One of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs and startups is the initial cost of starting a business. For the first couple of months (and sometimes years) the cash flow can be extremely tight, which makes it tremendously difficult to grow your business. Luckily, you can replace traditionally expensive and complicated functions with free online tools.
In this article I will aim to share some of the tools that we used, and still use at Counting Coins to start and run our budget-friendly business.
If you are starting a new business or you want to grow your startup on a cash-strapped budget, then hopefully you will find some of these free online resources helpful.
Here are the free online tools every entrepreneur can use
1. Graphic design
You’d be surprised how big this expense can be for startups. Especially if you are starting a blog, eCommerce store, or any business that is based online. Business cards, logos, email signatures, letterheads, flyers, brochures, pricelists, Facebook cover pictures, social media posts… the list of things that need to be designed is endless.
If you want to be taken seriously, your business’ image should be a priority from day one. Sadly, this comes with a big price tag. If you don’t have any designs skills and you don’t want to spend any money on design, then Canva is the tool you are looking for.
You do not need any design skills to use this tool. There are plenty of templates, layouts, fonts and graphics that make designing something like a business card or letterhead rather easy. If you plan on marketing your business through social media, then you need to use this tool.
Best of all – it is free! You only pay if you use premium images.
2. Shortening website links
Ever wondered how people on Twitter get their links to appear so short?
When posting links on social media, or when you want to send people links to specific sections on your website or blog, you ideally want to keep the link as short as possible.
There are loads of tools out there to shorten your links for you, but we prefer using bitly.com. You simply copy the long URL (website link) and paste it into bitly, and they provide you with a shortened link. It is easy and free!
This is a great tool if you want to market your website, blog or social media page via SMS.
3. Storing and sharing large files
By now you’ve probably heard of Dropbox. If not, Dropbox is the ideal tool for saving and sharing large files. If you have large documents that you need to share with a customer or an employee, you can store it on Dropbox and share that Dropbox file with everyone who needs access to it.
As an individual you can use Dropbox for free.
4. Making money from your website or blog
If your business has a website or blog, you can generate an additional stream of income from people visiting your website, by placing adverts on your site.
If you want to generate advertising revenue from your website or blog, you usually have 3 choices: Google AdSense, affiliate programmes, or selling advertising space yourself.
The latter of the three requires a lot of input and may even require you to pay an additional salary. However, Google AdSense and affiliate programmes are free and require very little work from your side.
Google AdSense is an advertising platform created by Google, which will pay you each time someone clicks on an ad posted on your site.
Affiliate programmes are programmes that list offers from various businesses, and you can pick which ads you want to run on your site or blog. With affiliate programmes you usually don’t get paid per click, you typically get paid a set amount or percentage for each sale or referral that came from your website.
Offerforge is a great affiliate program in South Africa and they feature rather lucrative offers from well-known brands and businesses.
5. Customer feedback and surveys
The survey is not dead! As a small business owner, it is crucial to get customer feedback regarding the quality of your service or your products. Surveys are very helpful tools to get feedback from both customers and employees.
If you are in the start-up phase, you can also use surveys to get general suggestions from potential customers and friends. SurveyMonkey is a user-friendly survey solution. You can use SurveyMonkey to create custom-made surveys and questionnaires, which you can send out via email, social media or add as a feature to your website. It also has countless reporting and tracking functionalities.
You don’t need any high-tech skills for this service and you can create basic surveys for free.
6. Email marketing and newsletters
Email marketing is still one of the most popular methods of marketing a business. MailChimp allows you to design, distribute and manage your email marketing and e-newsletters. You do not need any design or coding skills to use this service, they have plenty predefined newsletter templates and you can simply drag and drop what you need.
MailChimp offers a free option for small businesses.
7. Online order forms
The founder of the hamper business, From Me, recently sought advice from Counting Coins about an ordering system for her business. From Me makes tailored hampers, each uniquely designed for the specific customer. They needed customers to fill in a form, preferably digital, where they could select everything they want in the hamper – almost like those pizza restaurants where you get to tick all the toppings you want on your pizza.
Like most small businesses, From Me did not have the money to invest in a tailored website. They found a service called Jotform, which might be helpful in your businesses as well. Jotform allows you to create digital ordering forms, like the example we mentioned above.
The basic service is free.
8. Team and task manager
If you are a team of people working on the same project, then you need Asana. This is a great task and team management tool. This is particular useful if you are a team of people working on your startup from different locations.
With Asana, you can manage workflows, manage various tasks, collaborate on projects and do various other team management functions. The service is free for up to 15 team members.
Other free digital tools for your small business:
9. Gumtree: A great free online marketplace to sell your goods.
10. Hootsuite: Manage all your social media accounts in one place.
11. Pinterest: Although this is a photo-based social network, you can also use it as an online catalogue for your products.