Firstly, I want to congratulate you for taking your first step towards starting up. You may be someone who has just started up, or looking to start up; in either case, you will require some great resources and tools to get your business off the ground.
According to research by Shopify, the average first-year cost of starting up is anywhere between $18,000 to $60,000, depending upon the type of industry. Among the small businesses that get their business off the ground and don’t last, more than a third cite a shortage of cash as the reason. Thus, it is important to make sure that we don’t tie up too much money for these resources in the beginning as we have several other costs to look after.
There are some business expenses that are inevitable and almost every business needs to incur those. But, the good news is that with rapid technological advancement in the software industry, we now have many useful resources that can help us to minimize our business expenses.
You might be wondering one of, if not ALL of, the following questions:
“Will these tools put a hole in my pocket?”
“Will it be easy to use these tools?”
“Are these tools secure?”
Fret not. In this blog, we will learn about some of the best free tools that we can use to grow and scale our startup. We will categorize different business functions and see what are the best free tools that can help us to look after each category. And yes, they are easy and secure.
|Communication||Slack, Zoho Mail|
|Marketing and Sales||Buffer, MailChimp, Zoom, Calendly, AnyImage, Carrd|
|Project Management and CRM||Trello, HubSpot, Zoho CRM, Clubhouse|
|Finance and Legal||Square, Wave, Docracy|
|Design and Content||Canva, Figma, Grammarly, Yoast SEO, Visme, Pexels|
|Internet Infrastructure||AWS Activate, WordPress, PorkBun, Google Drive, Cloudinary, Cloudflare|
|Miscellaneous||Google Analytics, Hunter.io, AppSumo, namecheckr, Zapier|
Let’s take a brief look at all these tools and see how we can leverage them to gain an unfair advantage.
Best Communication Tools
“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere”
Gone are the days when we could exclusively rely on Phone, Text, and Emails. Modern businesses require a much more efficient communication stack that not only helps to increase our communication speed but also helps to store and retrieve our communication on demand. There are hundreds of good communication software applications available in the market, but only a few free applications are worth our time. Let’s have a look at some great free communication apps.
Slack is a business communication platform that is developed by Slack Technologies. It was already a go-to business communication app in the US, but it gained worldwide prominence after the COVID-19 hit the world. Slack is now a known name in every workplace. It is used by all sizes of corporations, ranging from very small businesses to some of the Fortune 500 companies.
Although there are hundreds of apps available in the market, Slack is our best pick for communication software. It is free (mostly), fast, reliable, and secure. Slack has exceptional support on chat, email, and phone, even on the free plan. It has a “Forever Free” plan that has the most needed features for any new business. It stores 10,000 of your team’s latest messages with 10 custom integrations with other apps like Google Drive, Office 365, etc. You can also have unlimited 1:1 voice and video calls between your teammates. I think it is a very decent package that comes for free. If you ever feel that the free resources are falling short for you, then congratulations; you have scaled your startup enough that you can now purchase a paid version.
You can access Slack pricing here.
Zoho Corporation has been developing some great tools for small businesses for the last decade. They have the most cost-efficient pricing for all their apps. Particularly speaking, they have more than 50 apps that are suited for almost every business needs. One of their most generous offerings is Zoho Mail.
Zoho Mail is one of the only few reputed Email Hosting services across the world that offers a free-tier plan. The free tier has almost all the features that a new startup requires. You can get a custom email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for your team with five seats for free. Zoho Mail has top-notch security with an uptime of 99.9%, which is on par with the likes of paid hosting services like G-suite and Office 365. Mind you that a custom email looks a lot more professional than a regular “@gmail” email address. Not only it shows you are very serious about your business, but it also helps to keep all your business communications and client data secure.
Best Marketing and Sales Tools
“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart”
With rapid digitalization, the flow of information has become faster than ever. With the world getting smaller and closer, digital marketing has taken over traditional marketing such as newspapers and hoardings. People are using social media more than ever, thus, it is very important that your marketing game is top-notch. Be it meme marketing or influencer marketing, social media marketing is taking over the world.
There are a ton of social media platforms and we must ensure that we have our presence on maximum platforms to widen our reach. As a startup, it is practically impossible to look after each marketing platform by yourself. So, we will have a look at few free tools that can provide us with a centralized marketing solution to up our marketing game.
