Although your small business needs a healthy amount of software to conduct operations, it's not necessary for you to spend a fortune on web-based products. In our comprehensive testing of business and consumer software, we've come across dozens of incredible and free solutions that can help you get the job done. We've tested free tools in almost all facets of business—from email marketing to endpoint protection to project management.
To help you celebrate National Small Business Week this week, we've compiled this list of 20 free tools that your small business should be using. Fortunately for you, all of the software listed below offer premium versions to which you can upgrade once your business grows. So don't shy away from the products on this list under the false assumption that you will eventually scale out of this category.
Image courtesy: US Small Business Administration
1. Endpoint Protection from Avast
What's the point of growing a business if it can be shut down by viruses or hackers? Avast's endpoint protection comes in a free and a premium version, both of which protect your network well.
If you opt for the free version, keep in mind that you won't have access to proactive controls, a firewall, or data shredding. However, you'll still get access to solid malware blocking, security scanning, and rescue disk functionality—all of which will come in handy at some point.
2. Project Management from Wrike
Wrike's project management solution is one of the best on the market regardless of which tier you choose. The free version supports up to five users, an unlimited number of collaborators, and 2 GB of free storage. With this plan, you can manage tasks, share files, and monitor your group's activities in a real-time feed.
If you need customizations and reporting, you'll have to upgrade to a higher tier. But if you're just getting started and your team is small, the free project management tool will be perfect for you.
3. Video Conferencing from join.me
If you're looking to connect with clients, prospects, and remote workers, you'll need a reliable video conferencing solution to help you get the job done. Join.me offers a free plan that lets you invite up to 10 video participants, share screens, and supports up to five video feeds.
Join.me isn't the most robust offering on the market, but it's definitely a strong competitor among the free solutions. If you don't have money to spend, and you need the cream of the free crop, try join.me.
4. Applicant Tracking from Zoho Recruit
Small businesses that don't have job openings often will love Zoho Recruit. This applicant tracking tool gives you access to one recruiter and up to five open positions at once. You'll be able to input, publish, and track jobs until you find the right candidate for your company's specific needs.
You'll also be able to send emails to applicants via five free email templates, which will make your life easier if you have to send the same (or similar) messages over and over again.
5. Human Resources Management from Deputy
Once you've found the right candidate, you'll need to track his or her progress via a human resources (HR) management tool. Deputy offers a starter plan that costs just $1 per employee per month. Yes, I know, this isn't free. But at only $1 per month, it's an incredibly solid investment.
Deputy will allow you to schedule employee shifts, make company announcements, and manage tasks, all within one easy-to-use tool. Unfortunately, at this price tier, you won't be able to add timesheets or payroll integration. For that, you'll have to spend an extra $2 per employee per month.
6. Accounting from Wave
Your employees definitely want to get paid. So does your landlord and your utilities provider. To keep your books balanced, you can use Wave. With the free version of Wave, you'll receive accounting and reports functionality, you'll be able to create and scan invoices, and you'll be able to scan receipts directly into the system.
No, this isn't a one-stop shop for all of your bookkeeping needs. But if you keep things simple, you'll be able to get pretty far using this basic service. For things such as payments and automatic integration with direct deposit payroll, you'll have to pay $19 month.
7. Business Planning from EquityNet
If your company is still looking to lure investors, EquityNet offers a free crowdfunding platform that will help you plan, analyze, and share your business plan with investors. You'll create your plan using EquityNet's plan and analysis software, and you'll publish it onto the website and share it with anyone who is willing to read your pitch.
Although this is more of a funding tool than a planning tool, the software is good enough to get you through the initial ideation stages (and, who knows, you might even get lucky and find a deep-pocketed investor).
8. Social Media Listening from HootSuite
Most small businesses don't need a mega social listening platform. A free, easy-to-use dashboard that lets you stay up-to-date on what your customers are saying should be enough. Fortunately, Hootsuite offers a free version of its software that's good enough to do the trick.
With HootSuite Free, you'll be able to manage multiple social networks, schedule posts, and interact with your followers. You'll also be able to track how many followers you have on each of your social networks and monitor which posts are generating the most clicks. If your business grows, you can move up to one of three premium plans, which give you access to additional profiles, analytics, and multiple users.
9. Email Marketing from MailChimp
MailChimp is one of the best and most popular email marketing platforms on the market. Service tiers are priced depending on how many emails you send per month. If your company sends fewer than 12,000 email messages per month to fewer than 2,000 subscribers, you'll absolutely love MailChimp's Forever Free plan.
This steal of a deal lets you use built-in signup forms to gather subscribers from across the web. You can use MailChimp's drag-and-drop designer and email templates to craft the perfect message. You won't get robust reporting on the Forever Free plan, but you'll be able to check open rates and compare them to the average company in your industry. Not bad for zero dollars.
10. Virtual Private Network from CyberGhost
Small businesses that are super concerned about security should look into personal virtual private network (VPN) services. These services hide online activity from snoops and limits who can and can't access network content. Most VPNs are pay-to-play but there are a few services, such as CyberGhost, that give you a bit of protection at no cost.
CyberGhost is the best free VPN on the market. It offers reliable connection speeds and excellent network security, plus it works on most modern operating systems (OSes). It's somewhat difficult to configure, especially for really small businesses. And if you need Mac or Linux support, you'll need to upgrade to the paid version. But if you just need something simple, easy, and free, CyberGhost is a great tool.
