We have said it before and we will say it again- the internet is a great thing for entrepreneurs. You can start an online company with next to no cash if you're willing to work hard and learn to do most things for yourself. In the spirit of keeping business overhead low and efficient management of cash flows (these directly tie to the Sales, General & Administrative Expenses on your income statement), we have decided to compile a list of our favorite free online tools for small business owners. In no particular order, here are the 13 best free online tools for small business owners in our opinion.
Managing online review sites can be tedious, but Observatory helps business owners cut through the noise and get to what matters: improving engagement. This tool allows users to import a list of previous customers and invite them to leave reviews on the review sites they need reviews on the most. It then walks the user's customers through the steps on how to leave a review. It is a great tool for improving ratings online. Admittedly, this one is ours; we created Observatory to help some of our customers with problems they face getting their customers to leave reviews. Take a look at Observatory and let us know what you think.
Accounting is a complex area of your business to take care of if you don't have a formal education in accounting or finance and you don't have a dedicated accountant on staff. Wave Accounting exists to help fill that gap in expertise that exists in many small businesses. It helps by allowing you to invoice customers, record payments, leave notes on each of your transactions, and creating income statements and balance sheets for you. Come tax season, this information is very helpful. You can even upload receipts!
In our opinions, WordPress is the most feature-rich, flexible, and easy-to-use content management system (CMS) available. It is open source, completely free, and has very strong community support from developers and users across the world. As a digital marketing and media company, we tend to encourage clients to have us develop completely custom WordPress themes for their businesses, but thousands of affordable pre-made themes exist for those on a budget. There are seemingly endless plugins to extend the capabilities of your WordPress site as well. It is quick and easy to install on your web server. You can download WordPress directly from their website or contact us and we will install WordPress on your web server for you.
WooCommerce ties in with our WordPress recommendation, as it is an extensive plugin with many add-ons of its own. It allows users to add e-commerce capability to their WordPress powered website in a matter of minutes. It is easy to add products, integrate shipping partners and payment gateways (see Stripe below), and adjust taxes and pricing. WooCommerce is entirely free in its basic form and does not take a percent of your sales. In our opinion, WooCommerce is one of the quickest, cheapest, and easiest ways to get started on selling your products or services online in a secure manner. Download the WooCommerce plugin for WordPress for free here.
Stripe is an easy-to-implement online payment processor. It is free to implement and lacks a setup or monthly fee, but they do charge a low fee per transaction, as all credit card processing companies do. In our experience, we have found Stripe to be one of the easiest payment processors to implement. It ties in easily with WooCommerce and many of the other popular e-commerce platforms. It has quickly risen to be one of PayPal's biggest competitors, as the fee structure is much simpler and ends up being a cheaper processor in many situations. Take a look at Stripe today.
Google Apps is a huge suite of tools for businesses ranging from one-person operations to full enterprises. In order to take advantage of some of Google's business apps, a monthly fee must be paid, but many of the services can be accessed at no charge. Google Docs (Microsoft Word competitor), Google Sheets (Microsoft Excel competitor), Google Slides (Microsoft PowerPoint competitor), and Google Drive (Microsoft SkyDrive competitor) offer unparalleled collaboration with clients, employees, and other stakeholders. Google Forms allows you to gather valuable insights, surveys, and other information from customers for analysis. Google Hangouts allows you to instant message (IM), voice chat, and video conference with customers and employees alike. It is hard to beat Google's Apps for the wonderful price of free.
At no surprise, another free data tool from Google makes this list. Google Analytics is a great tool for providing information on your business' website's viewers. You are presented with geographic data, device data (mobile, browser, etc.), and language data on each of your viewers. The powerful platform also delivers information on where your website viewers came from, whether they found your website through another website, organic search, pay-per-click ads, or social media. In addition to providing insights on your visitors, Google Analytics can be configured to track specific actions, or goals, on your website. This can include sign ups for your email newsletter list, purchases through your e-commerce store, or a variety of other positive interactions. Businesses need data, and they need to be able to make sense of their data.
While there are other business newsletter providers out there, we have had the best experience with MailChimp. At the time of publishing this post, MailChimp offers 12,000 free emails sent per month to 2,000 different contacts. Email marketing has been proven time and time again to be one of the most effective means of advertising and boosting sales for your online store. MailChimp offers free templates, marketing tutorials and education, and a drag and drop email template editor, which makes designing and sending an effective email marketing campaign very easy for any business owner.
Getting legally binding documents signed is always a chore of a task, but it is entirely necessary. In my past, as a freelancer, I learned the hard way how important it is to have agreements with clients. It's for both your protection and your customer's. HelloSign allows businesses to send out their agreements via email, Google apps, or even a variety of other platforms to receive quick, legally binding, digital signatures. This cuts the time of waiting for snail mail and it removes the hassle of printing hundreds of pages, scanning them, and sending them back as a large attachment. HelloSign can be a huge time saver and a valuable archiving resource. The free version allows for three signed documents per month.
Zenefits is an interesting approach to providing human resources (HR) for businesses of all shapes and sizes. It has solutions for payroll, time tracking, benefits, talent acquisition, compliance, and management. The company makes its money from third-party service providers. They reduce the amount of paperwork involved in your human resources functions, they automate a lot of the process, and they have created an easy to manage platform that can be made accessible to both management and employees. Seeing as Zenefits is free to employers, there is no harm in seeking out more information on automating HR.
Zoho offers a lot of tools for business, but we are focusing on their free customer relationship manager (CRM). Zoho CRM, as with any other CRM, is intended to be used as a tool to increase sales by offering contact and follow up reminders, lead tracking, data to analyze, revenue forecasting and tracking, document sharing, and more. As with most of the others on this list, businesses can access a free version of Zoho's product, but can expect to pay more for more than ten employee accounts and extended features. To learn more about how Zoho CRM can help your business grow its sales and learn from its data, check out their website.
SocialMention is a powerful tool for keeping track of the conversations had online about your company's brand. Even if your company doesn't have social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), customers could be talking about your business online. It is important to be able to find these conversations and engage customers that are either happy or upset with their experience with your company. SocialMention will help you find and comment on these interactions with ease, and the best part is, it's free. Start engaging your customers and improving your brand equity.
SurveyMonkey has been around for a while and has developed a name for themselves as a leader in online surveying. Running online surveys is one of the most effective and affordable ways to perform primary market research, as it can easily be tied in post-conversion on thank you pages or in email marketing campaigns. While there is much to be said for collecting and analyzing data from a customer's actions, there is perhaps more to be said for hearing direct responses from that customer. SurveyMonkey offers free online surveying with limited features, and more in-depth surveying with its paid plans.
These are just 13 of our favorite free online tools for small businesses. If you use and enjoy any other free tools for entrepreneurs, please leave some information on the tool and why you like it in the comments below!