Money is always tight for a startup business, especially when working as a sole trader / freelancer. Even if you have loan you are confident that you can pay back in time, you will come to rely on free software to maximise your slender profit margin, if you have one at all. Setting up your home office need not be prohibitively expensive especially now that most are moving towards a subscription model. Here, I present a comprehensive list of software you can download free of charge to use in running your business.
Office packages include word processors, spreadsheets, databases, desktop publishing and presentation packages. Some fantastic alternatives exist to help you carry out some of your most important day-to-day tasks.
Apache Open Office: Now in its 20th year, this is arguably the most famous of all free office packages. It has an incredible history and many people use it every day in preference to the Microsoft packages. Since the 2007 update, it has offered full compatibility with MS Office file types while still retaining its core ODT files. Apache OpenOffice has a powerful word processor, a great spreadsheet, a database package, and some multimedia and graphics programmes. You can use it for virtually anything you may want to use MS Office for.
Neo Office (for Mac): I’m an equal opportunities thought leader here. Neo Office is the same package as Open Office, run by the same team. While Open Office is for PC users, Neo Office is for Mac dedicatees. If you prefer Apple desktops and laptops, then Neo Office is the best free package for you.
WPS Office (best for entrepreneurs on the go): Once known as Kingsoft Office, it dominated the mobile market for office functionality in a time when mobile users wanted a lite package that could execute most of the important functions of MS Office. Although it is now available for your desktop/laptop, its heart is still firmly in the mobile device market, and what a great package it is. The latest update in 2016 provided some profound changes that it is now a great contender to OpenOffice crown. The free version comes with adds but you may pay to get rid of these for $30 per year (about £21). Unlike other free packages, this is the only one that offers Cloud storage, an incredible 1TB to be exact. If mobility is at the heart of what you do, then WPS is likely the better option.
Open365 (best fully cloud based package): If WPS isn’t mobile enough for you and you want something that works on and through the cloud accessed directly through a web browser rather than just using it to synch files between devices with the apps installed on each device, then Open365 may be the package you need. It’s a free alternative modelled directly on Office365 as an open source alternative, hence the name.
Cloud is the invisible network through which you can share files between devices quickly, just by synching those devices. It is recommended that new small business owners store most or all of their work on the Cloud. It not only makes it easier to get to through other devices, if your main device has a meltdown, all your files are saved. No Cloud storage package is completely free as all offer a paid service with much higher storage capacities.
Dropbox: Dropbox is the web’s largest and best known cloud storage software package. Simply install it on all your devices and share files between them. Every time you save something to Dropbox, the icon synchs. It’s discrete too, sitting as another folder on your laptop/desktop device accessible through the usual means. Free users are limited to three devices and a capacity of 2GB. That’s not the highest, but most people go with Dropbox because of its reputation. If you’re only working with word processor documents, that will be more than enough.
MEGA: If it’s generous basic storage you need, then at present (June 2019) no other cloud storage offers quite as much as MEGA. The basic package provides an amazing 50GB of storage. If privacy is your primary concern, for example you run a B2C business that needs to adhere strictly to GDPR or other data protection standards, then you likely won’t find better than this. Files are encrypted before upload meaning that files are protected on the Cloud service even in the result of an unlikely data breach.
Evernote: One of the oldest cloud based technologies, Evernote is and has always been about far more than mere file storage. It’s a true multimedia experience. I started using it in 2009, just one year after its release, and used it to collect information to help me with academic work. In many ways, Evernote was ahead of its time which makes it a strong player today in this image-heavy web experience. Essentially, it’s a cloud-based complete project management solution. Take photos and embed them in your work projects, take grabs of content from web pages, create lists, organise your notebooks, and collaborate with anyone, anywhere. Recent changes has added note taking functions and real time chat with team members. If you have a phablet, it’s an ideal app.
iDrive: The free plan offers just 5GB of space for storage which is ideal for small files such as Word documents and small images when putting together presentations. The main advantage that people choose iDrive over something like Dropbox is that files are not automatically deleted from the Cloud when deleted from the device. This removes the nightmare of accidental deletions. Plus, you can go back 30 iterations to recover files deleted days ago.
Freedcamp: A long-term client required that I sign up for this service so a colleague could delegate me work on a regular basis. When that task finished, I promptly forgot about it until earlier this year when I found myself in need of a management tool. I initially tried Trello (see below) but it wasn’t sufficient for my needs. Freedcamp with it’s long and flexible task list to add a description and comments and marking tasks, scheduling and organising was perfect. I now use it every day to monitor work.
Trello: This is a simple workflow organiser if that is all you require. I wanted to like it and I’ll be for many freelancers it’ll work perfectly. Simply organise tasks into boards and break down into lists (to do, to be reviewed, to be invoiced etc) and virtual flashcards. The only drawback is that you can’t add detail to lists which is why I work with Freedcamp. Nevertheless, this is a great work organiser for people who concentrate on a number of larger projects that they break down into smaller tasks.