11. Data Visualization from Tableau Public
If you need a data visualization tool but you don't have the coin to spend on Tableau Desktop, then you should try Tableau Public. Public is essentially the same as the full Tableau Desktop product, except you won't be able to pull information from as many data sources as the paid version, and anything you create will be saved to a public version of Tableau's cloud.
This product gives you access to live dashboards, responsive visuals that can be created and seen on mobile devices, and access to Google and Microsoft document managers. You can even share your visuals on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
12. Business Intelligence from Microsoft Power BI
Microsoft Power BI is available in a paid and free version for self-service business intelligence (BI). The free version limits you to 1 GB per user, which you can pay to increase to 10 GB. With this plan, your data will refresh daily, you'll be able to scan 10,000 rows of data per hour, and you'll be able to publish to the web.
To consume live data sources, scan millions of rows of data, or access data on a physical server, you'll need to upgrade to Power BI Pro, which is still reasonable at $10 per user per month. The Pro version of this software also provides you with ways to collaborate with coworkers on visualizations across environments such as Microsoft Office 365.
13. Document Management from Zoho Docs
Zoho Docs is an ideal document management solution for small businesses with light document workloads. In addition to plug-ins to the rest of Zoho's software ecosystem, the Zoho Docs free plan is available for up to 25 users and includes 5 GB of storage per user.
The free plan also includes unlimited file and folder sharing, desktop sync, editing tools, user management, and version history. You'll also be able to integrate with Dropbox and turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) for added security. Plus, each document provides you with in-app chat so you can collaborate in real time.
14. Helpdesk Software from Zoho Desk
Zoho also makes the list with its feature-rich helpdesk software Zoho Desk. The free version provides your service team with different work modes, a customizable help center, a knowledge base, community forums, and the ability to rebrand the visuals to suit your company's needs.
If your helpdesk needs are a bit more complex, then you'll want to upgrade to the $12-per-user-per-month Pro version or the $25-per-user-per-month Enterprise version, which adds features intended for larger organizations.
15. E-Commerce Software from X-Cart
For companies that have products to sell but don't have much money to design a complex online shopping cart, X-Cart is a powerful solution. X-Cart 5, which is the name of the free version, offers advanced features such as newsletters, social-commerce sharing, and a sitebuilder for tweaking themes. X-Cart provides free core upgrades and free extensions such as ShipStation to generate shipping labels, Magic Slideshow to create a slideshow on the site, and Diib Analytics.
Keep in mind: You'll need a bit of technical prowess to get started with X-Cart 5. It's not a plug-and-play e-commerce tool, so be sure to have a handy IT person around to walk you through your setup.
16. eLearning Authoring from H5P
Although H5P isn't the most powerful eLearning authoring tool on the market, this open-source software is an excellent starter option if you're just dipping your toe into the content authoring field, or if you don't have budget to dedicate to a more powerful tool.
Course creation can be done via 20 different course creation architectures. However, the only free-form course architecture is the Course Presentation option. This is similar to a Microsoft PowerPoint architecture, although, unlike other tools, it doesn't use the exact Microsoft PowerPoint format. You'll be able to insert text, images, videos, and questions. Buttons are clearly marked and subsequent steps are clearly articulated. This is one of the easier tools with which to create a course (even using the most complex format, namely, the Course Presentation architecture). Other content types include Image Hotspots, Interactive Video, Summaries, Timelines, and several quiz formats, including Arithmetic, Memory Card, Multiple Choice, and Short Answer quizzes.
17. Document Scanning from Evernote Scannable
Scannable, which is a new app from Evernote, quickly scans stacks of business cards, notes from a meeting, and documents by using nothing more than your smartphone and its camera. When you scan multiple documents in one session, each one is treated as a separate note in Evernote rather than as one note with several images embedded. This is a great idea for receipts and business card organization.
The app also connects to LinkedIn for added networking context as it parses text extremely well. Because the tool connects to the cloud, sharing documents is as easy as sharing a photo on your phone's hard drive.
18. Online Survey Software from SurveyGizmo
There's no better way to take the proverbial temperature of your customer base than with an online survey tool. SurveyGizmo's free plan places no limits on the number of surveys, questions, or responses you manage, which is a tremendous value.
You'll get access to 25 different question types, data visualization tools, and you'll never have to provide any information (unless you plan to upgrade to a paid plan).
19. Customer Relationship Management from Apptivo CRM
Customer relationship management (CRM) tools are often complex, expensive, and flooded with features you'll never need. Apptivo CRM offers a free Starter plan for up to three users that's designed to ease you into the complicated world of customer data.
With the Starter plan, you'll gain access to detailed reporting, 500 MB of data, and project management features such as milestone tracking and project templates. You'll also be able to connect your free CRM to free helpdesk, finance management, and procurement tools, which is especially helpful if you're a startup that is just dipping its toe into the world of cloud services.
20. Contract Management from Agiloft
If your contract management needs are basic, then try Agiloft. The free plan supports 10 registered users and you'll gain access to 30 days of customer service.
Although the free version of the tool is primarily used as an evaluation source for larger organizations, it can also be used by small businesses that are able to deal with a few limitations. For example, timer-based rules function only at 48-hour intervals. You won't get automatic data backup, access to the Rest API, or your own employee portal. If you can handle those issues, then the free plan is all you'll really need.