30. November 2012–
For many entrepreneurs, launching your startup means trying to execute big ideas on a small budget. Fortunately, the rise of Web 2.0 has resulted in a stack of free apps and services aimed at helping you get your business off the ground without needing to buy massive software suites.
With the wide array of options out there, the challenge shifts from finding a free tool to finding the free tool that will work best for your startup.
Whether you want to create memorable presentations, design awesome infographics, manage team projects, increase productivity or keep track of expenses – here's our pick of ten cool and free tools to help you launch your innovative idea:
1. Enloop takes the pain out of writing business plans
Writing a solid business plan that succinctly explains the feasibility of your idea can be a difficult and intimidating task. This document is essentially the blueprint for your company and helps bankers, investors and others understand your business strategy.
To make the process less tedious, Enloop offers a step-by-step guide for entrepreneurs and creates customised business plans ready to be shared at any time.
The "Free & Easy" plan allows your startup to create one business plan, generate three-year financial forecasts, rate your performance in real-time and tie everything together in a professionally formatted document.
2. Impress investors with Prezi
We've all sat through a presentation secretly thinking “You Suck At Powerpoint”. If you don’t want your audience (whether they’re investors, customers or conference attendees) to share a similar sentiment, check out Prezi, a cool alternative to slideshow software.
This web app allows users to create non-linear presentations on its 3D canvas and integrates zoom-in features to create a more dynamic visual experience. For a great example of Prezi’s functionalities in action, check out this stunning presentation on Typography.
3. Create awesome infographics Easel.ly
So you want to spice up a company blog post with an infographic but you’re not a designer? Or maybe you’d like to tell a story with some data you've collected but don’t know where to start? No problem.
Say hello to your new favourite infographic generator: easel.ly. The tool offers a range of Vheme templates that users can transform into engaging and informative infographics. There are other infographic tools out there, such as Infogram and Piktochart, but none of them are as easy-to-use and offer as many slick templates. Take a look at our very first effort with easel.ly in this post.
4. Mo’ Passwords, Mo’ Problems – not if you’re on the DashLane
Wi-fi logins, email accounts, social media accounts, social media manager accounts... the list goes on. Inevitably, the number of passwords to remember and manage will increase as your startup needs increase.
With Dashlane, the only password you’ll need to remember is your Master Password because the tool saves all your login data in one private place which no one can access (not even Dashlane). Even better? Dashlane also acts as an automated form-filling manager and offers a Security Dashboard which shows you how strong your passwords are across accounts by indicating its safety level. You know what they say... Better safe than sorry.
5. Gimp, like Photoshop... but free
If you need a basic image-editing software but don’t have the funds to shell out for Photoshop, check out Gimp. This open-software photo editor provides users with a good basic suite of image manipulation... all for free.
Of course, Photoshop is loaded with more functions compared to Gimp but it also comes with strict licensing rules and a hefty price tag, and let's face it most average users rarely touch Photoshop's more advanced features.
For the early-stage startup, Gimp is a viable alternative because it allows for tasks like image-resizing, photo retouching, image-format converter and image composition, among other things, at no cost.
6. Turn to F.lux for better computer lighting
For most people working at startups, staring at a monitor from morning ‘til night is completely normal. The problem is we are often so hypnotized by what’s on our screen that we rarely notice the changing lighting conditions around us.
This is where F.lux comes in. The cross-platform app automatically adjusts the display settings of your screen to adapt to your location and lighting so you don’t have to. If you're not convinced yet, F.lux has some words for you: "We know that night-time exposure to blue light keeps people up late. We believe that f.lux adjusts colours in a way that greatly reduces the stimulating effects of blue light at night".
7. Trello – a project management tool for visual thinkers
Finding a simple, effective and free project management software that your team members will actually use is no easy feat. You might want to give Trello a try. The collaboration tool is designed to help users visualize their projects using a centralised “board” which is then broken down into “cards” (or tasks) which you can label, give due dates and assign to team members.
Suitability of a tool often depends on a variety of factors, such as workflows and nature of projects, but if your team is made up of visual thinkers, Trello could be a good fit.
8. Get stuff done with iDoneThis Personal
We all want to be hustlin’ everyday but not all of us are Rick Ross and occasionally, our motivation wanes and productivity plateaus... then what? Maybe it’s time to begin tracking your progress and using it as a source of motivation.
Consider iDoneThis, a minimalist website that helps you to stay productive by asking you an important question each evening, “What’d you get done today?”
Once you receive the email, you reply to it with the tasks you completed during the day and the tool will record it in your iDoneThis personal calendar. Although the tool doesn’t do much more than that, the value in allotting a little bit of time each evening to reflect on your accomplishments, work habits and ways to improve will add up in the long-run.
9. Anxious about accounting? Try FreshBooks
FreshBooks, a cloud accounting application, allows small businesses to use its service for free for up to three clients. Not only does Freshbooks provide an easy and user-friendly platform for online invoicing and payment processing, you will be introduced (via email) to your own personal business consultant who will help get you started, design/customise workflows and learn industry best practices.
10. Design, implement and analyse email campaigns on MailChimp
If you’re just starting out and still building up your customer/client lists, Mailchimp is a great option when it comes to a free email marketing platform. The “Forever Free Plan” includes over forty useful features such as personalised forms, designer templates, social sharing and various types of analytic tools to suit your needs. It’s hard to believe but, the service is completely free for you to send up to 12,000 emails to a list of up to 2,000 subscribers... And who can resist a chimp mascot named Freddie?
Is there a great tool you use that’s not on the list? Share it below and spread some startup love...
Image credit: Tool image courtesy of Flickr user flattop341
For related articles, check out:
The Quantified Self – top 9 apps from the future of health, fitness and productivity
“Fake it until you make it” – Eileen Burbidge’s astonishing tale of Skype’s early days
31 awesome SEO Tools to super-charge your startup