38 free online tools for small businessesSmall Business Advice 23 April 2019
Got big plans for your small business in 2019, but on a tight budget? If so, you might be interested in this list of 38 useful free online tools and resources for your business.
We’ve tried to restrict the list to tools which are genuinely free and not on free trial for a limited time.
They’re broken down into different sections, from accountancy to website. That way you don’t have to plough your way through them all, but can easily choose a new free tool that really interests you.
You don’t need to invest huge sums on accounting software, or learn something fiendishly complicated these days. Most programmes are easy to work out and easy to use on a daily basis.
Here are the leading free accounting software packages available for small business from A to Z.
- Adminsoft Accounts
Unlike much freeware, UK-based AdminSoft Accounts is not only free of charge, but doesn’t come with any adverts or bundled software. No wonder more than 300,000 people have taken advantage of this comprehensive money-management toolkit for small businesses.
It’s a full double entry accounting system, complete with Accounts Receivable (Sales Ledger), Accounts Payable (Purchase Ledger), General Ledger (Nominal Ledger), Stock Control/Inventory, Purchase Order Processing, Invoice software, HR, and even payroll software. It’s also multi-user, multi-company, and multi-currency.
In addition, it contains special modules (also free) for retail, cafe, and restaurant trade, and for point-of-sale and workshop operations in the autotrade.
Download here: https://www.adminsoftware.biz/
GnuCash is a free, open-source accounting software package designed specifically for individuals and small businesses.
It handles everything from accounts payable and receivable, invoicing and credit notes, employee expenses and even some payroll features too. It can deal with multiple currencies, cards and accounts.
Download here: https://www.gnucash.org/, or see Amazon.
- Money Manager Ex
Money Manager Ex is a free, open-source, personal finance software package. It’s packed with features, but is really easy-to-understand and use. That’s why it’s a good choice for sole traders and your personal finances.
It’s a portable app, so you can use it straight from a USB stick without having to install it. There’s an Android app for updating your accounts when you’re on the move. And it’s free. Amazing.
Download here: http://www.moneymanagerex.org/ or see Amazon.
- NCH Express Invoice
If you have fewer than five members of staff, you can have NCH Express Invoice free, without time limits or other restrictions.
NCH Express Invoice generates forms, invoices, quotes and orders in moments. It can automatically generate recurring ones and send them by email or fax.
Download here: https://www.nchsoftware.com/accounting/index.html
Wave is a free cloud-based accounting service that works well for sole traders, freelancers and small businesses. Medium-sized firms will find its functionality a bit basic.
The service has more than two million users and is free for accounting, invoicing and receipts. Payroll isn’t included in the free service and neither is personal technical support – you have to pay for both. Like many free online services, you get the occasional targeted advert.
See it online: https://www.waveapps.com/pricing
ZipBooks promises to make accounting easy for non-accountants.
The Starter tier is free and provides unlimited invoices to an unlimited number of customers. This makes it a lot less restrictive than some other free accounting offerings. It can also be used for unlimited bookkeeping, and can process credit cards payments.
If you need more features in the future, other packages are available, but they’re not free.
Download here: https://zipbooks.com/pricing/
Advertising and PR
Getting the word out about your business doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are a few free places to start expanding your brand’s digital visibility.
- Google My Business
The world’s most used search engine offers businesses a free profile to help you connect with your customers.
Use Google My Business to post opening hours, location, and pricing information, and share pictures and even a virtual tour—all of which will then show up for your audience in Google’s search results. There’s a bonus too – a full profile can also help your website’s overall SEO ranking.
No, not those thick yellow books gathering dust in the foyer. Yell.com is a great free way to help your audience find you online, as well as invite and respond to reviews about your product or service.
- Help a Reporter Out (HARO)
Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a free application that allows bloggers to link up with journalists to deliver newsworthy content. You simply join the 800,000 + HARO users already using their service to connect with journalists. Registering is simple and only takes a minute.
Check your inbox three times a day on weekdays and look out for journalists’ requests for information relevant to your industry, or your expertise or personal experience.
If a journalist asks for information in your industry, you then get in touch with a biography and your contact information. If they’re interested, they’ll reach out!
Millions of people look at Yelp for everything from car dealerships to restaurants. Join the community and start telling your story your way. If you’re not on Yelp, your customers might be talking about you there.
So, It makes sense to claim your free business profile. You can upload photos, update your business info, see what customers are saying about you, and respond to reviews.
- Foursquare for Business
More than 50 million people around the world use the Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm each month, to find new places to eat, drink and shop.
