Building a business can be hard. But, now more than ever, the possibility of starting and running a business with very little capital is the most remote. There has never been a better time to start a company. The exotic bale of free business tools available on the internet makes this possible.
Tasks that previously required expensive software license and specialized skills now need only a collection of algorithms. So we curated a list of 59 essential, mostly free, tools, that we use and we think will also help you run your startup.
Email Management and Marketing
We send out our newsletter via MailChimp. It’s a simple email marketing tool that provides easy options to design, send and analyse our email campaign.
It’s simple to use and its free tier is enough for an early stage startup with a small customer base. As your mailing list grows, you may have to shell out more money for extra functionalities.
If we’ve ever arranged a meeting with you via email, you’ve probably used Mixmax. We love it. Mixmax enables us to schedule calendar availability directly from our Google Inbox.
It does more.
Mixmax lets you embed polls and surveys without leaving your e-mail compose window, show you who and when your e-mail was opened.
Sometimes you need to borrow a leaf from the playbook of successful companies on how to write good customer emails. Goodemailcopy gives you access to email copies from popular startups. They are a good inspiration for crafting your own original marketing and CRM emails.
Benchmark Email is a simple email marketing tool that offers an easy-to-use interface and generous features. Its free tier allows you send up to 14,000 emails to 2000 subscribers every month. That’s more than enough for your small collection of customers.
Rapportive is a browser plugin for Chrome and Firefox that automatically replaces Gmail ads with a much better overview of who’s sending you emails. It does this by cross-checking the email of the sender with various social networking sites, then replaces the ad space with whatever information it finds about the person that sends you an email.
If you’ve filled one of our surveys, you’ve done so on Typeform.
Typeform enables you to create good looking surveys. It layers a more human sentiment to online forms. It’s also more customizable.
You can make your forms personal with a cheeky welcome screen or a thank you page. It also offers analytics and collaborative options. The free version is just right for you at the early stage.
Surveymonkey is a good Typeform alternative. It has more features, but required more learning to use. We use SurveyMonkey if we need to embed survey within Mailchimp. They are brilliant for that.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anything more distressing than having all the genius you’ve packed into your email copy filtered away into your customers’ junk folder.
This simple tool helps you determine if your email may be flagged as spam, or filtered away by spam filters.
Customer.io is the behavioral messaging platform for automating personalized customer communication. It’s superb for an e-commerce platform that wants to engage with customers based on their transaction behaviour.
It uses behavioural data and segmentation across web and mobile to allow you automate targeted, contextual communication that will drive conversion and retention. The free tier allows you send 400 emails a month to 200 people.
Invoicing, Payrolling, and Payments
Paystack is plausibly the best way for African startups to accept payments online from anywhere in the world. Paystack has locked down the recurrent payment end of things, and they’ve removed initial fees so you can jump right in.
Entrepreneur to me:@paystack is the truth. It has collected more for me in one month than Interswitch did a in a year.
— ST. (@seyitaylor) March 29, 2016
Paystack has no free tier, but the pricing is moderate. They charge 1.9% + N100 (about 25 cents) on local cards. The N100 (25 cents) fee is waived on transactions less than N2,500 ($10)
11. Wave Accounting
This is the best free accounting software for startups. Wave is very easy to use for non-accountant, so you have significantly low learning curve. Wave lets you customize and send your invoice as well as create recurring invoice profiles.
Shoeboxed turns all your paper clutter disguised as receipts and business cards into organized cloud-based data and reports. It scans receipts and business cards and indexes them in a searchable format.
They have a 30-day risk free trial that lets you experiment with any of their paid plans.
59 Free Business Tools [Download the eBook]
Branding and Product Development
Squarespace Logo Designer is perfect for anyone with a little budget. It’ll help you design a simple logo that you’ll be happy to display on your website and business card.
Squarespace Logo is incredibly easy to use. You will literally finish your logo in less than five minutes.Type in the name of your company, your tagline, choose colors and fonts, add icons and you are done.
Swipe is a lot like the regular PowerPoint, but only so much more. It allows you to create responsive decks with the ability to sync the playback in real time to enable audience participation.
Your audience can follow the presentation on their phones. There is also the opportunity for audience participation analytics. The free tier is enough for your needs with unlimited decks, unlimited collaborators, private decks and basic stats.
Invision presents a great vision of how prototyping can work. It’s a bit difficult to work with at first, but learning is easy if you can take your time.
The free plan could work sufficiently for you. It allows you have one prototype and comes with 128-bit SSL encryption and daily backups.
Basically a digital version of the legacy business model canvas. This tool allows you create a smooth digital copy of your business model canvas.
QWILR Ad Spend helps you understand how much you can afford to pay for advertising. It helps you figure this out based on the unit economics of your business and the conversion rate of your sales funnel.
This means you are not spending gobs of money based on assumptions, but real data.
Use this if you are trying to figure out a name for your business. Type in two to three words that describe what your business does and you can get name suggestions.
