Freelancers and small-business owners might not have the financial capital on hand to invest in all of the tools and apps that can help a business run smoothly. Thankfully, they don’t need it — because plenty of free, open source software is available online at the click of a button.
Many of the free versions of business software cover, at minimum, the basic needs required by startups and self-employed individuals. Check out a few below. (See also: 6 Helpful Tools to Manage Your Small Business)
1. Google Drive
Google Drive is a free service that gives users access to spreadsheets, word processing, slideshows, and form software. The drive is tied to Gmail accounts. Each user has access to 15GB of cloud storage under a free account.
These free tools don’t have the same level of robust options as Microsoft’s suite of office software, but they offer most of the common features that small businesses will be looking for. As an added bonus, the documents are updated in real time, so it’s a solid choice for companies that do real-time collaboration on projects.
Drive allows users to upload and download documents in a Microsoft format, so you will not have problems sharing documents with clients, customers, or partners who utilize Office.
LibreOffice is a free collection of open source office tools that gives users access to downloadable spreadsheets, word processing, and presentation software. It’s important that you only download the software on the LibreOffice website to avoid potential computer viruses.
LibreOffice is a pretty solid alternative to Microsoft Office. LibreOffice Writer has most of the major and minor features found in Microsoft Word. LibreOffice Calc also has similar features to Excel, but Microsoft macro and programming language can’t be imported from Calc to Microsoft Excel. The presentation software (Impress) has similar compatibility issues with PowerPoint.
The bottom line is that LibreOffice is a good alternative if your business doesn’t receive Excel files with macros and doesn’t need to send presentations to individuals who utilize PowerPoint.
Evernote is a “freemium” application (free to download and use, with additional paid features) that can be used for word processing, slideshows, note taking, and document storage. The main perk of the platform is the ability to easily store and organize various types of documents in one place.
The basic platform is free and allows users to upload 20MB of new content each month and sync it across two devices. It’s a neat tool, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as your sole project management software. The basic freemium plan doesn’t offer a robust means of sharing documents internally and externally.
Prezi is online presentation software. A basic, free account allows individuals to create an unlimited number of presentations, but has no miscellaneous options, such as offline sync, privacy controls, or revocable shared links.
The tool, despite its limited scope, is worth evaluating because the presentations that can be created aren’t typical, old-fashioned slideshows. Presentations are shown on large slides that offer the presenter smart capabilities like zooming in on certain details.
The basic, free version of project management software Trello gives members the ability to create an unlimited number of lists, cards, and checklists. Members can upload up to 10MB of files.
The free version of Trello only has two major downsides. First, basic accounts lack the ability to put the lists and cards into collections to make the system easier to navigate. Second, users aren’t able to remove group members. The basic account relies heavily on the honor system and managers externally policing how individuals interact with the tool. As your company grows, you might want to invest in a paid project management and organization tool.
SurveyMonkey is a survey creation tool. The free version allows individuals to create a 10 question survey. Each survey can have up to 100 responses.
Which should you use, Google Forms or Survey Monkey? Survey Monkey tends to be a tad more aesthetically pleasing, but Google Forms allow the survey to have more than 10 questions. I’d recommend using Google Forms if you regularly create long surveys.
Buffer is a social media management platform that serves as a valuable marketing tool. A basic, free Buffer account allows users to manage up to three social accounts at one time. Each account can have 10 posts in the schedule queue.
Due to the limitations, I’d recommend this for businesses or individuals who don’t rely heavily on preplanning a large number of social media posts. The free plan also, unfortunately, does not give users access to valuable analytics data for a more targeted social campaign.
Despite those restrictions, it can be a valuable tool for small businesses and freelancers until they can invest in a more robust social media management plan.
8. Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts allows organizations to create video calls, phone calls, and online chat forums. The tools are free and can be accessed through users’ Gmail accounts.
Video and audio calls can have up to 10 active participants; individuals who video call can use screen share to give presentations, as well as share documents, websites, and videos. Google Conversations — the chat feature of Hangouts — can have up to 150 participants.
Slack’s main function serves as a robust interface for team chat and collaboration. The free version also has the ability to make one-on-one voice and video calls, offers 5GB of file storage, and allows users to search through a history of the previous 10,000 messages.
Audacity is open source audio editing software that can be downloaded on Microsoft, Mac, and Linux computers. You should only download the software from the official Audacity website.
Audacity allows users to import or record audio files. Once audio files are uploaded or recorded, they can be combined and edited. The first time a business or freelancer utilizes the software to create a piece of audio content, I’d recommend they consult one of the dozens of video guides available on YouTube. Experts of the software can, at the very least, give inexperienced recorders tips that might save them hours of work.
GIMP is a free photo editing program that is compatible with most operating systems. Like LibreOffice and Audacity, GIMP should be downloaded from the official GIMP website.
It’s important to note that GIMP, as an open source, community-built program, isn’t as advanced as Adobe Photoshop. GIMP has basic editing functions, but lacks many of the higher quality functions present in Photoshop.
Entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals who either lack the capital to invest in Photoshop or don’t require advanced photo editing software should give GIMP a try.
Canva is a “freemium” graphic design tool that lets businesses and freelancers create featured images and graphs that can be utilized on their websites, blogs, or promotional materials. Canva can be accessed online or by downloading the app on a variety of tablets and smartphones.
A free Canva account has 1GB of storage and gives up to 10 team members access to the software. Novice image editors can streamline the photo editing process by choosing one of the 8,000 image templates as a guide. Users can either upload their own images or purchase an image through Canva.
If you’re not quite up to delving into GIMP for your photo editing needs, Canva can be easier to utilize.