Free is Good

free

by Dylan Ebbers

Remember this commercial?

 

The video may be archaic in 2012, but those government-funded business options are still prevalent in the world of start-ups. The problem is, as we know today:

1. You’re using “money from heaven” to fund your financial gamble…when you’ll have to pay it all back like any other loan.
2. You may not have any knowledge or training on how to use that money wisely.
3. You’re doing all of the above in a down economy.

No matter where you get your money, #2 is key when structuring your business. Too many first-time entrepreneurs spend their money on what they deem important, rather than what is necessary. Those decisions can then translate to other business decisions, and the cost adds up. The last thing you want to do is be strapped for cash, or have to ask for more.

Technology is one of the areas where a new business owner’s assumptions can turn into a long-term, deficit-induced headache. The internet is full of free programs, applications and tools, without, in reference to this article, having to pirate or steal it, as many people construe the word “free software” to be. Below you will find a list of “freeware” created to help you be a better business owner.

Writing, Editing & Presenting

OpenOffice

You may be thinking about buying the newest Microsoft Office Suite, but sometimes the price tag is too high after buying licenses for more than one or two computers. OpenOffice has similar programs to Microsoft Office and has a lot of the same features. For example, the “Writer” program is a pure word-processing platform (like MS Word); the “Calc” program is for sorting out numbers, financial data, and graphs through spreadsheets (like MS Excel); “Impress” is a program designed for presentations or visual aids (like Powerpoint)’ and there is also database and drawing programs. All of these files are compatible with Microsoft Office.

The only thing OpenOffice doesn’t come with is an email client, but there is an answer for that (see “Thunderbird”).

Download OpenOffice Here

Google Docs

By far one of the coolest freeware platforms out there. Not only does Google Docs let you word-process, manage spreadsheets, draw organizational charts, create and display presentations, and create embeddable HTML forms for free, but you can collaborate with others without having to email back and forth. By color coding users, Google Docs allows multiple users to create/edit any of the materials in real-time. So while you write the intro on that proposal, you’re  able to watch your teammate write the conclusion. After you finish your masterpiece, share it with an editor or a client by sending them an invite to view your work through Google Docs.

If that isn’t enough, you’re also able to upload files from your desktop (like a Cloud, but editable), and access your docs from your smartphone.

Create Your Google Docs Account Here

Email Management

Thunderbird

Similar to Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird packs an all-in-one email client to serve all of the email accounts you manage. Send and receive emails from your computer (and save them so you can work offline), create and sort your own address book, and add multiple email accounts, and do it all securely through their protection options like the phishing and junk filters.

Download Thunderbird Here

Mail Chimp

If you would like to incorporate an email newsletter into your marketing budget but don’t want to spend the money on Constant Contact, MailChimp allows you to send extremely customizable newsletters to up to 2,000 contacts for free. The free users are allotted 12,000 emails per month, so new businesses shouldn’t have to pay for email blasting until their network grows exponentially over time.

Sign Up for MailChimp “Forever Free” Here

Virus Protection and Web Security

AVG-Free

Many business owners fall into the trap of buying virus protection software with annual licensing costs. While these paid programs work, they were more of a household item in the earlier days of home & business computing…there are alternatives now. Anyone who has paid for virus protection knows that the programs like to update on a schedule of what seems like every five minutes. The updating process severely lowers your available memory (RAM), so anything you try to do during that time will take  f  o  r  e  v  e  r  to load or finish.

Avg-Free is a very popular web security alternative in the technology-minded crowd. For business, it has more practicality with one to three computers. Once you move on from the start-up stage and gain more staff, you should see an IT consultant about your options (more staff = more technology = more ways for someone to screw up).

Download AVG-Free Here

Bookkeeping, Accounting & Financial Monitoring

GnuCash

The web favorite. GnuCash is an open-source accounting program that is specifically designed for small businesses. Designed to be easy to use, yet powerful and flexible, GnuCash allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses, and can be used on any operating system. As quick and intuitive to use as a checkbook register, it is based on professional accounting principles to ensure balanced books and accurate reports. Click here for a list of all the features.

Download GnuCash Here

Express Accounts Free

On the other side of being more efficient is how you manage your funds, payments and invoices. Quickbooks usually takes the cake, but wait until your business grows to make the monthly investment. Express Accounts is free for small businesses without a laundry list of clients. Track incoming sales, accounts payable and accounts receivables; compile more than 20 reports including balance sheets, income statements and reconciling reports to reconcile account transactions with your bank account statements; create and print checks; and generate quotes, sales orders and invoices.

Download Express Accounts Here
(hint: read the comments to figure out how to make it free)

Mint.com

If you’re the employer and the sole employee, Mint is a great tool to manage what money you have coming in and what needs to go out. You can set financial goals (i.e. “Increase Sales by 300%”) and automatically track them, manage budgets for any category you can think of, and track payments on your loans. Think of it as online banking but with all of your accounts rolled into one dashboard.

Get Started by Creating an Account Here

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Highrise

The web-based, fairly fancy-interfaced Highrise is a CRM program that stays free until you have over 250 contacts. If you’re literally starting your business from scratch, this is the program for you. From the website:

  • Save and organize notes and email conversations for up to 30,000 customers and contacts.
  • Keep track of proposals and deals. Share status with your company, department, or team.
  • Never forget to follow-up. Get a text message or email so you never forget to make the call.
  • Over 60 feature add-ons

Sign Up for Highrise Here

The Rest

Many other people have evaluated the very best of freeware for business. Check JHoodSoft and CBS. If you’ve got a free program that you like to use, feel free to leave it in the comments box.

UPDATE 4/4/2012: Here are some additions:

  • WordPress Blogs & Websites: a very inexpensive way to make a professional looking, “uptadateable” (content managed) website. Takes a lot of tinkering and learning, but worth it.
  • Social Media: Always Free. Twitter, Facebook Pages, Google+, Yelp Reviews…there are too many to list. Linkedin is perfect for connecting with possible business partners.
  • Survey Monkey and/or Survey Gizmo. These services can be used as the modern day comment cards.
  • Free Storage: Check out this list of the best cloud-based storage.

Disclaimer: While we have mentioned many programs, we are in no way promoting the use or neglect of said programs, or their respective company names, in this article. Use of mentioned programs is entirely up to the reader.

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Dylan Ebbers is Manager of Business Development for Black Ink Assets, a business consulting company providing organizational assessment and performance enhancement services, business growth and sustainability implementation strategies, development of social media campaigns to promote and protect corporate reputations, and formation of exit strategies and corporate transition plans.

3 Comments on "Free is Good"

  1. Starting up using free tools isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a good start, and it’s less risky. Pessimistic question incoming: what if you purchase software and suddenly everything in your business goes downhill? That’s one of the advantages of using free software at first. Even those people who are thinking of running one of those businesses that resell SEO services are looking for free tools, and there are some of them that end up being really successful. Nothing hurts in trying out the free stuff. At least you can get to experiment on them before actually buying the high-end software.

    • BizWiz says:

      Thanks for your input, Gerald. It definitely is useful at first, and we agree that using these free programs is an experimentation for the business owner, since they may not be familiar with the back-end of business. Once they get their handle on business, AND once they start making enough money to afford a monthly program, some of those paid programs might be the more efficient option.

      – Dylan

  2. Patrick Thomson says:

    good stuff, Dylan! Well done!

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