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Best free software and tools for small businesses and the self-employed to try

5-minute read

Sam Bromley

2 April 2020

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There are free tools you can use to cut costs and get your business running efficiently, which is especially important during the coronavirus outbreak. Lots of these tools are web- and cloud-based, meaning you can get set up in no time.

While free plans offer plenty of functionality for small businesses, you can always upgrade to a paid plan if you eventually decide you need more from the software.

We’ve categorised the different types of software below – for example, communication tools, project management tools, and so on. See which features could work best for your business.

Best free communication tools to try

Slack

Slack markets itself as the “alternative to email”. It’s a high-powered instant messenger for the workplace, letting you organise conversations into channels. This simplifies collaboration, as these channels can be organised by team, project, client, or whatever you like.

The free plan should be enough for businesses with a small number of employees that only need the basics. You can create unlimited channels, make voice and video calls, and file-share quickly. Plus, the last 10,000 messages are stored and searchable.

Read more about Slack’s free plan. If you decide to upgrade, the standard plan is £5.25 a month per active user (if you pay annually).

Zoom

Zoom is one of the best-known video conferencing and collaboration tools. Using Zoom you can set up remote meetings and presentations, with real-time messaging and content sharing.

The free plan should have enough features for you to try out the software. You can have unlimited one-to-one meetings, but there’s a 40-minute time limit on group meetings. Zoom also has a great resource hub you can use to get the most from the software, with tutorials, webinars and articles about remote working.

If you decide to upgrade, the ‘pro’ plan for small teams is £11.99 per month per host. Read more about Zoom’s pricing.

Best free project management tools to try

Trello

Trello has a fun and customisable interface, with ‘boards’ that let you organise work into ‘lists’ and individual ‘cards’.

Projects don’t need to live in endless email chains, as Trello gives users the ability to comment and attach files directly on cards. It also gives teams more visibility over the status of a project (negating the need for handover emails if a team member goes on holiday).

Even if you run your business on your own, Trello can become a virtual to-do list and help you keep on top of what to do next. Some people even use Trello to organise projects in their personal lives.

The free plan lets you create unlimited personal boards and up to 10 team boards (but there’s a 10MB limit on attachments). Read more about Trello’s pricing structure.

Asana

Asana is another project and task management tool that lets teams collaborate easily with visibility over goals and deadlines.

Whereas Trello functions as a flexible ‘to-do’ list, Asana is based around projects. You can add tasks and team members to those projects, along with due dates and status updates.

If your work is more project-based and you have milestones to meet for clients, Asana could be a good option. It’s free to try out, so compare Asana with Trello to see what works best for you. The premium plan is £9.49 per month per user.

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Best free productivity tools to try

Google

If your run your business on your own, a personal Google Account is free and gives you access to Gmail, Docs, Slides, and much more. You can collaborate with other users (clients, for example) in real-time directly in your documents.

If you have employees, though, you might want to look into Google Suite. There isn’t a completely free version of Google Suite – but you can try it out for 14 days without paying. The basic plan starts at £4.14 a month per user after the free trial has ended. Find out more.

But for the money, your business gets a complete cloud-based range of apps. For work itself, you’ll get Google Docs, Slides and Sheets, as well as Google Hangouts for remote meetings. There’s also 24/7 support.

It’s easy to collaborate on work. For example, in Google Docs (Google's word processor) you can see other users leave suggestions and comments in real-time, letting you act on feedback fast.

Evernote

Evernote is a popular note-taking app that can help you get your thoughts down quickly. Read about the basic plan.

While we don’t use the app at Simply Business, you could try Evernote if you have a bunch of ideas in your head at any one time, all worth exploring further.

Evernote syncs across devices. So if you’re out jogging and have a moment of inspiration, you can make a note in the app on your phone then continue with your train of thought when you get to your laptop. It also allows you to keep your notes organised with checklists and a search function.

Best marketing tools to try

Adzooma

Adzooma is a social media and marketing platform. If you run Google, Facebook and Microsoft ad campaigns, Adzooma says its features can save you time and money.

Analysing your own data, the platform carries out checks and gives you unique suggestions using machine-learning technology.

Adzooma says these suggestions can save you money and let you adjust how you spend your money to boost return on your investment.

Adzooma is offering its platform for free until 1 June 2020, which it hopes will help businesses through a drop in demand and recovery once the crisis has passed. They’ve also suspended billing for all existing agency and SME clients.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a content management platform for social media. If you have a social media presence but currently manage it manually, Hootsuite can make posting content a lot easier.

You can schedule automatic social posts and monitor results, streamlining your process and making it more efficient. Hootsuite also lets you search conversations, so you can keep on top of what people are talking about.

If you want to be more successful on social, it could be worth trying Hootsuite now, as the company is offering businesses in “affected industries (restaurants, hotels, event venues, performing arts, etc)” free access to its professional plan until 1 July 2020. You’ll also be able to watch Hootsuite’s training videos to get started.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock is a royalty-free stock imagery provider. If you have marketing materials that need to be brought to life, for example, you can search its library of images, illustrations, videos and music.

And in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Shutterstock is giving away some resources for free. They’ve created image packs and video packs to help businesses communicate their message – there’s also tips on how to get the most from your creative assets.

More apps to try for your business

There’s software available for all sorts of business functions, from accounting to hiring people.

Have a look at the best accounting software for small businesses, the best invoice apps for small businesses and the best HR software for small businesses for more apps to try out.

And if you want to build (or improve) your business website, we've got an article on the best free (and paid for) website builders.

This article is intended to give you some options to consider – make sure you fully research all your options before choosing the right software for your business.

Have you used any of these apps before? How did you get on with them? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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