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11 Free or Dirt-Cheap Online Business Tools to Run Your Business from Anywhere

online business tools8 AM.

You wake up to the sound of an alarm, grab your phone to glance at the time, take a quick look at your emails, play Hanging with Friends for just another 5 minutes snuggled in bed, get dressed and do a 3-second commute to your new office desk.

Congratulations! You have quit your job and it’s your first day at your business.

With hot coffee in one hand and a pen and notepad in other, you take a few minutes to schedule your day.Click To Tweet You smile at the thought of what’s in store.

. . . Until, after a few minutes of bliss, panic hits.

Holy cow I quit my JOB! What do I do now? How will I pay my bills? Where do I find clients? How much am I going to have to spend on tools to get this business running?

Does this sound familiar?

I don’t know about you, but the crippling thought of “what if my business fails” used to keep me up all night.

Starting an online business can seem very attractive, but once the honeymoon phase is over and replaced by an inflow of bills, the whole idea becomes scary like a monster beneath the bed.

Where do you find clients? How do you set up your website? How do you keep track of bazillion tasks and still stay focused? Should you pay for all those complicated business tools out there that claim to make it all possible?

Scary, isn’t it?

But here’s the good news:  if you want to run your online-based business smoothly and profitably, there has never been a better time.

Running a business from anywhere in your pajamas is much easier than it was four years ago.Click To TweetTurns out getting started without breaking the bank is all about choosing the right tools to set up shop.

With so many online business tools available online, it can seem daunting or worse, become a time-suck. Ideally, you only need a handful to run your online business from wherever you are.

Ready?

Below are the only 11 tools you will need to comfortably start and run your new online business in 2014!

Setting Up Shop

First things first: you need a website to run any online business. Although there are many free tools, such as Squarespace, Wix or Weebly to set up a simple website, I always suggest my clients go with WordPress.

One of the reasons is that there are many WordPress experts in the market and the support is extensive. You don’t have to do it all yourself, and for a small investment, you’re really thinking long-term.

That said, if you’d rather not spend any money on getting WordPress help, it’s not too hard to learn. I knew nothing about WordPress and now I can create an up-and-running website in less than 3 days.

There are some slick WordPress themes available in the market that can make the job as easy as drag-and-drop. I use Studio Press or Theme Forest to hunt for my themes.

Secondly, “free” is never really free. With the other tools, you can design a simple website – just images and text, and maybe a social share button or a form to sign up for your email list. But if you want to add ecommerce or a more robust functionality, you always have to pay.

Perhaps the most important reason I’d opt for WordPress is because with other “free” tools, you almost always end up having a footer ad banner imposed on your site. Yikes!

Getting Found by Clients

In-Person Networking

As a freelancer, you have many avenues to market your wares. One of the common ways that people start doing this at in-person networking at organized networking events.

Personally, I use and recommend Meetup.com as a great in-person networking tool. Find meetups in your area and industry that may be happening right now.

Don’t expect people to buy from you in the first go. Meetup.com is more of a network, a meet-and-greet place where you can market your services by first offering help. To do that, join groups where your ideal customer hangs out – for example, if you are a web designer, your client-base may be small-business owners, so you’ll join a group dedicated to them.

Attending meetups is free (unless an organiser charges a small fee to cover venue costs). You can host your own meetups (and attract hundreds of people) by becoming a paid member of the site at $45 to create up to three groups for three months each.

I run two meetup groups; one has 245 members and the other has 130.

Content Marketing and Email Marketing

In-person networking can be time consuming and hardly effective if your audience is global.

Content marketing and email marketing are other ways to market your business on the go from anywhere in the world.Click To Tweet

Here’s how CopyBlogger defines content marketing:

Content Marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.

In short, your customers are becoming web-savvy and they can easily spot a paid ad from a mile away. They don’t want ads – they want valuable information that helps solve their pressing problems. Here, content achieves what a perfect ad would achieve in an ideal world.

The first step to start content marketing is starting a blog (that can be set up using WordPress) and an email newsletter where you share massive-value content for free.

GetResponse is a powerful email marketing tool that makes beautiful email newsletters and autoresponders. Their pricing starts at $15 per month for 1,000 subscribers or if you buy a yearly pack, you get a cool 18% discount. AWeber is another email marketing tool that Danny here at Mirasee often recommends to his students.

Communicating and Collaborating with Clients

For real-time communication, Skype is my go-to app. It’s easy, it’s free (Skype to Skype) and gets the job done.

Google Drive supports real-time chat and collaboration, as well as document storage. I’ve used it extensively during live Skype calls to brainstorm ideas, set up schedules, and work on editorial calendars with my clients. With 15 GB of free storage, you can work on shared files at the same time and everything gets saved on the cloud.

Dropbox is another great cloud-storage app that’s free up to 2 GB.

