Some small business owners view the Internet as a blessing, while others view it as more of a curse. Odds are, much of former group attributes their perspective to the incredible amount of free online tools for small businesses. These tools can help you advertise your business, communicate with your team, manage your finances, and so much more. Thanks to the accessibility of free online tools, new entrepreneurs no longer have to start their businesses with little (if any) resources that make their lives easier.
In fact, many new entrepreneurs would likely say that the key to getting a business off the ground is making the best use of the right free tools. But you can’t choose the right tools if you aren’t aware of what’s available and which needs they serve.
In this guide, we’ll go over 22 of the most popular free online tools for small businesses and explain how they simplify the challenges of starting and growing a business.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Advertising
Advertising has an expensive reputation. Some businesses would likely say it’s one of their largest recurring expenses. But before you even think about advanced marketing tools, you must first make sure you are making the best use of the various free resources at your disposal. These are great starting points for online accessibility and certain businesses will appear illegitimate if potential customers find out they aren’t using them. If someone hears about your business, their next step is to learn more through the following tools:
1. Google My Business
Once Google became the world’s most popular search engine, establishing a profile on Google My Business became mandatory for new businesses. When you Google a business, the business’s free profile is what comes up on the right side. This is where you’ll see the business’s hours, location, phone number, link to their website, and a brief summary of what the business does.
Including as much information as possible in your Google My Business profile also makes your website more accessible for relevant searches. In other words, your website will be more likely to appear as one of the top results when someone searches for your products or services.
Yes, that gigantic book from your childhood is on the brink of extinction. But YellowPages.com and the YellowPages app are very useful for anyone looking for a certain type of business within a specific area. After all, every business wants to be known as the go-to source of their product or service in their city. You can also solicit and respond to reviews through this free profile.
If you own a brick-and-mortar business (especially a restaurant, café or bar), a Yelp page is just as important as a Google My Business profile. There’s no cost to create a Yelp business profile, which contains a plethora of vital information such as pricing, whether or not you deliver, if your business caters to children, etc. Yelp is usually where customers go to look at photos and post reviews, and virtually all negative reviews require an immediate response these days. For the food service businesses mentioned above, any flaws in your Yelp profile could be deal-breakers for your target customer, so it must be monitored constantly.
4. Foursquare for Business
Foursquare has a myriad of functions. You don’t need a Foursquare profile in order for customers to “check in” and show their friends on social media that they are currently visiting your business. Customers can even list your business on Foursquare themselves and write reviews. You do, however, need to claim your free profile to see what everyone is saying about your business and respond accordingly.
Any important updates should be posted to your profile, since potential customers use Foursquare’s city guide to search for local businesses. Even if your customers have already listed your business, there’s definitely a lot more information to add. The app also provides recommendations of new businesses to visit based on the user’s browsing and check-in history.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Analytics
When entrepreneurs talk about the importance of data, they are usually just talking about the importance of being able to tell when a strategy is or isn’t working. Analytics tools allow you to see how much traffic is going to your website and how these users found your website in the first place. The following tools are crucial for ensuring that minimal time and money are spent on ineffective digital strategies.
5. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is an integral tool for all digital businesses. You can see the amount of people visiting your website at specific times, how much time they are spending on your website, how many of these users actually end up making a purchase, and whether they accessed your website through an ad, a resource like Yelp, etc. This information ultimately shows you whether or not your current marketing strategies (your website and ads) are successfully converting leads (users who spend significant time on your website and/or enter personal information) into paying customers.
And yes, all of this critical information is completely free.
Delving deeper into Google Analytics also prevents you from being deceived by “vanity metrics.” This refers to traffic-related metrics that appear to indicate strong performance but are actually very misleading. For example, you might see an increase in website traffic, but how many of these users are filling out lead forms or making purchases? Google Analytics essentially reveals how much of your website traffic is indeed the “right” traffic.
6. Hubspot’s Marketing Grader
Hubspot’s free analytics tool is much like Google Analytics. In addition to your website, you can monitor critical data for marketing efforts like your blog, social media, and email campaigns. Its key purpose is finding out how well these efforts are converting leads into customers. You can also, however, use Hubspot’s marketing grader to find out how the performance of your marketing efforts measures up to your competition.
