Don’t have a lot of funds to start your business or to keep it running? Bootstrapping can be a viable option for you; you’ve simply got to utilize the right tools. Check out our list of the top online tools for small businesses and entrepreneurs that can help get you running and competing with the big guys and won’t cost you a single dime.
Accounting & Expense Reports
Expensify is a simple, easy tool that imports and keeps track of expenses and receipts. You’ll be able to create and submit paperless expense reports, as well as export them to your QuickBooks account. It’s free for up to two unique users to submit expense reports to you for approval and reimbursement. Each additional user costs $5/month to submit reports. The coolest thing? You can scan and import receipts from your iPhone or Blackberry.
eFax Free Plan
eFax offers a free plan that allows you to receive 20 incoming faxes per month indefinitely. You’ll get one remote (i.e. non-local) fax number for free, as well as an account on eFax.com to view and manage your faxes. However, you don’t have the ability to send faxes. If you want send capability or exceed more than 20 incoming faxes per month, you’ll be prompted to upgrade to a paying account.
MailChimp’s Forever Free Plan lets you send up to 12,000 emails to 2000 subscribers per month (i.e. you can email your list up to six times per month). You have access to the same features that come with paid accounts, but you won’t be able to remove MailChimp’s logo from your emails without upgrading to a paid account. The best part about their free plan is that you aren’t required to provide your credit card number and you are free to cancel or upgrade at your convenience.
Lovely Charts is so good, we can’t believe it’s free. It’s a great tool for brainstorming and diagramming just about anything. You can use their simple interface to create flowcharts, sitemaps, wireframes, network diagrams, and more. Use it to help you build processes or create manuals/guides for employees. Use it to map out the look of your business website. Create training documents. Create wireframes (i.e. rough sketches) to send to web and graphic designers. There’s an endless list of possibilities.
Online Office Tools
Microsoft Office is a great software product. It’s the gold standard. The only downside is that it costs quite a bit. Now, there’s an online spreadsheet tool that rivals Microsoft Excel and can be shared with as many people as you like. EditGrid lets multiple people work on the same spreadsheets simultaneously. It also auto-saves and live-updates, so that you can view changes as they happen. If you want a desktop copy of your spreadsheets, just export them as an Excel document or Google doc. As great as this product is, EditGrid doesn’t offer customer support at this time, so you’ll have to be patient with technical issues. But the product is still worth a lot more than you paid.
Another rival to the Microsoft Office Suite is Zoho, which has come out with an integrated series of FREE productivity and collaboration apps, as well as business apps. These apps include word documents (Zoho Writer), spreadsheets (Zoho Sheet), document management (Zoho docs), online organizer (Zoho Planner), and an online presentation tool (Zoho Show). The business apps also include CRM (Zoho CRM), project management software (Zoho Projects), online invoicing (Zoho Invoice) and many more free applications.
Evernote is a great way to keep track of all your notes-2-self. You’ll be able to save ideas, things you see, like and come across all in one place. It’s great for the busy entrepreneur with a lot of ideas bouncing around in his or her head. You’ll be able to take snapshots of business cards, plan tickets, receipts, meeting notes, memos and to-do lists. And you can easily save business as well as personal things you’d like to remember to help you balance your business and personal lives.
ManyMoon is one of the few free project management tools on the web. It allows you to direct workflow and productivity by assigning tasks and creating projects and milestones. ManyMoon integrates with your Google Calendar, Contacts and Docs, which is convenient for all you Google users. True, there are other project management tools out there, such as Basecamp, that are more well-known. But ManyMoon provides you with the basics you need.
LastPass is a life-saver. Are you worried about managing all your online business account passwords and login information? Use LastPass to create a secure vault for all of your account logins. Use it to auto-fill forms or auto-login to websites with your secure master password. LastPass can also generate secure passwords for you, so you’ll never have to worry about anyone hacking into your business accounts.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP)
Skype Business Products
If you haven’t heard of Skype, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Skype lets you call people using your Internet connection, which means that you won’t have to pay an additional fee for a phone service. You can also video conference employees and co-workers to keep the lines of communication open and the flow of information running smoothly. You can download Skype for Windows, Mac OS X or Linux for free.
QuickBooks Online ($12.95/month)
For just $12.95 a month, you can get QuickBooks Online Simple Start plan, which allows one user (plus your accountant) to manage unlimited customers, create and send invoices, track payments and generate up to 40 expense reports. The advantage of the online version to the desktop version is that you can access and work on your account and reports from any computer.
Domain Names, Web Hosting & Website Builder
For $4.95/month, you can get three years of web hosting space for your business website (single domain). It’s $5.95 for a 2-year plan and $6.95 for a 1-year plan. You can also pay month-to-month for $8.95. We at ChooseWhat have personally used HostGator and are impressed with their exceptional customer support and service offering. HostGator gives you a 45 day money back guarantee, a 99.9% uptime guarantee and a customer satisfaction guarantee.
1&1 is a great website builder service that lets you create a professional-looking business website in a short amount of time. 1&1’s MyBusiness Site Basic is only $9.99/month and gives you unlimited pages, a free domain name and the ability to customize your website pages by adding Flash, YouTube videos, photo galleries and more. It’s super easy to use, and they offer 24/7 website support.
Project2Manage has a free version, but it only allows you one project. They’ve got a Recession Buster plan for only $3.95/month, which lets you create up to 12 projects for unlimited clients and staff members. However, it doesn’t allow time tracking. To get time-tracking, you’ll have to upgrade to the Silver plan, which also gives you 25 projects, unlimited clients and staff members and 500 MB of storage space. Their project management interface is simple and really easy to use.
IDrive is the best $5 you ever spent. Like LastPass, IDrive is another life-saver. You should ALWAYS back up your files. Storing files locally is fine, but you never know when disaster might strike. What if a fire, hurricane or other natural disaster ravages your building and destroyers your server and external drives? What if you’re the victim of theft? Guard against these threats by protecting the core of your business with remote backups and storage. There are several online backup services on the market, but IDrive is our top choice. They give you robust desktop and server backups, file-sharing and real-time sync, designed for multiple users. And they’ve got an iPhone app!