Posted: Tue 24th Jun 2014
There's never been a better time to start a business here in the UK. There's oodles of support out there, not to mention lots of free software to help you manage your business. As long as you've got an idea, and a bit of free time, there's really no excuse.
Get started in your evenings and weekends with these free tools. Then spend more time and money when your business starts to grow.
Trello takes the age-old to-do list and adds Pinterest-style glamour. Tasks appear as 'cards' on 'boards' with fronts and backs that display at-a-glance information and a more detailed view. You can use it however you like - I've organised my lists by 'Later', 'This week', 'Today' and 'Waiting on', and I drag cards between each list as their status changes. It's free to use, though you can upgrade when your business grows.
HootSuite adds pro-features to your social media experience, allowing you to manage multiple accounts - your Twitter profile, Facebook page, LinkedIn, etc. - schedule updates, monitor and measure your success. The best thing about it, for small businesses, is that you can organise your social media 'streams' into columns, so you can see, at a glance, conversations about you or your industry and keep on top of the conversation. It's free to use for up to 3 profiles, and you can upgrade for better reporting and collaboration.
Highrise is CRM (customer relationship management) software with a bit of style. It allows you to keep track of customers, proposals and deals and be reminded when you need to follow up with contacts. Look carefully when signing up and you'll find a free plan for 2 users sharing up to 250 contacts. Enough to get you started, until your business grows.
4. Google Docs
Google Docs is a free, web-based suite of office applications within Google's Drive service - a fine alternative to Microsoft Office with the benefit of being super easy to share files and collaborate with other users online. It's free for up to 15 GB of file storage, then you can upgrade, if you need more space.
For light Photoshop-like work, PicMonkey will do the trick (without the price tag). It's a capable web-based picture editor that allows you to enhance your photos, make collages and even turn your hand to some graphic design. The free version is ad-supported with some limitations, but you can upgrade to a 'Royale' plan.
DropBox is quickly becoming the gold standard for online file storage. That's because it's very easy to use, it's compatible with most platforms and it's free. When you put files in your 'Dropbox', they're in the cloud so available on all of your devices. The free version comes with 2 GB of storage for free, though you can extend that by recommending the service to others or by paying a monthly fee.
Email marketing is still a fantastic way to build a better relationship with customers and potential customers - and MailChimp makes it easy to send great emails that look good, are targeted and measured for success. As long as you've fewer than 2,000 people on your mailing list, MailChimp is free, and it will only ask you to upgrade when your list grows.
If you've ever found yourself unable to lock down a time or date for a meeting with two or more people, Doodle is the solution for you. It's an easy to use scheduling app, whereby users say when they're free and Doodle decides the best time for everyone. It's free to use, but you can upgrade for more advanced features, like connecting to your Google or Outlook calendar.
Once you have settled on a time for your meeting, you can do it over the phone with free telephone conferencing service Powwownow. It's really easy to get started: you just enter your email address, Powwownow gives you a PIN number; you share that and a dial-in number with participants, then get talking! It's free to use (except for the cost of the call), and you can upgrade for personalised greetings and more.
When the time comes to bill your first client, Harvest is a simple and elegant solution for invoicing, time and expense tracking, estimates and more. Best of all, it's free for up to 4 clients and 2 projects, and you can upgrade as your business grows.
San Sharma (@sansharma) is a writer and marketer, specialising in technology and business.