Unbounce is only free for 30 days but that’s plenty of time to gain numerous valuable insights from this lead conversion tool. Businesses often struggle to create the perfect landing page. Unbounce offers 100+ templates that you can customize with their massive selection of graphics, fonts, color schemes, etc. But once your page is finished, you’ll want to test different variations of it (A/B Testing), and it’ll take more than 30 days to obtain sufficient data.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Blogging
Blogging is a highly recommended marketing tool for a multitude of reasons. Chief among those reasons is the fact that no other tool can generate such a massive amount of buzz for no cost whatsoever. The most popular blogging platforms are free of charge and should therefore be taken advantage of by any small business looking to spread brand awareness and build up its brand identity:
WordPress remains the top blogging platform primarily because it’s easy to use and designed for optimal SEO. No other platform has such an extensive SEO add-on, which ensures that your content checks every box for accessibility through relevant searches. You can sign up for WordPress through most web hosting services and manage the layout of your blog (font, spacing, background, color scheme, etc.). It’s also not difficult to input images like charts and infographics.
This WordPress add-on is geared towards businesses that regularly publish blog content written and/or edited by several employees. You can create content schedules for the coming months, send reminders to employees about their next assignments, track the progress of each project, share and schedule posts on multiple social networks, and so much more. Perhaps the greatest advantage of CoSchedule is being able to plan, create, edit, and publish content from the same platform. CoSchedule is only free for 14 days (as opposed to 30) because by that time, you should be able to tell if your blog is active enough to warrant this service.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Email
Sending and looking at emails will likely make up a large portion of your day-to-day routine. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of emails you have to send each day and the rate of new messages flowing in to your inbox. Emailing may also turn out to be your most effective strategy for marketing or business development, so you’ve got to stay organized and maximize productivity. The following tools will simplify all of your email-related tasks and improve time management in the process:
This third-part Gmail add-on allows you to schedule messages to be sent in the future (nope, you can’t do that with standard Gmail), send follow-up reminders to yourself, and mark important emails to re-appear in your inbox when you have more time later on. You can even choose to be reminded about a follow-up if nobody replies to the initial message. Boomerang is free for the first ten messages you schedule each month. With the paid subscription, there’s no limit to the amount of emails you can schedule and you gain access to all Boomerang features.
11. Organizer by OtherInbox
Organizer sorts through that barrage of promotional offers, newsletters, receipts and business opportunities you receive every day and puts them into designated folders that you create. This ensures that the most important messages go to the top of your inbox and stay there, rather than being buried under less important messages. You can essentially set up Organizer to only show you the emails you actually need to see during work hours. So, if you have trouble tracking and prioritizing emails, Organizer could potentially make your day a lot less stressful.
Organizer also sends a “Daily Digest” email that shows which emails went into which folders. This spares you from having to go into each folder yourself and possibly forgetting about messages that you were too busy to view when they first arrived.
Mailchimp is the most popular email marketing tool for at least two reasons. One, it’s very easy to use in terms of structuring your messages and making them look professional. Secondly, you can send up to 12,000 messages to up to 2,000 subscribers for no cost. You don’t even have to pay to access performance analytics (how many subscribers opened your email, how many clicked the links inside, etc.) or set up multiple templates for different purposes, like advertising blog content or brief holiday greetings.
We’re all subscribed to email lists we don’t even remember signing up for. Every day, you tell yourself that you’re going to unsubscribe but never get around to it. It’s probably because in order to unsubscribe, you have to open each email, scroll to the bottom, find the “unsubscribe” link and then click a few boxes before you’re actually unsubscribed.