A recent social media marketing survey revealed that scheduling social media posts helped businesses to gain 26% more social media presence as compared to manual posting. There are a lot of undeniable benefits of scheduling automated social media updates. A few of them are better time management, extended reach, multiple platform management, and consistent presence. Buffer is one such social media tool that helps us to schedule and analyze our social media posts.
Buffer is an easy-to-use social media marketing tool that helps us to schedule, analyze, and automate our social media posts, and communicate with our customers. It is one of the only social media management tools that have a free tier available. The free tier allows connecting three social media accounts for a single user. For an ideal scenario, it is a good start for a new startup. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are enough for most businesses. Hootsuite was another such great free tool, but now they have restricted their free-tier plan to just two social media accounts.
Email marketing still remains one of the top marketing techniques used worldwide. And it is here to stay. According to a survey by HubSpot, 80% of business professionals believe that email marketing increases customer retention. And, 73% of millennials prefer communications from businesses to come via email. Besides this, email marketing is one of the cheapest yet most effective marketing technique, and have an astounding ROI of 3,800%. MailChimp is one such tool that has disrupted the email marketing industry and made email marketing easy and accessible for small businesses.
MailChimp is one of the easiest tools to create email campaigns. It has tons of design templates and greater flexibility to customize templates according to your needs. Its paid plans offer almost every feature that a professional email marketer use. But, its free plan is amazing too! It allows you to send 2000 emails per month which are good enough to start with. It is only one of the few email tools that provide reports and analytics on the free plan too. Besides this, it has great 24/7 customer support. The only caveat is that the MailChimp branding on emails cannot be removed on a free tier plan.
One company that benefitted the most out of this pandemic was Zoom. Today, Zoom is the most widely used video-conferencing app. From very small businesses to very large corporations, every size of workplace uses Zoom. Many video-conferencing apps emerged during the pandemic but Zoom managed to stand out as a winner.
When the app initially became mainstream, issues like security and privacy emerged, but Zoom was quick to manage these issues. Today, all the video calls on Zoom are end-to-end encrypted, meaning that all the meetings on Zoom are safe and secure. End-to-end subscription ensures that not even Zoom employees can get hold of our meetings. I have put Zoom in the sales category because it can act as an excellent tool to pitch our product/services to our clients. Doing sales on Zoom is very convenient and it has tons of features that we do not get in other free services like Google Meet. The free plan of Zoom is sufficient for a small business, and it contains features like unlimited one-on-one meetings (for unlimited time), unlimited group meetings (for forty minutes), and you can host up to 100 participants.
Now, with the increasing use of video conferencing, it is important to have a tool that helps us schedule appointments with prospects. Scheduling appointment has several benefits over keeping a manual track of the meetings. Appointment scheduling helps us to look professional, helps us to manage our time, enables us to be more efficient, etc.
Calendly is one of the best tools that can help us to make appointments and schedule meetings. It has a very clean and easy-to-use user interface. Its free plan covers almost every feature that any organization would want. The free tier connects with 1 calendar, provides a personalized booking link, and connects with all major video-conferencing apps. Calednly can turn out to be the best tool for anyone who has to meet with their clients frequently.
Do you know that social media posts with images drive 250% more engagement than a regular text post? Suppose, we have a Facebook page and want to drive our followers to our website/blog. The conventional way would be to share the link of our website on the page and see how many of our followers go to the link.
The better way could be that we upload a clickable image as the post. The image will then redirect the user to the link that we put on it. AnyImage is one such tool that can help us to create clickable social cards for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can see their explainer video here. The free plan of AnyImage helps us to create 10 social cards per month and uses shared domains to redirect the users. Although it’s not very generous, still a decent plan for very small businesses.
If you are someone who always wanted an online presence but were always overwhelmed by the thought of having your own website, Carrd can be the perfect tool for you. As a small business owner, you don’t want to commit resources, nor you have the time to invest in a fully functional website. Carrd is a simple tool using which you don’t have to worry about Back-end, Hosting, Email Hosting, Designing, SEO, Maintenance, Security, etc.
