Guide to free software for your business
Posted on 18 Jun, 2012
If you’re looking for ways for your business to save money and boost profits, using free software could make a huge difference.
An increasing number of systems which could be critical to your business are now available free of charge online. Some can be downloaded to your computer while others are cloud-based systems, meaning they are run on computers elsewhere in the world and you use them through your web browser.
While free software can save you hundreds, even thousands, of pounds in purchase costs, it can take time to set up and learn. You’re also at the risk of it going wrong, or of it being unavailable. It’s your choice as to how important it is to have the support of a software manufacturer when something goes wrong.
Free business software
Open Office. Why buy expensive word processing or spreadsheet software when a free version is available? Open Office has been developed and maintained by an army of volunteer developers. It also includes presentation and database software. It is used by a number of large organisations worldwide, mainly in the public sector.
It’s not as sophisticated as the leading brands, but it is entirely free. You can open and save files from other systems, including Microsoft Office.
Open office is available from www.openoffice.org.
Google Apps. Small businesses can use Google email and a bunch of online collaboration tools, completely free. Using online email can be much more effective than having it hosted on your own computer, because it’s easier to access from anywhere. There is also less risk of losing data, as everything is backed up by Google, which is much less vulnerable than an email server in your own office.
Google apps are available from www.google.com/apps.
Payroll. HMRC offer Basic PAYE Tools for free, as a download from their website. This can be used for up to nine employees, but does not produce payslips. The HMRC website also lists other free payroll solutions, but these are very cut-down versions of commercial products and access to anything but the most basic features usually requires upgrading to paid versions.
Discover more about HMRC payroll tools at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/paye/payroll/day-to-day/p11-calculator.htm#1
Social media marketing. Systems such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn cost nothing to use and give you a way of getting your message out to potential customers. However, they do require the investment of time to learn how to use them effectively.
Managing multiple social media channels can be made easier by using a social media dashboard, such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. These can be used free of charge, although access to some advanced features, such as bulk uploads or multiple users, requires payment.
CRM. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems enable you to track your relationships with both prospects and existing customers. Used effectively, a CRM system can make the process of managing your customers much easier.
Free versions of CRM software, both downloadable and cloud-based, can be found by searching online. Avoid trial versions with a limited life; look for those which are free indefinitely for a small number of users.
File sharing and storage. Swapping files between computers has not always been easy, particularly if the files are quite large. Systems have been developed to allow file movements to be carried out over the internet. The same systems also allow you to store information ‘in the cloud’, make it quick and easy to backup important information.
Several of these systems are available for free, although fees will be charged for higher volumes of data.
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