Unroll.me saves you loads of time by compiling a list of all subscriptions and letting you unsubscribe from each with just one click. Like Organizer, you also get a daily email that shows you how many subscription emails you received that day and how many subscriptions you’re still signed up for.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Communication
In today’s fast-paced climate, instant messaging is just as (if not more) important than email. Thus, it only makes sense for such a crucial service to be free of charge. The following services help businesses maintain their high standards for productivity and stay in contact with their whole team:
Microsoft’s Skype remains the gold standard for video chatting and conference calls, whether it’s between computers or mobile devices. Users can also send instant messages, share files, and host conferences with up to 25 other users. If you do a lot of internet calling and prefer to speak to employees or partners face-to-face, set up your free Skype account. If your main concern is instant messaging, on the other hand, it’s probably best to look into one of the following services instead:
Slack is to instant messaging as Skype is to video chatting. It’s very easy to share files, hold conference calls, create group chats, and access messages from previous chats through Slack’s search function. When you’re signed off, messages that were sent to you (or chats you’re a part of) are sent to your email inbox. Though the basic version of Slack is free, you have to upgrade to the premium version for unlimited use of all of its features. New users can decide which version suits their needs during their free trial.
Sococo creates a virtual office for businesses with remote teams. Regardless of your physical location, logging on to Sococo puts your avatar into your office, where you can then communicate with other avatars (a.k.a. your colleagues) via instant message, voice chat, or video chat. You can also share screens with employees, hold conference calls, and view your colleagues’ activity in real time (who is working with who, who is on a call, etc.). Sococo’s starter plan is free but if you like the communal atmosphere it creates, it’s probably worth it to subscribe.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Productivity
Two essential elements for maximum productivity are the abilities to jot down new ideas and collaborate with your team from a single platform. These are the building blocks of strategies and projects. No longer, however, do you have to pay to create, organize and collaboratively edit documents.
At first, the following free tools might seem to fulfill relatively basic purposes. But countless successful businesses will tell you that making the most out of the services they offer can revolutionize productivity:
Evernote allows you to create notes consisting of text, drawings, photographs, or saved web pages. These notes are shared with colleagues who can create their own notes and leave comments on each other’s notes. You can also tag, annotate and easily search for notes to prevent any content from getting lost. All of these features are free as long as you stay within the limits for monthly usage.
18. Google Drive
Google Drive is a lot like Microsoft Office, only you need Internet access to use it. Its key purpose is creating documents and spreadsheets, which can then be shared with and edited by your colleagues. They can also leave comments and suggestions next to specific parts of the text. As the administrator, you’ll receive email updates whenever someone edits or comments. And as long as the person you’re sharing the document with has Internet access, they can use Google Drive. You don’t have to ask the person to install separate software.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Social Media
An active social media presence is mandatory for virtually all types of businesses. But before developing your strategy, you must first obtain the necessary resources for fulfilling your daily output goals. The following tools will streamline your social media posting process so you can ultimately release more posts in less time.
Hootsuite allows you to manage multiple social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) from a single platform. You can schedule and automate posts, respond to comments, and filter conversations by keywords or hashtags. This will reveal which keywords your followers us when discussing your business. Key performance metrics, like engagement, likes, and response time, are accessible as well. Hootsuite has a free plan but it’s very limiting in terms of the number of accounts and posts per month. You can try out its next cheapest plan for free for 30 days.
If photos and videos are a big part of your social media strategy, InstaSize can help your visual content stand out in terms of quality and structure. This app provides original filters and editing tools for creating stunning content for platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and more. Though InstaSize’s standard plan is free, its paid plan is extremely affordable and offers many more features. You’ll receive ongoing tips and tutorials from social influencers and experts.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: File Storage
Businesses with lots of documents, spreadsheets, and other files are the target customers of cloud storage tools. The following tools keep large amounts of files in one place, so you can share them and have them edited by colleagues:
Dropbox is the most popular file storage tool because it is extremely easy to use and your first gigabyte of data is free. That might be plenty of data for a smaller business. You can upload various types of files (PowerPoints, Excel Docs, Word Docs, etc.) and share them with your colleagues via email, Slack, or other project management tools.
Box is very similar to Dropbox, but you can store up to 10 gigabytes of data for free. In order to share the files with other people, however, you’ll have to pay. For this reason, Box may be more appropriate for a financially-conscious sole proprietor than Dropbox.
Free Tools for Small Businesses: Focus on Doing What You Love
Taking advantage of these tools will help you spend the majority of your day doing what you love. Responsibilities like staying organized, studying data, or sending emails probably aren’t your favourite things to do. Thus, it only makes sense to make them as painless as possible. And once you find the format you prefer, you can look for similar formats in the more important and expensive tools that you’ll need as your business grows.