Today, there is absolutely no need to increase business expenditures by shelling out for the software you need to operate. Apps are neither fancy sports cars nor custom tailored suits--you don't have to go with the most famous names to become efficient, profitable, or successful. You really can get the best--and often better--for free. No dumpster diving required.
Given the proliferation of well-designed, capable, free apps, there's never been a better time to make the switch. There are countless choices for no-cost tools that empower you to do everything from building a website to tracking hours and billing clients. Read on to learn about three incredible choices that can springboard your productivity. You may not have heard of them yet, but they're all powerful, worthwhile and, most importantly, free--a winning combination.
Trello--Collaborative Project Management
Your email and calendar apps are great for keeping track of project-related milestones and components, but only when the scope is extremely limited. Any initiative that could possibly involve more than one deadline, file or email thread really deserves its own system. The blockbuster app that is Basecamp, which enables businesses to maintain momentum, collaboration, discussion and accountability, starts at $20 per month. Trello, on the other hand, offers an amazingly simple, powerful and versatile alternative that's free forever.
Trello works with boards, which are essentially project workspaces, and cards, which are basically item-specific discussion threads that you can drag around and organize into stacks that are called 'lists'. Within each card, you have the option to add deadlines, comments, attachments, color-coded labels, checklists, emoji, and more. Attachments can come from any number of sources, including Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and even your personal hard drive.
You can subscribe to notifications specific to boards, cards, or just comments you're tagged in, and your notifications will appear as mobile pushes, browser alerts, or emails--whatever works best for you. The free plan comes with unlimited invites to your boards, and there's even an intuitive interface for bundling groups of users into "organizations." Some people love Trello so much that the app is often used for non-work project tracking, too.
Invoice Ninja--Get Paid Without Paying
Everybody loves "invoice day." All the hard work you've been doing for the past few weeks? Now you can turn it into cash. Send those invoices, one after another, while you calculate how many luxury nights at a Grecian getaway each bill will purchase.
Every business has to invoice, and while there are numerous options for billing apps, they are not all created equal. If you're hooked on Freshbooks, for example, and you're successful enough that you need to bill more than three clients you're paying the price. And it's a hefty one at $20 monthly. That's almost $250 per year (let's be honest--that's one night with a buffet breakfast in Greece. Think mimosas. And robes.)
There are alternatives, like Invoice Ninja, which allow up to 500 clients at zero cost. Forever. Even Zoho, which is almost as well-known as Freshbooks, only allows 6.
Invoice Ninja is an open source, secure (256-bit encryption) solution that tracks your time and generates logo-personalized invoices which are payable online. It also features a live PDF view that allows you to preview your invoice (without the hassle of multiple clicks and multiple saves, like Freshbooks) in alternate presentation styles.
Insightly--Not Your Mama's Rolodex
Let's move forward to your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. Even for small businesses, CRMs offer major benefits. As your business grows, it becomes impossible to mentally recall each associated task, item of correspondence, and transaction for each of your clients. Do you really want to limit your business by the amount of information you can store in your head?
CRMs automatically track client characteristics and preferences, history (including non-payment, critical for future red flagging) and what/when to pitch next. It also centralizes and streamlines client correspondence, eliminating the need to search for communication details, past conversations, files, or quotes.
The best-known solution for small to medium-sized businesses might be Nimble, but they charge a minimum of $15 per month. That's $180 per year, which is enough to buy you a lovely bottle of wine for each night of your Grecian vacation.
Insightly, on the other hand, offers a free plan that allows two users, 2,500 records, 200MB of storage and the ability to create eight custom fields. It not only manages tasks, contacts and projects; it features one of the easiest CRM interfaces available. You don't even need to enter your credit card details to install it. In addition, Insightly offers deep integration with Google Apps, and even the free version comes with unlimited email support. That means there's no need to filter through user forums and FAQ's when you're stuck.
Liberate yourself! Go free.
Undoubtedly, there are significant costs associated with starting and running any business. Even service-based freelancers, often exempt from significant overhead burdens, can incur expenses including travel, accountant fees, and support staff. All the more reason that successful entrepreneurs should cut expenses wherever we can.
We are in a liberating, consumer-empowered digital age, where pricier no longer equals better. Take control of your costs and your productivity in one fell swoop--go free!