Running a small business is time consuming but it doesn't have to be capital intensive. These 5 free services will help decrease your operational costs and provide professional polish to your business.
1. Google Voice
First things first, you need a phone number where you can be reached for your business. Sure, you could use your personal cell number but that limits who can answer phone calls and and how do you record a voicemail message without feeling like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent. You could also pay for a landline but that limits you to one location. What happens when you are out of the office?
Google voice is a great solution for small businesses or small teams because you can have calls ring on multiple phones (think mobile and landline, or you and your employees) and it packs a lot of great business features (i.e. conferencing, call recording, voicemail transcription, text messaging). You get a local number, spam filtering and best of all, it's free. Google voice uses your phone service, so your call quality is equivalent to what you already have (if you've used a VoIP service in the past, you'll understand why this is important). We are not getting paid to write this and recommend it only because we love it. Sign up with your google account at voice.google.com and let us know if we're wrong (We're assuming you have a google account for the purpose of this list, but if not you will need one in the near future for google analytics and gmail is pretty hard to beat as a e.mail provider).
2. Spark Business by Capital One
Now that you can get calls, you need a bank account to accept payments. There are a lot of options (we've looked) but most business banking accounts come with fees. Fees that eat at the bottom line of your fledgling business. Starting a business is stressful enough with out having to wonder if you are going to incur a fee for a low balance or too many transactions in the month.
This is the beauty of Spark Business, you can focus on running your business and not your banking. To sweeten the deal, you can send invoices straight from your bank account, get a free mobile card reader to accept payments anywhere, and your business checking comes with a business savings account. The tradeoff is a lack of physical locations, so if you deal with a lot of cash, this might not be the best account for you. Many of their ATM's will accept cash deposits, so check to see if they exist in your location. Learn more at Spark Business.
3. Wave Accounting
An accounting program will save your bacon come tax season and give you valuable insights throughout the year. You could go with quickbooks, Xero, or sage but why would you when wave is free?
Wave allows you to manage all of your estimates, invoicing, and accounting all in one place. You can customize your estimate and invoice templates (without having to code a single line of html or css) to match your business. The accounting component is straightforward, pulls transactions from your bank and credit cards, has all of the reports you need, and if you're uber nerdy, supports journal entries.
To make life even easier, you can activate payments and allow customers to pay their invoice online with a card or e-check (for the same cost as square or PayPal). You can also setup recurring payments for subscriptions and retainers. But wait, there's more: scan in receipts and match them to transactions with an app or online, connect with an Etsy store, and process your payroll (fee's apply for payroll but they are reasonable). Last but not least, you can give your tax accountant access through a collaborator account for free. This might just be the next best thing since sliced bread. Find them at waveapps.com.
If you are not collecting your customers/prospective customers' e.mail addresses and leveraging them to drive business, you are missing a major opportunity. Getting an e.mail address is like getting a foot in the door, providing an opportunity to tell your story and stay relevant to your customer. It's important to not be spammy in this endeavor and this is where mailchimp comes into play.
With mailchimp, it is easy to collect, organize, segment, manage, and send to your list. It also provides some powerful automation tools that allow you to setup birthday e.mails, reminders, post-purchase surveys, and reengagement e.mails. Do yourself a favor and set up your account: www.mailchimp.com. (Shameless plug: if you're not sure where to start with your list or how to automate it to drive sales, get in touch, we can help guide you to success.)
Managing social media profiles can be a pain and if you let it, a full time job. Buffer to the rescue! Buffer allows you to create, and schedule posts to be delivered to your social media feeds (including instagram through the use some wizardry and their mobile app) in one place. No more clicking through to your facebook page to create a post only to repeat the process another 2-5 times for twitter, instagram, linkedIn or whatever social space is important to your business.
If you have trouble thinking of content to post, one of buffer's paid plans can help you find content to share. The paid plans also include analytics so you can track the performance of your posts in one spot. Just the time savings alone offered by the free plan are enough to justify buffer in our top 5 list of free services you need to be using. Find them at buffer.com
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These service don't apply to everyone and they would have made our list an awkward 7 instead of 5 but they might still help you.
Square's white tile card readers are almost ubiquitous among small service providers and are a great way to accept credit cards while on the go. Their rates are competitive and their app provides a natural way to collect tips and customer e.mails. Sign up from our link and you'll get free processing on your first $1,000. https://squareup.com/i/ELEVATECRE
There are lots of online scheduling services but we keep coming back to Acuity (and Acuity keeps getting better). First and foremost, it is super simple to setup and even easier to use. With Acuity, you can allow customers to begin booking your services online in under 10 minutes. You can customize the appearance to match your brand, embed forms on your website or use theirs, and collect payments (integrates with Square or PayPal) when customers book your services. Acuity is a great option for anyone who needs to fill slots throughout the day or manage registrations for a class/event. Don't take our word for it, try it for yourself: acuityscheduling.com