Following on from the last topic –10 useful (& free) website tools – I started to think about all the fantastic free software / tools I use within my business on a daily basis! A few of these do have paid for options, but all have a fully functional free version.
So here are my top 10 – in no specific order. Everything mentioned here I have used in the last week!
My email client of choice. An excellent alternative to the more commonly used (paid for) software by Microsoft (Outlook). I use the Google calendar and Quicktext extensions which helps it meet my needs even more.
Open source alternative to Microsoft Office – I use it for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases (and more). You can save in Microsoft format if you need to swap between the two different providers too!
What I like the best about using openOffice though is the fact that it is so easy to export to PDF! I create PDFs to send to clients regularly so that I know they can open it easily (and that my formatting remains consistent).
Sharing files with your clients? Need to send a large file off to your printer? Want to easily synch your presentation notes onto your tablet from your computer? You get 2GB of free storage for storing your files and can get up to 18GB free if you recommend dropbox on to others!
I mostly use Dropbox for sending large artwork files over to our clients (print versions of their logo / flyer designs etc), and also for receiving photos from clients for use on their website – we’ve not needed to post a CD in some time!
Being based half a mile from Land’s End in Cornwall we don’t actually meet many of our clients very often – one of the great things about being a web designer is that we can literally be based anywhere and as long as we have an internet connection we can still work with anyone, anywhere!
Skype allows us to still have face to face conversations without the need to be in the same room.
Google Apps – calendar, docs, gmail
The generic name for all of the Google business products – email, docs, calendar, sites etc.
We use Google Calendar to schedule all our meetings, keep track of what we are working on this week, project deadlines etc. Its then available on my tablet and phone so accessible from anywhere!
Possibly not a generic one this one for everyone. We use it to help our clients to trouble shoot problems they are having with setting up their email accounts and as a handy way to guide people through administration of their new WordPress or Ecommerce website if they are not sure about something. Its also great for accessing all the files on your work computer if you are away and realise you didn’t put onto your laptop a file that you need!
OK this one might seem strange to some, but social media is definitely a great business tool. Whether you use Twitter, Linked In, Facebook or Google+ they are all tools for your business – and all free! Use them to connect with existing & potential customers, but not for self publication!
I use Tweetdeck to manage my Twitter account, and occasionally to post to Facebook, but there are lots of alternatives – another popular option is Hootsuite.
Email list building & management. There are loads of templates you can use to make your email campaigns look great, or you can build one yourself (or have it designed for you) to match your website branding. Its free for the first 2,000 subscribers which is plenty to get most small businesses going!
An excellent tool for time tracking. If you, like me, tend to be working on several projects then this is a great tool to use to keep track of how much time you spend on each of them. I use it to work out averages for different types of projects – this then helps us to set our prices (we know the average ecommerce website takes x hours, the average WordPress blog x hours etc). And of course its essential for keeping log of maintenance time used by clients.
It wouldn’t be a top 10 list without this appearing somewhere really would it? I cannot emphasise how essential I find Google Analytics is to any business who run a website! But if you have read my blog before you probably already know that 🙂
2 tools which are not free but I feel have to have a mention here:
I use Adobe Photoshop daily for creating designs for clients and editing photos for use on websites or in print work. Photoshop Elements includes all the parts of Photoshop which a website owner needs to optimise their images for their website, but at a fraction of the price.
I would recommend it to ANY ecommerce website owner for editing your own photos (or even for editing manufacturers images to fit in with your site layout). Website layouts which are consistent (all product images square for example) are far more pleasing on the eye, so having a premium tool like Photoshop Elements can vastly improve the purchase rate on a website.
This is the one piece of software which has changed the way I do business the most in the 10 years I’ve been trading. My accounts used to be done via a spreadsheet, I would create a PDF invoice, email it to the client, write into my spreadsheet when I sent it out. Then I’d log when the payment came in (or chase up if it didn’t within 30 days). My accounts were in a mess!
We signed up for FreeAgent after trialling various different accounting softwares and it has cut my admin time right down. Invoice emails are automated (and stored), I can manage my projects in there, time tracking and various other elements. I’m going to do a full review of this at some time when I get the chance as it really has been the single best purchase in a long time for improving our business! Tax returns have been a breeze since too – simply pull out the data and enter directly into the tax return!
Highly recommended to any small business owner – particularly those in the service industry. Its certainly paid for itself over and over again in time saved! Oh and if you do think it could be of use – use the code 3d8uumuy and we both get 10% off!
So thats my current top 10 (plus 2 bonus ‘not quite freebies’). Some of these you may heard of already, others may be new to you, let me know if you try them out what you think!
Do you use a tool within your business which you couldn’t live without – let me know below!