Freelancer. Small business owner. Solopreneur. One-man show. They call us many things, but well-funded is rarely one of them.
When you’re just starting out in e-business there’s a lot to learn and even more to do, and for many of us, peanuts are all we have to do it with.
Although I strongly advocate hiring professionals to help build, SEO, launch, and market your e-business website, when the funds aren’t there, you’ve got to do it yourself.
Fortunately, the Internet is flush with low cost and free resources to help get your e-businesses off the ground. I’d like to share some of my favorites with you:
Free Business Tool #1: WordPress
My website (and many others) is built on the WordPress platform. WordPress is technically a blogging software, but has been adapted to run other types of websites, as well.
There are two versions: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The difference is that WordPress.com will host your blog for you, whereas WordPress.org requires you to have your own webhost (about $7-$12 per month).
What I like about WordPress.org (the one I use) is that, despite not always being intuitive, it has allowed me to add all the features I want to my website without having to hire a web developer. It’s also SEO friendly and makes it easy to integrate blogging into your website (a must for any e-business).
Free Business Tool #2: Google Analytics
In previous posts I’ve highlighted some of the many free tools offered by Google. One I rely on heavily is Google Analytics. Google Analytics allows webmasters to monitor web traffic, telling you how many visitors you’re getting, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking at.
By analyzing this information you can see just how successful your marketing efforts have been and make adjustments accordingly.
Free Business Tool #3: Mailchimp
I signed up with Mailchimp quite some time ago, but only recently started making good use of it.
Mailchimp is an email marketing tool that helps webmasters keep in contact with clients and prospects. You can use it to send out newsletters, appointment reminders, e-courses, and other mass email communications. The software handles all your subscriptions for you and even makes it easy to create a newsletter from your blog’s RSS feed.
The best part is that with Mailchimp you can (currently) send up to 12,000 emails each month free of charge.
Free Business Tool #4: Freshbooks
Businesses are in business to make money. For freelancers this usually means sending out invoices and collecting payments from clients. I like Freshbooks for invoicing because it’s easy, professional, and flexible. Your clients automatically get access to branded web portals where they can check their balance and pay bills. You can also use it to track your time, send branded snail-mail invoices, and accept online payments via PayPal.
Freshbooks is free for your first 3 clients and only requires a modest monthly fee thereafter.
Free Business Tool #5: Capsule CRM
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love having a social customer relationship management tool. Since I started using Capsule CRM earlier this year I’ve really been able to keep on top of my prospecting activities. Just the act of inputting clients into the software forces me to become familiar with their social profiles and set up tasks to be sure I keep in contact with them.
Capsule is free for your first 250 contacts. However, individuals and the companies they work for are treated as two separate contacts, which makes it easy to organize multiple contacts from the same company, but effectively reduces your free entries.
Bonus Tool #1: Rapportive
Okay, so I’ve highlighted 5 business tools that everyone can use, here’s one that’s specifically for Gmail users. Rapportive is a small plugin that displays social media information in your inbox. Without leaving Gmail you can see profile pictures, connect on LinkedIn, follow on Twitter, and friend on Facebook all your email contacts.
Bonus Tool #2: Clicktest
This one I just learned about this past week and haven’t even signed up for (yet). Clicktest is designed to let web designers test webpage layouts. You can submit a picture of your webpage and ask a question like “where would you click to recommend us on Facebook”. So far I haven’t explored the details of this tool, but just participating in tests was fun enough to bring me back to the site more than once.