Toggl: Do you bill for time rather than tasks? Proofreading tends to work better this way, but how do you effectively track time? There is always trust, but when you’re billing at a high rate, if only for the evidence and integrity, you want a time tracker. Toggl is the web’s best-known free time tracker for all your timing needs. It’s also useful for collaboration when billing for multiple employees / contractors.
There was a time that you used Skype or you didn’t communicate much beyond email. Now, everyone is in on the act and we are spoilt for choice.
Skype: Video conferencing is now a major part of your work from home life. Remote workers still require a degree of direct human interaction including video chat. That was the main reason Skype was ever set up in the first place and it’s still the most respected and valued IM chat interface on the web with both audio and video options.
Slack: Skype may be the market leader in one-to-one chatting, it offers the ability to group chat that many people don’t particularly like. For online collaboration involving multiple people, Slack is usually the preferred tool. The great thing about Slack is that it it allows many people to take part in a chat at once while still permitting direct one-to-one communication. For business users, it integrates with your common business tools – some of which are listed here such as Dropbox. Video chatting and screen sharing is smooth and easy.
WeChat: Developed in China as a complete communication solution, with IM, voice and video, file attachment and collaboration. It’s China’s biggest ever app as a great alternative in the Far East to similar chat apps. Freelancers in China prefer WeChat because of the instant payment functions. Sadly, this is not yet available to those outside of China but that could change in the coming years.
Zoom: Skype appeals to personal as well as business use. That left a development niche that Zoom is quite happy to fill. It’s a conferencing and collaboration service that facilitates chatting in a meeting type model. You are sent a unique link to click ahead of the alloted time rather than being able to connect with anybody at any time. It’s also a superb tools for delivering webinars with a limit of around 100,000 people.
Image Editing / Multimedia
Do you want the functionality of Photoshop without paying for it? Like to create web banners or instagram posts? No problem, download one of these apps or use web based tools to help you create striking imagery.
Paint.Net: One of two regularly recommended free photo editors, it’s a quick and simple photo editor that allows you to carry out most of the basic photo editing functions that most people require. But as its name suggests “Paint” makes it a useful as an advanced painting programme too. Arguably, if you prefer illustration and art design, it’s the preferable package compared to the next one.
GIMP: Or to give it the full title, GNU Image Manipulation Programme. For a package that closely emulates Adobe Photoshop that won’t cost you a penny, GIMP is it. It still lacks some of the more advanced features of Photoshop, but for the most part, the basics are there. It’s much easier to use than Paint.Net for the intermediate features too. GIMP has many functions useful for the small commercial user. For most people wanting to do a little bit of photo editing, it is more than sufficient.
Easil: Finding Canva a bit finnicky? Don’t really want a photo editor because it’s too powerful for what you need? This is a great alternative for basic graphic design for use promoting your products and services on Instagram and other visual media platforms. It’s not as well known but it prides itself on ease of use. Not only can you create some fantastic designs in minutes with drag and drop features, you can also create re-usable templates for other team members who also use the platform. If you don’t a good eye for design, don’t worry – the site has thousands you could use.
AVG Antivirus: Security should always be one of your top priorities. It will protect you against rogue sites, hackers trying to steal your client data, and of course your own bank details, passwords and so on. Most people buy a subscription from McAfee, Norton and various other well-known paid subscription packages. As far as freebies go, there are few better than AVG. You can upgrade to a paid package, but the free one is more than suitable in the beginning.
SpyBot: Anti-virus packages aren’t always great for detecting downloadable spyware. This type of software isn’t always malevolent, but it does collect data you might not want to send to a business. Thankfully, GDPR is cracking down on this but the fact remains most people voluntarily download this stuff without realising the implications of doing so. Spyware transmits confidential information to a third party. Sometimes its for marketing purposes to send intrusive adverts on pages, but some capture your personal data. SpyBot is arguably the web’s best app for tackling this problem.
System Mechanic: Computer slow? Taking too long to start up? Before you decide to wipe it or uninstall a load of stuff (that might not actually achieve much) there are a couple of things you can do. Disk clean up, for example, and clearing your web cache. Then making sure you haven’t got everything running in the background on startup. If that still doesn’t work, then try iolo System Check. It’ll free up all that other space slowing you down. As a heavy laptop user, I use it about once a week on top of those other steps. It makes my battery last and as my laptop ages, it’s still running smoothly. There is a paid upgrade version which comes with more bells and whistles.
That’s my list so far. I’ve pinned it as the top post and use it as a permanent work in progress. But please see this as your space too. What fantastic tools and platforms have helped you work as a freelancer or small business owner?