The free tools we use to get stuff done
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.
We’re grateful to the kindness of strangers, and so to pass that on. Here is a list of free tools we use to get stuff done. It’s our free stack just for you. 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 & blogging
If you have a business you’ll want to be online because its the biggest market place in the history of mankind. And your storefront is going to be your website. 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 quick to load.
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’ve recently joined Medium which you can check out here. You can also comment on other people’s blogs and that way network and build up a list of influencers who can help promote your content too.
Writing, Spreadsheets & more
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. You can share documents with anyone in your organisation allowing them to comment and edit 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.
Libre Office provides you 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 Microsoft Office 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. As the old saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. 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 gigantic library of free photographs, and we use the word gigantic conservatively as it is a vast user generated library. So whether you need a cover picture for a document or some images for a blog post in your content marketing drive, 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.
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 posting at the exact time you want to post. You can simply spend 30 minutes on Buffer and schedule an entire weeks worth or more 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.
Not everything is important enough to go into email, and the endless cc’s and bcc’s can get confusing so Slack is a must have tool.
Trying to watch that YouTube video teaching you how to make a Gantt Chart in Excel but having to wait for a 2 minute advertisement to stop playing? Getting endless popups and advertising slowing down your web browsing and otherwise just being very annoying? Then get AdBlock Plus, it’s a great free extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox we highly recommend. It’s like making the traffic lights on the road go green just for you. It’s that great.
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
If you have visitors on your website you want to be able to monitor and engage with them. If they’re stuck to be able to help them. We use Tawk on our website and on RealtimeCRM itself. So whenever anyone is stuck they can ask for help and a real flesh and blood person is on the other side. 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 tools for managing them. Each projects 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.
CRM - Business Management
RealtimeCRM is a cloud based CRM which allows you to manage your contacts and sales opportunities in one place. Any contacts you add into the system RealtimeCRM will look online for additional information. With its sales pipeline you can focus in on languishing opportunities and get that sale. Then you can manage that newly won sale by converting it into a project where you can quickly assign tasks that need to be completed and link to the important documents you need all in one place.
You can also record details of any purchase orders you have and record emails into the system as well on the contact record with whom you were speaking. The first user licence is free for life so if you’re a one man band you don’t pay until you grow and RealtimeCRM will be there ready to scale up with you when you’re ready to add more users.