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Today's trends for tomorrow's business
Free (and nearly free) for small business

Free (and Nearly Free) for Small Business

These tools work hard and the price is right

If you’re part of a small businesses or startup, you’re probably on a very strict budget—and your IT department needs to make sure every dollar is spent wisely. And let’s face it: Software licenses can be absurdly expensive, especially if you need a couple dozen of them to keep your business going. Luckily, there are a number of free software tools that you can take advantage of when spending is tight. We looked at a handful of different areas where your business can save a little cash that you can use for other must-have software (because that company-wide Office 365 plan isn’t going to pay for itself).

Online survey tools

Getting customer feedback is essential to helping a small company improve and grow. But if your marketing team doesn’t have the budget for a consumer research study (or, really, any research budget at all), a simple polling tool can go a long way. There are several competing survey tools that offer a free tier with the hopes that you’ll upgrade. SurveyMonkey is immensely popular because it’s really easy to use—you can create a poll with up to 10 questions in minutes (it caps off at 100 respondents). SurveyGizmo gives you more options: You can run three surveys at a time and ask unlimited questions, but it’s also limited to 100 respondents. Like many Google products, Google Forms offers an excellent free option—complete with unlimited surveys, questions, respondents, plus design and data export options—but technically it’s for individual use. The business edition of Google Forms comes bundled with Google’s G Suite (starting at $6/month per user) and adds an extra layer of security and control for teams—a good value, considering everything else you get along with it.

Backup software

Losing your data could mean losing your business, and even the smallest companies need to have reliable backup measures in place. Always remember rule of three: three copies of your data in at least two places, one of which is offsite in case your onsite copies are destroyed. While data preservation is not an area where your business will want to skimp, there are a couple options for small budgets. Duplicati 2.0 is free open-source software that backs up folders and files with AES-256 encryption. It uses a web interface that you can even run on mobile, and it works with a long list of supported backends. If you’re willing to pay a nominal fee for a cloud backup solution that offers 24/7 live chat and email support, you can consider IDrive (starting at $74.62 for the first year). It also uses AES-256 encryption, and you can choose to have the key managed by IDrive if you prefer, which is helpful if you need to have limited visibility to some of your data for legal reasons.

Invoicing and accounting software

We could make recommendations for each of these categories separately—but Wave offers free options for both, and sometimes it’s nice to keep things as simple as possible for your team. You can design custom invoice templates that are polished and professional-looking; you can also set up recurring invoices and give your clients the option to save their payment method for auto-billing. (Wave does charge a small fee for payments made.) Wave’s accounting app connects to your corporate bank accounts and lets you categorize spending as well as create month-to-month and year-to-year reports to see where you’re money’s going; it also offers a handy mobile receipt-scanning tool. And if you end up liking Wave’s platform, you can also get their payroll app, which starts at $20/month.
If you’re looking for something different, and you’re a very small shop with five clients or less, you can also use the free version of Zoho Invoice. It has a few more features than Wave, including an easy way to set up retainer invoicing and the ability to create credit notes if a client is mischarged; plus, it integrates with G Suite, Office 365 and Slack. Zoho Invoice also works in lockstep with the Zoho suite of products, including Zoho Books, an affordable small business accounting option (starting at $9/month) that has a friendly interface and free customer support.

Data visualization tools

Businesses are generating more types of data than ever, and presenting that data isn’t as easy as sticking a pie chart in PowerPoint anymore. Even if your company can’t afford one of the fancier business intelligence tools that includes a data visualization option, you can still present your data elegantly without paying a dime. Tableau is one of the most popular BI tools, and their free version, Tableau Public, has many of the same excellent features—the only catch is that you have to share your data creations on their public site. Microsoft Power BI can also be downloaded for free for individual users and syncs naturally with other Microsoft products (but if you need to eventually upgrade to a business plan it won’t be cheap). If you’re knee-deep in the Google ecosystem (and particularly Google Analytics) then Google Data Studio’s free options are a logical fit. And if you’re dealing with particularly large or messy data sets, check out OpenRefine, which will scan your data for errors, convert it from one format to another, and generally make multiple confusing data streams a little more approachable so you make them into pretty pictures.
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