Starting a company on the cheap has never been easier, thanks to free software that lets you do everything from build a website to bill clients. Here are 10 must-haves for bootstrapped businesses.
By Inc. Staff
Send E-mail and Manage Documents: Google Apps
A veritable Swiss Army Knife for the digital age, Google Apps gives you access to web-based e-mail, calendars, and documents from anywhere. You can store, share, and collaborate on documents using Google Drive, a cloud-based system accessible on the Web and a variety of mobile devices, including the iPad, iPhone, and Android phones and tablets. Cost: Free for up to 10 users and 5GB of Drive storage
Hold Mobile Video Chats: Fring
Remote working is quickly becoming the norm, but face-to-face conversations are still important. Shorten the miles between you and co-workers with Fring, a free Web-based videoconference service that can connect up to four people at the same time. You can make video calls from a Web browser, Android device, iPad, or iPhone. It also accommodates voice-only calls, chat rooms, and live texting. Cost: Free for calls made between Fring users; hourly rates apply for international calls to non-Fring numbers
Manage Payroll: Intuit Snap Payroll
Think of it as pain-free payroll management: Simply type in an employee’s hours, work dates, and pay rate and this handy iPhone app shows you how much to pay and what to deduct in taxes. The app also keeps a record of every check written, so you can track payroll history without slogging through spreadsheets. The app is currently available in 12 states, including New York, Colorado, and Washington.
Best For Accounting: FreshBooks
Another way to minimize accounting headaches, this Web-based service lets you log hours spent on tasks, prepare work estimates, and send invoices. It also lets you accept payments from customers on your website by credit card, PayPal or 13 other payment gateways. FreshBooks provides detailed reports on sales, expenses, and other financials. The FreshBook iPhone app also lets users snap photographs of paper receipts to capture the expenses and automatically create invoices for clients. Cost: Free for companies with up to three clients
Manage Social Media: Social Mention
Curious to know what the social media world thinks about your company or brand? Find out through Social Mention, which aggregates user-generated content in real time. The search engine and analysis platform monitors more than 100 social network sites including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Digg. To use the service, enter a search term or phrase. Social Mention then offers measurements of the buzz around the query, like the ratio of positive mentions to negative ones. It also provides daily social media alerts and updated data on trending topics.
Brainstorm Online: Mural.ly
A great way to brainstorm with far-flung co-workers, this free social bookmarking service lets you organize your thoughts and share them with others. Drag and drop photos, documents and videos onto a blank Mural page. Then personalize it by moving items around and adding text boxes, shapes, and stickers. You can invite colleagues to collaborate on a page or switch to full-screen mode to make an online presentation.
Share Digital Business Cards: CardFlick
This free app for iPhones and Android phones lets you flick a finger to share a digital business card with a nearby CardFlick user. You can go to the CardFlick site to create a digital business card with your contact information, social-media accounts, and a photo. On the app, you can also see a history of people with whom you have swapped digital cards. One drawback: Both people must have the app to exchange details.
Build Pre-Launch Buzz: LaunchRock
Looking to generate some excitement before going live? This service helps you create a Coming Soon page for your website. After creating an account on LaunchRock.com, select a background design or upload your own, then add information about your business. A box will appear on the homepage encouraging people to sign up to receive e-mails with company news and earn incentives for spreading the word via e-mail or on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and other websites. Go to your LaunchRock dashboard to track a variety of information, including daily sign-ups and page views.
Design a Website: Weebly
This easy-to-use online tool lets you pick a website template from about 150 choices and add photos and text using drag-and-drop tools. You can also add a full e-commerce portal, photo galleries, and slide shows, and register your domain right on Weebly.com. The result? A polished, professional site that’s up and running in a day, if not hours. Cost: Free for a basic site, then starting at $3 a month for a custom URL and advanced features
Create Newsletter Campaigns: MailChimp
Publishing newsletters is a cinch with MailChimp. The service lets you design e-mail newsletters and share them on social networks. Then, you can log on to your MailChimp dashboard to see who's opening your newsletters, clicking on content, and more. Cost: Free for fewer than 2,000 subscribers across all lists and up to 12,000 e-mails per month