Using Carrd, you can create a simple, responsive single-page website that you can use for any purpose; be it building a subscriber list, showcasing your products, or just building a landing page to direct your visitors to your social media or blog. Carrd is easy-to-use and does not require any coding knowledge. You can launch your single-page website just within few minutes. A simple no-frills website is free to create, with a caveat that it comes with “Made with Carrd” branding. Although, Carrd paid plans are super-economical and I really suggest that you must explore them. In my opinion, Carrd Pro Standard plan is the best plan which costs just $19/year but provides excellent features like Custom Domain URLs, 10 Sites, Removed Branding, Forms, Video uploads, etc.
Best Project Management and CRM Tools
“Being a Project Manager is like being an artist, you have the different colored process streams combining into a work of art”
No matter how small or big your business is, project management always acts as the heart of it. Proper project management ensures the smooth and timely functioning of our business. Modern project management software is more powerful than ever and contains almost every feature that a business needs to manage its projects effectively. The good news is that you don’t need to shell out a huge sum to get your hands on these tools. I have curated a list of best Project Management and CRM tools, evaluating them on various factors such as Team Collaboration, New Features, Customer Support, Cost, and User-friendliness.
Trello is changing the project management solution industry through its simple and cost-effective solutions. With no doubt, I can say that Trello is the most user-friendly project management solution.
Trello eases Team Collaboration, Enables Workflow automation, has a powerful mobile app, and you can also integrate the tools that your team is already using – like Google Drive, Slack, Teams, etc in your Trello workflow. Trello is one of the most affordable project management tools in the market today. Trello’s free plan has almost all the functionality that a small business needs. It comes with unlimited cards, unlimited lists, and unlimited storage (10 MB per file). It supports ten boards per team, but that’s more than enough, to begin with. In and all, Trello free plan is the best free plan on any project management software available.
Just to get the basics cleared, CRM software is a Customer Relationship Management platform that helps companies manage and track all interactions with their past current, and potential customers. Not only it helps to track, but also has tons of additional features that ease most of your sales tasks.
HubSpot CRM is one of the most widely used CRMs in the market. HubSpot is considered an all-in-one solution for Marketing, Sales, and Customer Management.
HubSpot has more than 50 tools, ranging from Email Marketing to Persona Management. It’s a complete package for a marketer, with no loose ends. What makes me like HubSpot the most is that it offers a generous stack of free tools, forever. No Trials, No Credit Card! Its free tools include meeting and email scheduling, email marketing, live chat and bots, deal pipeline dashboard, forms, and landing pages, reports dashboards, customer support reports, etc. Undoubtedly, this stack is more than enough for a new business. This is one of the most generous stacks that comes absolutely free!
While discussing Zoho Mail, I mentioned that Zoho is the provider of one of the cheapest marketing tools on the internet. Zoho CRM and HubSpot are undoubtedly two of the best CRM software available today that are both powerful and cost-effective. While Zoho and HubSpot are true alternatives to each other, they vary on some fronts.
While Zoho offers many features that HubSpot offers, it has some additional special features, while it lacks some. Particularly, Zoho is better at lead management, and customization. Zoho has advanced features when it comes to lead management. You can assign leads to sales reps based on custom criteria, and create your own lead scoring rules. Unlike HubSpot, Zoho also supports APIs, meaning, that if Zoho doesn’t support any existing tool that you are already using, you can get its API made and integrate it with Zoho. On the other hand, Zoho doesn’t support Order Management. So, we don’t have a winner or a loser; you need to compare their offering to know what’s best for you. Zoho CRM free plan offers Leads, Contacts, Accounts, Customization, Workflow rules, Standard reports, Email Marketing, and more. You can check out the complete list of free Zoho CRM tools here.
While the above-mentioned tools are excellent CRM tools for sales and marketing business, but what if you are a software company? There are only a few good project management software that works and develops exclusively for software teams. Clubhouse is one such app that offers a powerful package, exclusively designed for software teams.
Not only it offers a powerful package, but it is also only one of the few apps that offer a forever free plan with almost every need taken care of. Clubhouse’s free plan offers its software free of cost to 1 team with 1-10 users. It offers 1 workplace, Workflows, Stories. Epics, Iterations, Spaces, Projects, Labels, Power Bar, etc. Clubhouse free plan also supports all major integrations like GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket Cloud, Slack, and Figma. Over the top, it provides a free 5 GB storage and API and Webhook access.
