The free software we use to get stuff done
As we are a team of software developers it won’t come as a surprise to learn that the software applications that we use to produce RealtimeCRM come from a range of quality tools our development team are familiar with, are robust and, perhaps more surprisingly, free.
Thanks to open-source software and shareware you can get a ton of stuff done without burning a hole in your wallet. If it’s a great tool and it works for you and its free then you’re kind of crazy not to take advantage of it.
There are a wide range of tips on this list - it’s not all about software development - so we wanted to share the list so that you and your team can benefit. You don’t have to use everything on the list. Try them out and mix and match but we’re sure you’ll find something that’s useful to you.
Website and Blog
We use Hugo to draft our blogs including this one and to experiment with plugins like sign up forms to capture emails. The great thing about Hugo is that it doesn’t take a lot of technical know how to use, and its just a great product. Plus it makes the pages lightweight and super fast to load.
It’s ideal if you have lots of static content but need to sprinkle the occasional bit of interactivity.
Medium is an online publishing platform that allows both professionals and enthusiasts to post content. It allows you to promote your product or services to a much bigger audience than you would if you just started out with just your website. With its tagging system you can get more eyes over to your articles.
In addition to our website, we use Medium for some articles. As well as being a voice for content it also allows for feedback and comments which is a great benefit to us as we love user or prospect interaction.
Writing and Spreadsheets
Google has a great suite of tools in Google Docs, Sheets and slides. They are the premiere cloud office suite. The main advantage of them in addition to the fact they’re free is that you can access your documents anywhere anytime and it makes collaborating easy.
We actually pay for a business workspace which gives us an organisation level with a domain name. However, the individual tier is free and you can share documents with anyone, allow them to comment and collaborate on your work. So whether you’re working on a proposal or a contract, you can get more brainpower to tackle the document to ensure you keep as many advantages as possible. It also keeps different versions of your document so you can always go back in time if you want to.
In fact we used Google Docs to create our 6,000+ word guide to GDPR for small businesses you can find here. It was a team effort and went through many revisions which would not have been possible without Google Docs.
Sometimes we need a local or desktop version word processor or spreadsheets. Opening very large files or working with applications means it’s not always practical to be in the cloud. Libre Office provides us with a free desktop version of a word processor, spreadsheet and slide generation software. The advantage of this is as unlike the Google Suite you can use this without an internet connection. However that does mean it doesn’t have the same collaborative power. But there’s no reason not to have both.
It’s a great replacement for expensive Microsoft Office subscription and you can save documents and spreadsheets in the standard Microsoft file types like DOCX and XLSX.
Google Drawings allows you to build charts, layout diagrams, create flow charts, and then easily add them to other documents or embed them on your website.
When writing content you want it to be clear, concise and easy to read. The Hemingway App is an AI editor that can highlight the hard to read parts and make suggestions for simpler alternatives. It helps tighten up your writing and helps you to get your point across.
It’s really easy to use, simply copy and paste the text you want to edit and the app automatically does the work of highlighting the sentences that are hard to read or could have simpler alternatives.
Statista is an online portal to millions of statistics and infographics. With their free account you get access to basic statistics and can download infographics and other statistics in PNG and PDF format.
OBS Studio is great for recording your screen and audio, so if you’re like us and produce a lot of video tutorials then it’s an essential free tool you need. It’s also great for live streaming straight to YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitch and other streaming services - so if you’re ever thinking of doing a live Q&A with your customers then OBS Studio is the way to go.
You can also record 4k video in 60 frames per second and even insert yourself into your recordings in a smaller screen from your webcam so viewers can see you as you’re guiding them through your product or service.
We use this to create GIFs for our help articles so we can show our users how to do something in RealtimeCRM instead of just explaining it to them in writing. You can also record from your webcam and create drawings which you can then turn into GIF files.
It’s the best open source photo editor available. It enables you to do clone stamps, cropping, transformations, smart selections and a bunch of filters. There are also a wide selection of user-created plugins to add even more features. You can retouch your images and save them in all the commonly available file types. We recently used it for our Christmas Email by giving RealtimeCRM’s logo a christmassy make over.
Inkscape is another open source software, powerful to create and edit vectorial drawings. A lot of useful tools are included to modify paths, apply filters and textures, use layers and more. It was of great help to create our shiny loading animation.
Pexels is a vast, user-generated library of free photographs. Whether you need a cover picture for a document or some images for a blog post in your content marketing then Pexels is the place to go. The original images are of a high resolution and file size so you get the best quality possible but you can scale down the images to what you need when you come to download them.
Giphy allows you to search, upload and create gifs. It’s that simple. It’s a great tool to enrich your social media posts with some humour and make them more interesting visually.
Email & Social Media Marketing
Hunter.io allows you to find emails to connect with the people that matter for your business. All you have to do is type in the company name and it’ll go out looking for the emails of people within that organisation. You get 100 requests a month for free.
MailChimp is a must have tool for any business. Even with the rise of social media e-mail is still the best way to convert your prospects into actual sales. Open rates and clicks from email dwarf retweet’s and engagement on any other social media platform. MailChimp allows you to capture emails via its sign up forms then you can send emails including automated emails to those prospects in order to develop customer loyalty and win more sales down the road.
Your mailing list can quickly build up in the hundreds and then thousands. Sending emails individually to every person on that growing list would be absurd. MailChimp can handle the very small and the very large, perfect for scaling up with you.
You will find some limitations in the free plan but hopefully it will get you some of the way.
Buffer allows you to schedule your social media posts, track their performance and manage all your social media accounts in one place. Instead of having to log into each social media account in turn and post at the exact time you want to post you can simply use Buffer to schedule an entire weeks worth of social media content and then let Buffer worry about sending it out on time.
Slack is like the office water cooler, meeting room table and file sharer all rolled into one. Most of our development team work remotely so Slack is a must. It allows us to create channels about certain projects we’re working on and all the relevant people can chat about those projects and share the relevant files and comment on them within those channels. If you have a big team making sure communication channels stay open is a must.
Basic PAYE Tools is free payroll software from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for businesses with fewer than 10 employees. The software allows you to perform most payroll tasks, including working out the tax and National Insurance for your employees and sending this information to HMRC.
Satago offers a wide variety of tools including the ability to integrate with Xero and provide free basic credit checks on any companies you look up. We use it ourselves to check any potential clients, it helps flag up those who would be a great risk to take on as clients. You even get 5 full credit reports for free too.
Live Chat Support
It can add real value to chat with visitors to your website. If they’re stuck then you may be able to advise them, or you can help move them along the buying process. We use Tawk on our website and on RealtimeCRM itself. So whenever anyone is stuck they can ask for help and a real person can assist. It’s such a powerful tool and its completely free.
Not only does Github allows us to securely store the code for our different projects, it’s also a great tool for managing them. Each project has issues that can be organised in milestones, and easily reference from everywhere. It also allows us to easily know who contributed to each issue and be more efficient to add more features and fix bugs.
You don’t have to use Github for management, you can also use it to host websites that are fast and robust - like https://realtimecrm.co.uk itself!
And, of course, our list would be incomplete if we didn’t pick our in-house tool RealtimeCRM. RealtimeCRM is a cloud based CRM which we use it to win business day after day from a wide range of sources and for different needs.
We can even chat amongst ourselves using team chat and also record emails into the system on the contact record with whom you were speaking.
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