Much like many of you, I started this business on a shoestring.
Actually, a shoestring might be exaggerating—a thread might be more accurate. I’m really big on not investing a lot of money in an idea until I’m SURE it’s going to pay me back. So, anything FREE? I was (OK, I still am) all over that stuff. To start this business I paid for the domain name, added it to an existing hosting account, and paid $32 for my fancy illustrated avatar lady on the home page from iStock—and that felt like a major investment for me. 🙂
Yes, I’m cheap. But I’m also pretty smart.
But let’s face it: You need certain tools to run your business. Luckily, in this amazing Internet age, we have the ability to try and use certain tools for free.
I use each of the following tools on a daily basis as an integral part of my business, and I can say for certain that they are awesome. And, for now, the free versions are sufficient for my needs. But when my needs and business grow, I won’t hesitate for a second to pay for the pro version of these services, because they are most definitely worth it.
Podio is my go-to project management and contact management tool. I like it because it does both—I can have my list of contacts and leads, and when a lead becomes a sale, I can seamlessly start tracking projects associated with that sale. I keep everything from my to-do list, to my business contacts, to my passwords for all the online trainings I sign up for in this program. This site is INCREDIBLY robust because you can build your own “apps” within it or modify the ones that exist. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of how cool this could be. And, I’m excited to start using it collaboratively now that I’ve hired my first VA! (Eeep!)
Toggl is a free time tracking app that you can use from the web page or from a desktop app. The window is always open on my desktop and I love that I can just hit a button and it keeps track of what I’m doing. At the end of the month I can pull a report and see how many hours I worked for each client, and if a client ever requested to see how my hours broke out for a month, I’d have that data ready to go. Invaluable. There’s a pro version that let’s you distinguish between billable and non-billable hours, but I haven’t tried it.
The numbers part of my business is the part that makes me feel the most stupid. In fact, anything to do with accounting gives me hives! 🙂 Wave makes it pretty easy. Like the popular personal finance website, Mint, it pulls all my transactions in from my bank accounts, so I don’t have to spend time entering transactions. But my favorite part is that I can create an invoice in Wave, send it to my client, and because I’ve signed up with their payment processing partner, there’s a button right in the email that says “Pay With Credit Card.” I’ve actually signed up a new client and taken her credit card number over the phone—her payment was processed before we hung up—and that’s an amazing feeling. The only downside to this is that payments generally take a week to show up in your bank account. The processing fees are the same cost as PayPal. They also offer payroll services for a very reasonable fee.
This is a super-cool new survey website that can also be used for presentations and elearning. It’s MILES ahead of Survey Monkey and Google Forms in terms of looks (meaning you LOOK like a super-pro when you use it), and I think there’s a lot of functionality that I haven’t even explored yet. You can get unlimited beta just by Tweeting about it. While this is still free, it’s an outstanding resource. One caveat: as some of my subscribers will attest, the day I sent out a survey about what you’d most like to learn about blogging (you can see what Typeform is about and get the thank-you freebie if you take the survey, here), their site went down, and people couldn’t access my survey. But I didn’t lose any of my data.
Not really a tool, but I just think it’s so cool! Unsplash offers 10 unbelievably beautiful free photos every 10 days that anyone can download and use for any purpose. If you’re looking for really excellent free photography, this is a great resource.
So what’s your best free or low-cost tool you use in your business? SPILL in the comments below! We all want to hear!!