Best Finance and Legal Tools
“Cash combined with courage in a time of crises is priceless. Finance is the heart of a business, and legal is veins”
It is no mystery that managing finance is the most important function of a business. After all, the primary goal of any business is to be profitable and financially strong. Finance in itself is a vast category; it has various functions like Accounting, Invoicing, Payment Solutions, Credit, and much more.
Similarly, it is very important for a business to be legally strong in every aspect. There are tons of legal aspects and compliances that every business needs to follow. Without a strong legal infrastructure, a business cannot grow.
I have curated a list of some free and helpful tools that will make sure that your financial and legal needs are taken care of.
Lately, Square has become a big name in the payments space; thanks to Jack Dorsey’s visionary approach centered towards helping small and medium businesses to fill the payments gap. Square is everything about Payments. Through Square, a business can accept payments almost every way a customer intends to pay. Square has a bunch of payment devices that suited for the needs of each size of business.
Square provides a free Point of Sales App and a free magstripe reader for each kind of business. It only charges a variable rate of 2.6% + 10c on each payment made through the app/card reader, no matter what type of card/method is used. Over the top, Square offers a complimentary set of features that help to enhance business productivity: Dashboard and Reports, Customer Directory, Square Card, Team Management, eGift Cards, and more. As you scale, there are a lot of paid features that are worth exploring. They provide live phone, chat, and email support.
Accounting is one of the most important activities that any business needs to look after. Gone are the days when we could rely on manual accounting practices. Today, no matter what is the size of a business, it is very important to have a modern accounting system set up in your organization. There are hundreds of accounting software available in the market today, but only a handful of them are really powerful, simple-to-use, and fully functional. Even if you are able to find decent software, it will put a huge hole in your pocket. Thankfully, we have Wave to the rescue. Wave is one of the only few accounting software that is truly free. It requires no credit card, no trial, no limitations, and no hidden fees.
Wave offers a completely free accounting software with unlimited income and expense tracking, unlimited invoicing, unlimited partners, a fully functional double-entry system that automatically generates financial statements, powerful reports, and fully tax compliant. You can send collect payment on your invoices directly through Wave. The only fee that Wave charges are to accept online payments. It charges 2.9% + 30c fees to process most credit cards payment and 1% for bank payments. Wave provides email support for its accounting and invoicing software, and chat and email support for paid financial services like payments and payroll.
It is very difficult for a new startup to spend thousands of dollars on legal documents. In this case, Docracy is here to save your day.
Docracy was initially just a hackathon idea, but it was so well received that it turned into a million-dollar startup. Docracy is the home for free and open-source legal documents. You can find legal documents for almost any type of niche. Just make sure that you have someone look them over before you use them.
Best Design and Content Tools
“Content isn’t the King, its the Kingdom”
“There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for”
Hundreds of companies that are in billion-dollar clubs are there because they rock the design. Steve Jobs believes that good design was one of the most important reasons that Apple became a success.
In an era where content consumption is on a record high, you must make sure that you join the bandwagon. Your content defines your business. Great content helps you to score better leads. Now, there are hundreds of benefits of content marketing, and great content on the benefits of content marketing is already available on the internet. TL;DR. We will now explore some great free tools that are revolutionizing the design and content space.
Gone are the days when Adobe almost had a monopoly in designing. Although Adobe has some great and powerful designing software, they are not very easy to learn, and often are very expensive.
On the other hand, Canva is quickly taking over the design stack and is best suited for small business owners, online entrepreneurs, and marketers who want to design things quickly and easily. Unlike the tools from Adobe, Canva is light and easy to use and doesn’t require expensive computer resources.
The free tier on Canva offers 8000+ templates, 100+ design types (social media posts, presentations, letters, and more), hundreds of thousands of free stock photos, and a free Canva mobile app for designing on the go. I believe that this free stack is more than enough to get started with for a small/new business.
As more focus is getting on the design, and design teams are getting bigger, it is important to have a tool that can help design teams collaborate. Figma is one such app that is powering the design teams worldwide.