The tool will try many combinations and return a bunch of possibly-cool names you can choose from. It’ll also check if the domain names are available.
Exactly like Squarespace Logo Creator, only simpler. Feed in your company name, choose what industry you are in and you get a selection of great custom logos in return.
Codility is a testing solution that helps you hire the best developers faster. It basically boils down your developer hiring process to a funky, geeky benign hunger games.
You create programming tests, invite candidates, candidates code online, you compare and filter your candidates based on facts and you interview only the best ones.
If you want to know if your business is worth all the money and energy you are about to pour into it, then customer discovery is the way to go.
Perhaps the easiest way to conduct your customer discovery is through this ultimate list of questions curated by Mike Fishbein. Everybody needs to do this before they expend time, energy and emotion on a business idea.
59 Free Business Tools [Download the eBook]
Website and Content Management
The List Builder adds a pop-up window to your site that appears when people are leaving and asks them to sign-up for your email list. There are also the sharing tools, the smart bar, highlighter, the heat maps that let you know what people are interacting with on your website and more.
There is a free tier and the premium version comes with extra functionality.
WordPress is arguably the best content management system around. We use it for our content platform. It’s easy to set up and have hundreds of open-source templates, widgets, and plugins that will make your life easier.
24. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service on the Internet. It is a freemium web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic.
It’s a powerful free tool that combines many functionalities including the Google Analytics Content Experiments and Google Analytics Cohort analysis which helps understand the behavior of component groups of users.
We love this tool. Sniply lets you overlay any piece of content you share on the internet with your custom call-to-action. It gives you an opportunity to better engage with your followers with every link you share. You can bring attention to your business, even if you are sharing other people’s web pages.
Got a new app? How do you best present it to the press? You need a press kit to control the narrative.
The press kits generated will come complete with app icons, screenshots and a document with your app’s description and other relevant info like the genre, price, developer, website and more.
Site and Business Analytics + SEO and PPC
Alexa does more than just track your site traffic. It provides you with actionable insights to help you compare your business with industry leaders, and optimize your business for the web.
Ispionage is a competitive intelligence PPC/SEO tool that helps you see what your competition is up to online. The tool pulls data on over 87 million keywords across more than 32 million domains on Google, Yahoo and Bing.
The paid version helps you get email alerts when there are changes in your competitor’s keywords, ad copy and such. Nevermind that the tool lists only the US, UK, and Canada in the supported locations, it works just as well for African countries.
Exactly like Ispionage. It exposes the search marketing formula of your competitors. Feed in their website on the SpyFu search page and see every of their keywords, their organic ranking, their ad variations and more.
30. Similar Web
Similar Web gives you your site analytics data as well as that of your competitors. You get traffic, engagement stats and more.
Follow.net curates all the data about your site or a competitor’s site from many different competitive intelligence services so you can compare them.
Quantcast collects and organizes real-time data about the traffic coming to a website. Quantcast’s data help you understand the demographics, psychographics and other web analytical data of the website visitors.
This insight helps you better understand your audience or your competitors’ audience. Super-helpful for your customer discovery process.
59 Free Business Tools [Download the eBook]
Social Media Management
Buffer is great for scheduling content across different social platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.
The Individual Plan is free and probably all you need at this stage, but you can also opt for any of their paid plans which range from $102 to $2,550 per year.
Hootsuite is a brilliant social media management tool. It covers many social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Foursquare, and Google+.
It combines a team management functionality that is super-helpful when you have more than one person handling your social media accounts.
Writerack is the easiest way to tweetstorm. Writerack is designed by the folks up at Fonebase Labs, a local design team based out of Lagos.
Your journey to being a Twitter expert starts here. Simply paste your long-winded pontification on Writerack and it cuts it into little tweetable chunks.
Mention helps you track all your brand mentions on social networks, news sites, forums, blogs or any web page. It monitors million of sources in more than 42 languages and shares alerts with you.
Mention has a 14-day free trial and the free basic plan give your one alert for one user.
Do you know how your Twitter marketing is coming along? TweetReach gives you insight on how your tweets performed and why. It lets you figure out what’s working, what isn’t, and how you can improve to generate more engagement and followers.
Followerwonk focuses on Twitter analytics. And it’s simply the best tool to analyze and optimize your online presence for growth.
Followerwonk is great for planning outreach campaigns. It helps you identify influencers in your niche which can either follow or pilfer their followers. Using followerwonk, you can also compare your social graph to other people and measure how well you are doing.
Respond by Buffer lets you monitor your Twitter accounts for @mentions, DMs, and search keywords like #hashtags.
All this is done in its inbox-style interface. The Pro version comes with functionalities that let you work with a team; collaborate, assign conversations and prevent double-Tweets.
