Helpful Free Software Programs for Small Business Owners

No one wants to spend money unnecessarily. A person starting a small business is no different. In fact, anytime one can cut costs while keeping quality, it’s really an investment in that business. Still, many people insist on purchasing brand name software to use for their start-ups. It’s not always necessary. With the variety of open source software or limited feature software packages available, the expenses for this aspect of running a business can be cut to nearly nothing.

I run a small web design and tech support business from my home.  Either through recommendations from fellow techies or research on my own, I found — and still use — these several tools.

Graphic tools

Providing images to graphic artists or for advertising means the small business owner may want first to have a go at providing the best image possible. Being able to manipulate those images a bit before sending them means a better chance of getting what you want in the end result.

There are two software options I use for image manipulation. The first is for basic stuff, primarily cropping, resizing, and rotating of images. This is IrfanView. I use this for personal as well as professional purposes and have recommended to friends and family, as well as clients. It is easy to install and very easy to use.

For grander scale image work, The Gimp is the tool. This is for special effects, shapes, putting a dog’s head on a cat’s body, making fancy text graphics. That sort of thing. The Gimp involves a learning curve, but it is exceptional for working with graphic and photographic images. It is open source software, and is always improving and kept equal with it’s expensive store-bought competitor.

Office Tools

There are basic tools that any business needs.

First is a simple way to manage money.  I have found X-Sheet Invoicing to be invaluable with basic money matters like invoicing, deposits, aging, regular invoices, price lists, and so on. It also includes a nice set of financial reports. No payroll functionality, though, but most starting small business that have employees will want to use a service anyway.

In lieu of fax, the email with attachment is a handy way of sharing typed documents. The best way to send a doc is as a pdf. There are many free pdf distillers out there. I have doPDF installed and use it often. It shows up as a choice on the list of printers, and makes the process of document sharing an absolute breeze.

Documents and images accumulate over time. Keeping them accessible can become a hassle and a hard drive space hog. They can take up a lot of storage space. If one is done using a document or image, but still wants it accessible, a file compression tool like Zip Genius is the way to go. It takes many items and compresses them into one archive, thereby clearing up disk space but still having them available for reference.

One last thing that I use regularly is an organizational tool called Treepad. Treepad is a way to keep notes, phone numbers, and other useful things in a single place. Organizing is easy. There can be categories and subcategories and sub-subcategories. There is no security attached, so this probably not the place to store sensitive data, but its uses far outweigh its limitations.

Other Miscellaneous

One tool that I’ve found really useful in and outside of web design is Cool Ruler. This little 5″ ruler has been a time saver over and again. I’ve used it to measure image size, and also as a hands-free tool to measure things not digital. Small items I can hold up to the screen. Because its calibration can be changed from inches to pixels to centimeters, and its orientation can be vertical or horizontal, it is surprisingly handy.

On-line chat is something I often use in dealing with clients. It saves phone calls and emails and is really the best way to answer or ask a quick question, for example. The issue comes when several contacts use several different chat platforms. One certainly doesn’t want Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Chat, and an AIM client all open at once. This is where a multi-platform chat manager like Trillian comes in handy. Trillian comes in a free and a feature enhanced pay version. I’ve ever only used the free. It’s quite adequate to the task.

In sum

The bottom line is, before you shell out big money for a name brand software tool, check to see if there is a free alternative. Check free download sites like download.com, tucows.com, sourceforge.com, and filehippo.com, for example. These sites carry lots of options and also include user ratings and/or comments. That makes it easier to make an informed choice for the pennywise small business person.

Photo credit L. Marie

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