Figma helps design teams to collaborate over the internet and offers real-time collaboration. It offers cloud storage and does not require any installation (it runs 100% inside your browser). Again, Adobe has serious competition. Figma feels pretty straightforward when compared to tools like Adobe or Sketch. We can safely say that Figma is Google Doc for designers. The free forever version of Figma offers unlimited files in the draft, unlimited viewers and commenters, 30 days version history, and unlimited cloud storage. Although it offers only 1 team project, it is good to just get started.
Good content can take your business success to newer highs. The exquisite value of good content is not hidden. Good content not only helps to increase brand perception but also helps our website/landing page to rank better in searches (Search Engine Optimization), improving brand discoverability. Good content must be free from spelling and grammatical mistakes, plagiarism and must have good readability and tone. Grammarly helps us exactly achieve our writing goals.
Grammarly is a freemium software that helps writers better understand a lot of those confusing grammar rules. Grammarly will catch spelling mistakes, correct punctuations, plagiarism issues, grammatical errors, and more. It also helps to improve readability by suggesting alternative phrases, correcting poor sentence structure, etc. Grammarly has Chrome, Word, Google Doc, and Outlook extensions which makes it a truly multi-platform tool.
If you are a new business and have just launched a website, it is a good chance that your website is made on WordPress. But, just making a website is not enough; it is important that our website also ranks well in searches. The process through which we can make our website rank well in searches is known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a complex process and there is no single particular front that we can improve to improve our ranking.
A good SEO requires us to work on multiple fronts, including but not limited to: good content, use of suitable keywords, XML sitemaps, proper linking, and more. It is very cumbersome to do all this manually on WordPress, but we have Yoast to our rescue. Yoast SEO is a free WordPress plugin that helps us to improve our website by performing and suggesting all the necessary actions that help to improve our SEO. Yoast has a paid version also, but its free version is more than enough if you have just started on your SEO journey.
We are living in the world of infographics and designed content. From small organizations to Fortune 500 companies, all of them are using infographics to distribute ideas. But, we all know how difficult it is to create marketing and presentation material we need to be successful. The marketing game has moved from just graphic designing to content designing. Visme is helping small businesses to fill the content designing gap through its powerful all-in-one graphics platform.
Visme is a one-stop-shop that helps organizations produce graphic assets such as infographics, storyboards, slideshow presentations, Facebook ads, and more. It has an ample library of stock images, animations, templates, and other graphic assets to give you a headstart in your graphics journey. Visme has a forever free tier but it is restrictive up to five projects only; still, it’s worth giving a try.
Pexels is all about free stock photos. Pexels is the largest community that provides free stock photos that you can use for your personal as well as client projects. The best part is that the image quality on Pexels is better even than some of the paid image banks, all free! In addition, it is very convenient to use; it requires no signup, no credit, and no hassles.
Best Internet Infrastructure Tools
For operating a physical store, you require land. Similarly, for operating online, you require access to data. We build a shop on land, similarly, we host our website on a server. Collectively I refer to the internet assets such as Data, Server, Domains, Security, etc as an Internet Infrastructure. The good news is that owning infra on the internet is way cheaper than owning real assets; and also, internet infrastructure can help you to scale a lot more. I have curated a list of the best tools that can help you build a better internet infrastructure for your startup.
If you are inclined towards tech, you must surely know what AWS is. For newbies, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a subsidiary of Amazon providing on-demand cloud computing platforms and APIs to individuals, companies, and governments, on a metered pay-as-you-go basis.
Now, AWS Activate is Amazon’s most generous offer for startups.
Long story short, Amazon Activate provides startups and founders with up to $100,000 in AWS Activate credits which can be used for renting resources such as Storage, Computing, Database, and a lot more. AWS is one of the biggest cloud providers in the world and many companies like Spotify, Pinterest, Airbnb, DropBox that are worth billions of dollars today started with AWS.
This program supports startups in their initial phase of building their businesses. This includes providing AWS credits, taking part in startup contests, and receiving benefits from third-party solutions on the AWS cloud. Activate allows AWS partners that want to create a presence within the Activate community to offer perks to member startups. Some of which include discounts and extended free tiers.
To get the benefits of AWS Activate, you must meet some eligibility criteria. The eligibility criteria will depend on various factors; you can learn more about Activate eligibility criteria here.