The best part about Dropbox is that you don’t even have to be on Dropbox website to save anything. You can sync folders on your computer with your Dropbox account, so that your files are automatically backed-up to your online Dropbox account when you make a change. Plus, you can always earn extra free storage by referring friends and clients.

Most website hosting providers give you a free email address as part of your account. But if you have multiple websites, it can become difficult to track different inboxes.

An easy way to access all your email at one place is to create a free Gmail account and forward all emails there. That way, you’re not on ten separate (and ugly) email clients provided by your various hosting companies.

Did you know that you can also schedule emails and track opens and reads inside Gmail?

Enter Boomerang, a nifty free plugin that integrates seamlessly with Gmail. You can schedule messages to be sent in an hour, or in two days. This feature opens up a lot of possibilities. One of my favorite uses is to set reminders to follow up with a sales lead. You can also automatically resend emails if you don’t hear back within a set time-span.

My favorite feature is the ability to track read receipts. You can see how often and when someone opens your email or which links they click on. No more wondering if a client received and viewed your invoice!

Extending Video or Audio Support to Your Clients

There will be times when your clients ask for more help once you’ve delivered your work. For example, if I am doing a WordPress site for my clients, I always include “How to Use WordPress” tutorials so they can refer to it when they’re stuck.

This is additional free support to wow them and helps me differentiate myself from the rest of the pack.

For this and more, I use Screencast-O-Matic for all my video-recording needs. At $15/year, it’s as inexpensive as it can get. The app is first class and simple to use. You can record a video up to 15 minutes for free if you want to try before you buy.

For audio, Audacity has an intuitive interface and it’s completely free for Mac or Windows. Once you’ve finished recording, you can edit your work to your heart’s content (for example: removing those distracting ums and ahs!).

Getting Things Done

There’s a fine line between being busy and being productive. As an online business owner, your business success depends on a one-person army: you! There’s no one else to do the work that needs to be done, so it’s important to be productive.

I use the Pomodoro timer that lets me maintain my focus throughout the day while reminding me when it’s time to take a break. The Pomodoro technique simply says:

1. Work in slots of 25 minutes (called as a “pomodoro”).
2. After every pomodoro, take a 5 minute break.
3. Repeat 1 and 2.
4. After four pomodoros, take a longer break.

Recently, I’ve started using Awareness which is a free and simple productivity app that plays the sound of a singing bowl to mark every hour of your work.

It’s a gentle and soothing reminder to take a break and displays total time since you’ve been on your desk without one. They have a widget called Break Ideas that suggests things to do during your break.

Let’s Re-Run That 8 AM Panic Attack

8 AM

Instead of waking up panicked that you have no idea what you’re doing, you jump out of bed knowing that everything’s under control. You know your business is running with a set of must-have online business tools that won’t break your bank. And best of all, these tools will allow you to become a pro at running your online business from anywhere, anytime!

Here’s a recap of 11 tools we’ve covered:

  1. WordPress
  2. Meetup
  3. GetResponse
  4. Skype
  5. Google Drive
  6. Dropbox
  7. Boomerang
  8. Screencast-O-Matic
  9. Audacity
  10. Pomodoro timer
  11. Awareness

Got any more must-have tools to add to the list? Which of the above tools do you already use? Let me know in the comments below!

 

About Pooja Lohana

Pooja helps entrepreneurs get found online. She simplifies online marketing for her clients so they can make more sales and live the Un-9-5 life. She's a Melbourne-based freelance writer, ghost writer and editor who writes for Mirasee, ProBlogger, Entrepreneur, JeffBullas, MarketingProfs, Hongkiat and more. Need a ghostwriter for your business? Reach Pooja at Damn Fine Writing.

24 thoughts on “11 Free or Dirt-Cheap Online Business Tools to Run Your Business from Anywhere

  1. Great suggestions Pooja!

    How about a vote for lastpass for internet security? Right now I have two personal email addresses, three addresses for my different websites, and then other logins for a number of sites like facebook, twitter etc, and many websites are now adding rules that mean you have to make VERY complicated passwords. Lastpass helps you out by putting everything in one easy to find (and secure) website so if you DO forget your password you know exactly how/where to find it!

    Cheers,

    Daryl

    • I use KeyPass for my passwords. It’s free, and it’s stored on my hard drive. I can use it across devices by putting the database in my Google drive folder. Then I use 2-step verification to keep my drive folder safe.

    • Wow, thanks Daryl and Derek. Have to admit, I’d never heard of Lastpass or Keypass.

      Since there are TWO votes for Internet security, I will check them out now!

      Pooja

        • Yep. I always felt nervous about giving my passwords to a company (like LastPass). I’m sure there FAQ lists a reason why it’s still safe, but I’d rather have it in my Drive folder.

