Starting a business and running your own company can be tough if you don’t have the right tools, especially when it comes to things like scheduling, project management, and communication.
While a quick web search will bring up thousands of resources for entrepreneurs, it can be incredibly hard to sort through the clutter and find the tools that actually work well.
Not only have we found the best tools available online, but we’ve also focused on those that are either entirely free or free for basic use. With these resources, you’ll find new ways to communicate with your team, present your ideas to prospective customers, make meaningful customer service connections and much more.
NOTE: all prices are quoted at the time of writing, and we do not profit from any of these recommendations.
Files you save to Dropbox are available from the secure Dropbox website and your computer or mobile phone. If you invite others to share the file, they can view it and make edits. This feature allows teams to collaborate on documents, and share individual items and folders among groups of users.
Files saved to your Dropbox can be accessed on the go from your Android, Blackberry, iPad or iPhone, and the company provides clients for Windows, OS X and even Linux.
The service offers 2GB of file storage free, and you can get more storage by upgrading to a paid $9.99 or $19.99 per month subscription.
The Founders’ Pie Calculator is based on the idea that the best approach to distributing profits isn’t just dividing them by the number of founders. The site explains how to set quantifiable metrics to determine each founder’s “weight.” The rubric scores each founder on their contribution to the original idea, development of the business plan, meaningful experience or contacts, level of commitment and number of responsibilities. Following the steps results in a percentage: each founder’s share of the “pie.”
The site recommends using the calculator as a guide, and reviewing the final percentages to be sure they make sense. While it’s probably not going to settle negotiations on its own, it’s an excellent reference for comparison. Best of all, it’s completely free to use.
The Github team management service is designed to facilitate collaboration in software development. There is no limit to the number of teams, team members or projects. You can set permission levels varying from read-only to complete administrative for each developer.
Open-source accounts are free, and private accounts vary in price from $7 per month to $200 per month, depending on the number of collaborators and discussion areas.
Prezi allows you to create presentations using a large canvas format, as opposed to traditional slideshows. The service allows for zooming in and out of images, which they say is a more natural and effective way to communicate ideas. Prezi is available as a desktop, iPad, or “Meeting” account, which allows you to work on and share presentations with others in real time.
A free account allows you to create presentations and download them, while paid accounts of $59 or $159 per year offer other features such as the ability to make presentations private, work on a Prezi offline, or receive more storage space.
CoolText generates logos and other graphics for free. After you submit a form describing the kind of logo you need, CoolText custom-generates one. You can also create buttons for use on a website. CoolText hosts the images online and provides an HTML code to link to. The site also offers more than 1,200 free fonts.
While you may want to hire a professional graphic designer for your main company logo, this can be a great way to make quick logos for campaigns or individual promotions. It can also help you get started if you simply don’t yet have a budget for your startup. This service is completely free.
Google Docs is a completely free online spreadsheets and document management tool that comes with your Gmail/Google Account. The spreadsheet feature (which doesn’t quite have all of the features of Excel) is particularly useful when you need to have multiple people working on the same spreadsheet at the same time (something you can’t do with Dropbox). It’s also very useful for collaborative editing of documents (including text files). There have been massive improvements to Google Docs in the last year (e.g. offline editing) and it looks like it will only get better in the coming years.
SnapEngage‘s live chat solution offers a variety of ways to engage with customers while they’re on your website. SnapEngage provides detailed customer information, such as search engine keywords, technical environment and location. It automatically begins conversations with customers on your behalf, sends programmed responses for messages you send often and allows you to transfer customers to another online agent seamlessly. SnapEngage features valuable customer service tools, including co-browsing, which lets you show a customer what to do directly on their screen.
A free account is also available, which supports one agent with minimal features, but expanding is also quite cheap. Service plans start at $9 per month and range up to $289 per month. More expensive plans have additional benefits, such as custom data mapping and capability for more support agents.
Mantis is a free (under GNU) bug tracking script – It takes a small amount of getting used to, but after you’re orientated with some basic concepts like recording and logging bugs, you’ll probably use it for any issue management collaboration where teams are involved. For a free bit of software it has an impressive feature list. You need your own server to install and use Mantis.
Authorstream lets you do a lot of cool stuff with your existing PowerPoint Presentations. After uploading a presentation you can embed it on your website, share it via a URL or even download it as a video (you can then share on YouTube). Keeping a copy of your most important presentations on Authorstream means they’ll never go missing. You can store private presentations up to 500 MB for free, and share them with your contacts or keep them private.
Additional tip: Check out these PowerPoint templates to spice up your presentations.
Mockplus is an excellent design prototyping app. It can be used to prototype for mobile, desktop and web apps quickly. Building a design prototype with Mockplus is much easier compared to a general-purpose graphics editor like Photoshop or Illustrator.
Trial and error
Many of these entrepreneur resources are completely free, so there’s no risk involved in trying them. However, even most of the paid versions offer a trial period. This allows you time to see how it will work for your specific needs and determine whether it’s really worth the investment for your business.
Take the time to explore these options and see how often you end up using the product in day-to-day business. Entrepreneurship is always an exercise in trial and error, and the ability to remain on your toes, shifting to meet current needs or utilize new resources, is key. Consider each area of your operation. Customer service, promotions, team communication, workflow organization, finances, and your organization’s image are all adjustable factors that determine success. They can and should be examined for areas to improve from time to time – and each of these free resources for entrepreneurs can help.
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