Your customers may have already listed your business on FourSquare for Business and may already be talking about you online.
Fortunately you can hold up your end of the conversation by claiming your free business profile. It enables you to advertise to a wide audience and interact with your customers.
Take a look: http://business.foursquare.com/
You’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and investment on your digital presence, so you need to know whether your business is generating the results you want.
Monitor and analyse your brand’s online traffic with these free analytics tools:
- Google Analytics
Google Analytics helps you get to know your customers by giving you the free tools that you need to analyse data for your business – all in one place.
It makes it easy to understand how your site and app users are engaging with your content. You can find out how many people are visiting your website; where they live; what equipment they use; what’s working on your website and what isn’t.
Check it out: https://marketingplatform.google.com/intl/en_uk/about/analytics/
A Business Plan often includes information about your goals, strategies, marketing and sales plans and financial forecasts. It’s designed to help you, and others, understand how you plan to generate money and make your business a success.
Take advantage of these free resources that will help you develop your business plan.
- The Prince’s Trust
The Trust gives useful information on how to write business plans, with free templates and guides.
To download free templates and guides click here:
- Startup Loans Company
The government-backed Startup Loans Company also provides free business plan templates and cash-flow-forecast-templates.
To download these useful templates click these two links: https://www.startuploans.co.uk/business-plan-template/
- Startup Donut
Another useful source of information on business plans is Startup Donut.
Click here to find out more:
Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll have to look for investors, or borrow from a bank or online lender. Self-funding, or using your own money and that of friends and family is known informally in business as ‘bootstrapping’. You may get some, if not all the capital you need this way.
For a detailed breakdown including pros and cons, see the article, “How to raise startup capital for your business” on our Paymentsense blog. Here is a brief summary of the 8 types of finance for startups:
- Bank Loan
You really have to know exactly what you want and have it all in writing before you start asking for a bank loan.
You don’t have to apply to the same bank you use for your personal account. However, if you have a good credit record over many years and have a low-risk business plan, you have a reasonable chance of getting a business loan from your bank.
For balanced advice on the loans currently offered by Britain’s bank click here: https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/area-of-expertise/commercial-finance
Crowdfunding is a way of raising finance by inviting a large number of people to invest small amounts of money individually. There are three different types of crowdfunding: equity, donation and debt.
- Equity crowdfunding is when people invest in your company in exchange for shares or a percentage of the business.
- Donation crowdfunding is when people donate money to your venture because they believe in you and your business idea. They don’t want their money back.
However, some crowdfunders such as Kickstarter believe that while donors want to support what you’re doing, they’d also like to get something as a thank you, or reward.
So, if you’re making a book, for example, you offer each one a free signed copy. You could also offer a range of rewards based on different donation values.
- Debt crowdfunding is when people lend you money with the expectation of receiving their money back with interest.
For more details on which platforms offer what, see the UK Crowdfunding Association: https://www.ukcfa.org.uk/
- Angel Investment
Angels invest an estimated £850m annually in the UK, making them a really significant source of funding for startups. On average, angels each invest between £5,000 and £100,000.
There are two types of angel, individuals and groups. Individual angel investors are very rich people who don’t answer to anyone else and therefore invest in whatever interests them. Group angel investors are like-minded individuals who combine their assets to invest in business proposals.
You can find angels independently, using LinkedIn. Or get in touch with an angel network, who generally charge between 5% of 8% of the funds raised, for making introductions.
These include: https://www.angelsden.com/, https://www.ukbaa.org.uk/, https://www.angelinvestmentnetwork.co.uk/
- Venture Capital
Venture capital funds are managed by professionals who are always on the lookout for startups with great prospects. Their money comes from a wide number of sources including: corporations and individuals, private and public pension funds and foundations.
Unlike angels who usually invest in thousands, venture capitalists normally deal in millions.
For a comprehensive list of UK venture capital firms with their targeting criteria, investment levels, portfolio companies and contact information see: https://entrepreneurhandbook.co.uk/venture-capitalists/
- Government Startup Loans
The UK government aims at boosting the UK economy by offering loans to aspiring entrepreneurs, through its Startup Loans scheme.
The average loan is £7,200, but each owner or partner in a business can individually apply for up to £25,000, with a maximum of £100,000 available to the business as a whole.
The loans are government-backed and charge a fixed interest rate of 6% per year. You can repay the loan over a period of 1 to 5 years. There’s no application fee and no early repayment fee. The loan is unsecured, so there’s no need to put forward any assets or guarantors to support an application.