          I know Drive is still on the cloud (which is the point since you want to be able to get your passwords anywhere), and I guess Google could access the database, but Google doesn’t have my master KeePass password, and with 2-step verification I feel more confident that my Drive folder won’t get hacked.

  2. Love, and use, most of these. I was checking out Screen-o-Matic. Do you use the pro version?

    Pomodoro technique: I’ve been addicted to it for about 2 years now.

    Thanks so much for this round up of business tools.

  3. Thanks for the tips I am trying to setup the tools necessary to start creating content to build an audience. This is a big world with lots of experts and gurus and just trying get from step 1 to step 2 is confusing. I just got on WordPress I couldn’t find out where I go to change my password so I still have to figure that out. I didn’t know you could build a website there I will have to play with that as well.

    • Hi James,

      I can understand your point that it can get overwhelming just to reach from A to B.

      I’ve found that in the beginning, if you follow a lot of advice out there from different people, it usually leads to a blob of confusion. So best to stick to one or two models (bloggers, content writers, audience builders — whatever you want to call them) and move from there.

      Just to make it easy for you, in WordPress go to your Profile page by clicking on “Howdy, James” (on top, right), and select “Edit My Profile” from the drop-down menu.

      You’ll be able to change your password on this page 🙂

      Let me know if you have any more questions. Happy to help!

      Pooja

  4. Hi Pooja,

    First off, congrats on scoring a guest post at Firepole, super impressive.

    Second, awesome list of tools you’ve shared here. WordPress is a must for any aspiring blogger of online business entrepreneur. Don’t go cheap on the site end of things.

    Although you can build a decent site on free platforms the many WordPress experts you speak of will be there in a jiffy to help you when things go South. Knowing this is reassuring because as we all thing, things will get dicey with your site at times.

    I know that feeling well from my early days of being a blogger. Wondering how and where to even start, and figuring how I’ll ever actually make a living from the blogging bit is overwhelming when new to the online gig but picking the right tools can quell your anxieties.

    I’d add, working on your mental tool – the most important tool of all – is the difference maker. Working on your mindset helps you attract the perfect tools, perfect people and ideal circumstances to promote your success.

    Thanks so much Pooja.

    I’ll tweet in a bit.

    Ryan

    • Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

      For sure. There is a huge community of WordPress developers and help is always around the corner should you need it. The WordPress support system is also solid.

      Contrast this with “free” platforms — like I said, nothing is truly free, and secondly, you’ll have to keep up with ads slapped on your website if you really want free.

      A WordPress website doesn’t cost much. There are developers charging competitively so you can always hunt for a bargain.

      When I create websites for my coaching clients, I send them a customised video tutorial + PDF report that takes them through the basics of how to set up a blog, how to upload media files, how to use the SEO plugin — and more.

      Learning to use WP is not that hard if the right support is available. Much smarter to invest in your website from the start, in my opinion 🙂

      Love your comment about mental tools! Being in the right mindset as you start is crucial. There are a ton of resources available online for that as well, but the key is to take on or two bloggers as your model and emulate them. Don’t follow everyone out there, because that will overwhelm you. (True story!)

      Thanks again Ryan.

      Pooja

  5. I’m wondering if you have a scheduling tool that you like. I have been using TimeTrade for a few years and until recently it was a great option with a low cost. Lately, though, they took away some key features (like sending automatic reminders to clients) and the system has been buggy, which has cost me a few important meetings! Any recommendations that won’t break the bank?

    • Hi Ally,

      The only scheduling tool I use is a notepad (oldschool?) and Google calendar. 🙂 Those have worked out fine for me so far.

      If you mean scheduling for client meetings where they can book an appointment online, I’ve used simplybook.me and it works well!

      Pooja

  6. Hey Pooja

    Just clicked on the link to the Pomodor0 timer – great find! This is exactly what I need right now to pin myself down to nailing the last few chapters of a novel I’m working on.

    I am also going to try out Audacity later on. Maybe in my 5 minute break!

    Thank you for these tips.

    Lita

  7. Thank you for sharing these tips. I also, going back to the beginning, like to use lastpass for my passwords.
    I also have to say that I love to use wunderliet at Wunderlist.com it is very helpful for my to do list to has lots of great value and helps keep me on track along with the Pomodoro timer.

  8. Hi,
    This seems to be a great list. Would like to add Invoicera to this list of products. Invoicera is a feature rich software with invoicing, time tracking and and expense management capabilities. It helps you schedule invoices and focus on your work. Besides that it has got a quick and simple user interface that save you a-lot of precious time. It has got Multiple Languages and payment gateways which makes it a global product.

    Manager
    http://www.invoicera.com

  9. Pingback: Why I Sometimes Fear Google As A Blogger And Internet Entrepreneur | Thistinything.com

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