When you’re setting up a business, you’ll no doubt have concerns about the costs involved. How much will payroll run to? What will the rent be on your business premises? What is my tax bill likely to be?
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Once you start factoring in the costs of sourcing and running your technology stack, expenses can soon become unmanageable, particularly when soaring energy costs are making it harder to keep the office lights on.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free software options for small businesses out there, many of which will be more than enough for your needs before you even consider the paid tiers.
To help keep your business costs down, we've pulled together some of the best free software tools on the market, covering a range of use cases that most businesses will need from the get-go, whether that's business communications, productivity, or HR. They also provide some of the best Microsoft Office alternatives.
Best for business collaboration
Whatever your industry, effective communication between your team members is almost certainly vital to the smooth running of your company.
Online communication tool Slack enables you to try its services for free for an unlimited period of time. If you choose this software, you can group your team messages according to channels, which enables those working on a particular project to communicate more effectively.
Under the terms of the free plan, you’ll have access to 10,000 of your team’s most recent messages. Other benefits include unlimited one-to-one voice and video calls for individuals, as well as 10 integrations with other apps such as Google Drive and Microsoft 365.
If you’d like access to a wider range of features, you can upgrade to one of the company’s paid plans, which offer services such as group video and voice calls.
Best for project management
If you’re juggling numerous projects across your company, you could improve your efficiency with project management software Trello. Based on the Japanese model of Kanban management, Trello uses virtual boards that enable you to visualise your progress on key projects and then decide on your next steps. The most common analogy used to describe the software is a whiteboard covered in Post-It notes.
You can also assign tasks, establish timelines, create calendars, and view metrics. Once you’ve created a new task, every aspect of the task can be managed, tracked, and shared with other members of your team.
Another point in Trello’s favour is that the software has integrations with apps such as Confluence, Slack, Dropbox, and Evernote.
Best for business accounting
For many small business owners, invoicing can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of the accounting process, Using the free version of Wave’s customisable software, you can create an unlimited number of invoices in any currency.
You can also view your transaction history with your customers, set up invoices reminders to email your customers when payment is due, and track sales tax. Another of the software’s most attractive features is the ability to set up recurring billing for repeat customers, which could drastically reduce the amount of time you spend chasing payments.
Best for videoconferencing
With the rise of remote working, it’s essential that you choose the right video conferencing platform for your business’s needs. While a number of rivals have emerged in recent years, Skype’s free plan remains one of the most attractive on the market. As well as supporting one-to-one chats, the app enables you to hold group video calls with up to 100 participants.
A major advantage here is that you don’t need to download an app in order to use the service, and can do so through your browser.
Best for website building
If your business requires a website (and in the digital age it almost certainly will), the free website-building tools offered by Wix may well come in handy. Operating through a simple drag-and-drop interface, the software enables you to add key elements to your site without any knowledge of coding, which makes the process far less demanding for beginners.
If you’re seeking a no-frills website, the company provides hundreds of design templates for free. Be aware however that the free version will automatically display ads for Wix on your company’s site.
Best alternative to Microsoft Office
If you’re a fan of traditional Microsoft Office packages such as Word, Powerpoint, and Excel, but would rather avoid the price tag, LibreOffice offers an attractive, free alternative.
Its main services are Writer (word processing), Impress (presentations), Calc (spreadsheets), Base (database), and Draw (vector diagrams). As the successor to OpenOffice, LibreOffice is compatible with a range of document formats such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.
Best email platform
Talking to a business should feel like messaging a friend
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Whatever your organisation's size or industry, sending and receiving email is likely to be at the heart of your operation. Although arguably less well-known than some of its rivals, free email app Thunderbird is likely to offer all the features you need to manage email communications across your business.
Its main features include a mail account setup wizard, a quick filter toolbar, tabbed email, smart folders, and an add-ons manager. There is also a one-click address book feature, which enables you to add people to your contact list by clicking on an icon next to their name when they send you a message.
If you’re sharing large documents, you can also speed up the transfer by uploading these to an online storage provider and sharing the link.
Best business backup suite
Open source backup software Duplicati enables you to back up files and folders through strong Advanced Encryption Standard/AES-256 encryption. It will also save space across your network with incremental backups and removal of duplicate data.
If you opt for Duplicati, you can run updates through the web-based interface or via the command line interface. The software is configured by a web interface that runs in any browser, and therefore can be accessed from anywhere.
Duplicati is compatible with Windows, MacOS, and Linux operating systems.
Best email marketing platform
While the term “spamming” evokes a sense of dread in most legitimate business owners, email marketing can nevertheless be a key to the successful operation of many companies.
Mailchimp is an American marketing automation platform and email marketing service. Using the free version, you’ll have access to a number of features such as one-step automation, which will deliver messages to your customers depending on who they are and how they interact with your company.
This version enables you to send messages to a single audience of up to 2,000 contacts. Although this is likely to be sufficient for many small businesses, you can increase these figures by upgrading to one of the company’s paid plans.
Best HR management platform
Smart HR software Freshteam offers services such as applicant tracking, onboarding, and time-off management. Free for up to 50 employees, the company’s Sprouts plan includes a dedicated recruitment team inbox, a basic careers site, and an employee directory.
If you’re unsure whether Freshteam is right for your business, or have questions over which plan to choose, the company offers a free demo of its services. The free plan is also available as iOS and Android mobile apps.
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Katy Ward is a freelance journalist and editor with more than 10 years' experience writing about tech and finance. Throughout her career, she has worked with tech giants such as Google and Yahoo!, as well as a host of fintech start-ups. Her work has appeared in national newspapers and independent media outlets.