In addition to finance, successful applicants receive 12-months of free mentoring and exclusive business offers to help them succeed.
For details, see: https://www.startuploans.co.uk/
- Virgin StartUp
You can borrow between £500 to £25,000 per co-founder and the average loan size is £10,000. This is spread over 1-5 years at a fixed rate of 6% p.a. And there are no set up fees or early repayment penalties.
In addition, each funded entrepreneur receives: a dedicated business advice helpline, an experienced mentor who’ll work with your business for six months.
To find out more visit: https://www.virginstartup.org/start-up-loans
A number of other private companies also provide startup loans. For a list of the top ten according to Money, take a look at their site: https://www.money.co.uk/business-loans.htm
- Government and Local Authority Startup Grants
There are hundreds of grants to choose from, many of which are limited by a business’s size, sector or location.
Government grants are often complex and involve lots of processes, stages, and different criteria for applying.
For a full list of government grants check out the government’s business finance support finder: https://www.gov.uk/browse/business/finance-support
- Private Startup Grants
A number of private organisations also provide startup grants, such as The Prince’s Trust. The trust has given financial assistance to young entrepreneurs since 1976.
It offers an exclusive Enterprise Programme that provides grants and mentors to young individuals between 18 and 30 years old. The grant is £1,500 for individuals and £3,000 for a business group. A small test marketing grant of up to £250 is also provided to individuals, to help them evaluate the market value of their product.
For a list of small business grants in the UK, take a look at The Entrepreneurs’ Handbook: https://entrepreneurhandbook.co.uk/grants-loans/
Every business needs a slick look and feel, but not many have the time or budget to take on an agency. If you don’t have any design skills or experience, there are many free tools out there to help you create some really professional-looking graphics for your brand.
Canva is free and offers pre-formatted templates to help you create everything from social media banners and blog graphics, to marketing flyers and posters. It’s so easy, all you do is drag and drop.
Invented by Ray Tomlinson, an American computer programmer in 1971, email has fundamentally changed the way people and businesses communicate. It makes life so much easier than the postal system; where would we be without it? Check out these free email tools:
There are now 1.5 billion users worldwide. You know all about it and are probably a user personally and for business.
- Boomerang for Gmail
With Boomerang, you can write an email right now and schedule it to be sent automatically at a time and date to suit you. It puts you in control of when you send and receive email messages.
The basic plan is free for the first 10 scheduled messages per month and you can use it for as long as you’d like.
Click here: https://www.boomeranggmail.com/
If you’re new to email marketing, you can’t beat MailChimp for professional-looking and easy-to-create bulk newsletter content. You can send up to 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers with their “Forever Free” plan.
MailChimp is used by more than 2.4 million companies, and promises to help them to, “find their audience, engage their customers, and build their brand.”
Of course, the range of free features is limited. Other, more sophisticated ones like comparative reports, multivariate testing, predicted demographics, delivery by time zone, and chat and email support, are only available on the paid “Pro” plan.
Check it out here: https://mailchimp.com/
HubSpot offers software for marketing, sales, and customer success. You can start using HubSpot’s customer relationship management (CRM) system completely free, for as long as you want.
The company describes its pricing model as: “tools you can start using for free, and upgrade as you grow.” Once your needs grow, or you want to test out other HubSpot features, you can try: tailored content, offers, and outreach based on each lead’s behaviour; drip campaigns; automatic tracking of social media engagements and timed emails which are personalised to maximise customer engagement.
Take a look: https://www.hubspot.com
Internal Communications and collaboration
Whether you work at different locations or do a lot of business travel, these free communications tools will help you stay in touch wherever you are.
Looking for an easier way to communicate with colleagues and clients over the Web – in real time? Slack may be the answer.
There are two types of channels on Slack; public and private.
- Public channels allow team members to communicate without the use of email or group SMS. They are only open to those invited to join the conversation.
- Private channels allow for private conversation between smaller numbers within the overall group. These can be used to break up large teams into specific projects.
Slack has a free option as well as two tiers of paid plans, called Standard and Plus. With Slack Free you can have as many members in your account as you want.
Every message is indexed and searchable, so nothing gets lost or forgotten. On the free plan you can access the most recent 10,000 messages, but there are a few restrictions:
- Audio and video calls can only be made between two people, not groups.
- File storage for uploads across the entire team is limited to 5GB.
- You are limited to integrating with up to ten third-party apps.
You can have multiple teams for a single user account. Most small startups will use only one team, though, with multiple channels within it for further discussion levels.