More Internet Infrastructure and Miscellaneous Tools
I have compiled a list of infrastructure tools, some of which are very well known, and some of them might be a new discovery for you. In all, these tools might prove to be a pivot in scaling your startup to the next big thing.
|WordPress||Website/Blog/App||WordPress (wordpress.org) is open-source software that helps anyone to build impactful and beautiful websites, blogs, and apps. It is free and will always remain free. Fun fact; Almost 42% of the web use WordPress to power their websites.WP is free, secured, trustworthy, feature-rich, and comes with excellent email support.|
|PorkBun||Domain||PorkBun is an online provider of domains. PorkBun is one of the cheapest domain name providers on the internet and it claims to have the lowest renewal prices on more of its supported TLDs than any other registrar. It is also one of the cheapest email hosting providers on the internet.|
|Google Drive||Storage||Google Drive is one of the most known cloud storage platforms. It offers 15 GB of free storage with every account. You can always upgrade the storage limit at your convenience. They have released new Google One plans that are extremely value-for-money.|
|Cloudinary||Media Storage||Cloudinary is a media storage platform that helps you store your digital assets. These assets can be accessed by you, your website visitors, your project members, etc. It supports the complete lifecycle of asset management from file upload and storage all the way to real-time transformations and personalized delivery. Its free plan offers 25GB of cloud storage and 25,000 transformations, which, in my opinion, is enough for most of the new businesses.|
|Cloudflare||Web Security||Cloudflare is one of the largest providers of web performance and security tools. It is a one-stop-shop for everything related to web security. From protecting from DDoS attacks to optimizing the performance, it does everything. Cloudflare’s free plan provides mitigation of DDoS attacks, SSL certificate, and enables CDN on our website, and is more than enough for new businesses to cater to their security needs.|
|Google Analytics||Analytics||Google Analytics is the most popular analytics platform across the web. Google Analytics gives you free tools that help you to measure and analyze all your web data, helping you make smarter business decisions. In all, it helps you understand your site and app users to better check and improve the performance of your marketing, content, products, and more.|
|Hunter.io||Email Leads||Are you always in search of leads for your business, but are too much dependent on manual leads? Hunter.io is here to your rescue. Hunter.io helps you to quickly find email addresses associated with any domain. For example, you need to find the email of the persons associated with www.example.com, you can simply go to hunter.io and enter the desired domain to get the details. Hunter’s free plan offers 25 searches per month. But you can create any number of accounts. #IYKWIM|
|AppSumo||Product Marketplace||AppSumo is a marketplace where you can access thousands of tools that you require for your business at very VFM pricing. AppSumo is very famous for its Lifetime Deals (LTD), where you just need to pay once for a tool, and you can access it for a lifetime. No more expensive monthly payments for your favorite tools. I highly recommend you check out AppSumo to see if there’s a tool that suits your needs, you will end up saving thousands of dollars.|
|namecheckr||Name Utility||Before choosing a name for your new business, it is extremely important to check whether you are getting all the relevant domains, social media handles, etc for that name. Namecheckr is a simple and free utility tool that helps you to check your desired name across all the domains and social media handles at a click. No more to and fro to different platforms to check the name availability.|
|Zapier||Automation||Are you constantly switching between multiple apps to get your work done? It’s a very exhausting, boring, and time-consuming process. Zapier solves this problem. Zapier is a workflow automation tool that helps to connect different apps to get an automated workflow. For example, you can use Zapier to connect Gmail, DropBox, and Slack: As soon as you get a new email in Gmail, the attachment is copied from Gmail to DropBox, and you are alerted on Slack about the new DropBox file. This is just an example; you can use it whatever way you like.|
In this digital world, it is very important that you be on top of your work. As a new startup, you have limited monetary resources and you must always spend them with utmost care. Free apps and resources can help you develop your business and enhance the productivity of you and your employees. Use them to improve workflow, project management, resource allocation, and boost productivity.
Almost every company now offers a trial plan. Before you decide to invest in a premium version, test the app to make sure it meets your needs and has all the features your startup/small business requires. It’s always better to cancel a free plan rather than to tie up money in the apps that are inefficient for your business.
I believe that this list will help you reap maximum benefits out of your business, and hope that you grow so much that your next research would be on “Best paid apps to…”