59 Free Business Tools [Download the eBook]
Grammarly finds and corrects 250 types of errors. It’s about the best error checker on the market right now. Its chrome extension plugs into every text editor and makes sure all your outbound communication: emails, documents, tweets, facebook update, are error free.
Frankly, Grammarly won’t pick out all the errors in your text, but it, at least, makes sure you don’t come across as clumsy with the language.
41. Hemingway Editor
Complement Grammarly with Hemingway Editor. It makes your writing clear and bold by suggesting ways you can make your writing more readable. It’s a fantastic tool we have come to trust here at Starta.
If you are struggling to think up topic ideas for your company blog? This bad boy here is your knight in shining HTML and Backbone.js.
By entering relevant keywords, it returns to-the-point topics you can write on. Some of the topics can be off-base sometimes, so you need to use ingenuousness to work at a fitting topic.
This tool allows you to know if your headline is a hit or miss. It’s simple and easy to use. It also helps you understand what makes a headline a good headline, ultimately making a better headline crafter.
Buzzsumo lets you know the most popular content online and the people sharing them. By searching for a keyword, you will see the most popular articles on that keyword and the social networks they are most popular on.
You also can enter the URL of a competitor and find their most popular content. This insight helps you plan your content marketing and understand your target audience better. It’s a powerful tool, but the free tier is limited. If you can afford it, their paid plans start at $99/month.
45. Google Alerts
This is going out of fashion, but it’s still one of the best ways to keep a tab on your mentions online.
With Google Alerts, you can track mentions of your brand or yourself, your competitors, industry leaders and content you find interesting. You will receive email notifications every time Google finds new results on an alert you’ve set up.
59 Free Business Tools [Download the eBook]
Canva puts the power to make an engaging graphic design within anyone’s grasp.
It has hundreds of free pre-designed layouts, elements, fonts and image styles that make it possible to design everything from a great Twitter header to a flyer for your business. It’s completely free. There are some premiums up for sale, but you can always work around these.
Another super-useful tool for finding icons to use in your design projects. There are a couple of paid-for icons, but you’ll probably find a relevant icon for your work without having to pay anything.
48. Pablo By Buffer
This simple tool allows you create and share social media images with minimal input from you. There isn’t much to say here, aside the fact that it’s unbelievably simple to use.
Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It’s a free tool that can be used to retouch images, compose and author images. It’s basically a free Photoshop. If you can’t shell out $10 per month for Photoshop subscription, GIMP is a great alternative. It’s absolutely free.
Unsplash is a quality repository of free stock photos. The images are high-quality materials you can use on your company blog or design projects. All the images here are completely free, as in free to download and free to do with as you please.
A good alternative for Unsplash. It’s also a fabulous repository of royalty-free pictures, although, most can only be used under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.
Productivity and Collaboration Tools
This is one of the more popular and stable cloud-storage tools out there.
Dropbox lets you save files on your computer, access them anywhere and share with your team. The free tier with 2GB of space is enough for small file transfers. But if you want unlimited storage and sharing, you will have to shell out about $9.99/month for 1TB and unlimited third-party integration.
Google Drive helps save your files in the cloud, access them on any device and easily share them.
The Google collaborate apps: Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Presentation allow you create spreadsheets, documents and presentations in your browser and have your team contribute realtime. All you have to do is share a link with them and voila, everyone is contributing their valuable brain droppings.
Slack is becoming the most awesome enterprise software that has ever existed.
It’s a real-time messaging tool for teams. At Starta for instance, it’s allowed us communicate real-time and align our thoughts despite the fact that our team is strewn across three continents.
Slack can be integrated with other essential startup tools like Google Drive, Trello, Appear.in, MailChimp and …err…Giphy. Think of it as a cooler, more functional intranet.
Slack is absolutely free. If you want some bells and whistles, however: like unlimited integration or single-channel members, you may have to part with some pretty penny.
Keeping track of what’s being worked on and who’s working on what could be a hassle, even in a small team. Trello helps you arrange all this and keep track of where you are in an execution process.
Trello’s clean, simple interface allows you arrange your tasks into a board. Think of it as your to-do list / scrum board on steroids.
Appear.in is perhaps the simplest WebRTC-based video messaging / conferencing tool. It’s stupid simple to use. It doesn’t require any login or signup. The free tier allows you have a video conference for up to eight people.
Wunderlist is a brilliant organization, task-management and communication tool for teams with multiple projects. It’s based on an underlying to-do list technology. It’s intuitive with a simple UI.
It helps teams track tasks, set due-dates for tasks and assign tasks to individuals on a team.
IFTTT lets you automate actions on the internet – between a website and an app; your smartphone and a gadget, name it. You can set it up to automatically tweet new content from your blog. Or collect tweets with a certain hashtag. It’s almost magical.
IFTTT works via recipes that match triggers (if this) to actions (that). You can create these recipes themselves but there are ready-made recipes that users can simply customize.
Which tools are you already using? What other tools do you use that we didn’t add on here? Share with us via twitter @startaHQ