedIn. I had a LinkedIn profile for years before I realized what an incredibly valuable networking tool it was. It’s free, and if you’re consistent about inviting and networking with new connections, within no time at all you will have access to a truly diverse network of people. I am still surprised by how many people do not have a LinkedIn profile. If you want to be taken seriously in your business, you need to set one up.
12. Small Business Administration (SBA)
The SBA offers several free tools and resources, including online training webinars and videos for everything from how to write a business plan to how to qualify for government contracts. Apply for loans, grants and government contracts.
So there you have it – enough loot to make you feel like you’ve discovered buried treasure. “But wait…” you may ask, “What about the Mack Daddy of them all – Google?”
Excellent question. Google still offers one of the best collections of business tools around. A veritable Swiss Army Knife for the digital age Google is a startup’s best friend. Google hooks you up with a toolbox in and of itself between Drive, Documents,
Spreadsheets, Hangouts, Search, Chat, Calendar and (of course) Gmail. A decade ago, this suite would cost a small business hundreds if not thousands of dollars. As of 12/6/12 it’s no longer free, but it’s still a great value at $5/month, and it rocks.
You can store, share, and collaborate on documents using Google Drive, a cloud-based system accessible on the Web and a variety of mobile devices, including the iPad, iPhone, and Android phones and tablets. And if you’re still paying for email, you probably shouldn’t be on the internet, but if you have a business, your email address needs to end with @YOURDOMAIN.com. Using Gmail, Yahoo, or other services can look unprofessional and hurt your credibility. Google Apps solves all of that.
Those are my top picks, but if you spend a little time poking around I’m sure you’ll come up with some other free gems.