So, check it out: https://slack.com
- Google Drive
Google Drive is essentially a cloud storage service which enables you to store files beyond the limits of your hard drive. You get 15GB of free cloud storage just for signing up. In case you don’t know, all that free space is shared between your Gmail ,Google Photos and Google Drive.
With Google Drive you can store any kind of file: photos, videos, pdfs, spreadsheets – anything. You can also save email attachments sent to you through Gmail directly to Google Drive, saving you the trouble of making the move manually.
Another major benefit to any business is that you can work together on documents with colleagues, and track changes as you edit, and share with clients. It can all be done quickly without ever waiting for uploads or worrying about having compatible software installed.
Click here: https://www.google.com/drive/
High-quality, professional-looking images are essential to making your brand stand out online. But if you don’t have a big budget, how can you use images in your marketing effort?
Here are 10 FREE stock image sites to search for images to use in your blog, social media, and other marketing materials. Most of the images on these free stock sites have a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence. This means you can copy, adapt or distribute the images — even for commercial purposes — without requiring the photographers’ consent. In other words, do whatever you want with them!
Unsplash has a collection of over 300,000 beautiful, high-resolution images from more than 50,000 contributors. That’s smaller than some paid sites, but they’re top-quality and FREE! They’re original and un-cheesy: no women laughing at salads here.
Take a look, you’re bound to find something perfect: https://unsplash.com/
Morguefile was one of the first image sites in the early Internet days of 1996.
If you’re intrigued by the name, a “morgue file”, wasn’t something kept in a morgue, but was a term used by newspapers to describe files that held past issues. Like its name, the site is also different. The photos are not curated and you’ll find pictures of ordinary people and everyday objects, not the usual slick stock shots.
Morguefile has over 380,000 high-quality, high-resolution photos, videos and vectors – free for commercial use. And no attribution is required.
Pixabay has over 1.6 million royalty free stock photos and videos. All contents are released under the Pixabay Licence, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes.
However there are some restriction such as, “Identifiable people may not appear in a bad light or in a way that is offensive.” Check with Pixabay.
Take a peek: https://pixabay.com/
Morgefile may be different, but Gratisography is downright quirky. It’s filled with people pulling silly faces, doing weird things and… well, why not take a look for yourself.
They can’t compare with Unsplash in terms of quantity, but that’s not their aim. They describe themselves as having, “The world’s quirkiest collection of free high-resolution pictures, comprised of the world’s best, most creative images – photos you just won’t find anywhere else. All completely free of copyright restrictions.”
Pexels’ massive collection of free stock photos is one of the best curated on the internet. In addition, they have free stock videos! Pexels is the go-to image source for many bloggers.
All photos are free for commercial use on your website, blog, product or anywhere else. There are some restrictions, but nothing onerous.
Click here: https://www.pexels.com/
Storage & File Sharing
If you want to backup files, documents, images, and other content, or need to share large files, cloud storage is the answer.
- Google Cloud
We’ve already mentioned Google Cloud earlier under the heading Internal Communications, but it’s worth mentioning again that you get a huge 15GB of cloud storage – FREE!
If you don’t have a website, or want a new one and your needs are basic, then try a free website builder such as Wix.
You can choose from over 500 designer-made templates, or do your own thing. It’s so easy to use with the famous Wix drag-and-drop website builder, you can customise anything you want. Create video backgrounds, parallax, animation, and more – without ever using code.
If, after using the free plan for a while, you decide that your business would really benefit from more bells and whistles you can simply upgrade to one of their premium plans.
Click here: https://www.wix.com/
Unlike many other website builders, such as Wix, Squarespace doesn’t offer hundreds of templates – it has just over 60. It may be small, but has a perfectly-formed collection of high-quality templates covering a wide range of industries. You’re bound to find one to suit your business.
You don’t need any technical ability, or coding knowledge and can put together your own beautiful website in a few hours. Simply Drag & drop images onto your site, and move, add, and delete sections of each page easily.
Squarespace is really well-suited to businesses with great visual content such as designers, architects, florists, photographers, restaurants… Your site could rub shoulders with fashion designer, Sadie Williams’ site www.sadiewilliams.co.uk. and the actor, Keanu Reeves’ motorcycle business www.archmotorcycle.com.
More than 1 million people pay to keep using Squarespace after its free 14-day trial, which say a lot about the results it delivers.
Click here: https://www.squarespace.com/website-design/
Phew! That’s quite a list. We hope you found one or more new free tools that could benefit your business.