When you run a small business, every penny counts. Sometimes you have to cut corners in order to make sure you get everyone paid. Sometimes that means not paying yourself, or not investing in the newest gadgets or a fancy advertising campaign.
One place you can’t cut corners, though, is in your tools. You must have the right tools for the job. The wrong tools can result in delays and unnecessary aggravation.
And in considering “tools,” you need to think of your software solutions as well as your actual physical hammers, or scissors, or whatever you use to conduct your business. Any professional will tell you that purchasing inferior tools generally ends up costing you more money than you save.
Here are some of the best software solutions available, at the absolute best price – free.
If you’re still working alone, this might not be top-of-mind for you. But when you start adding employees, a good HR management solution can mean the difference between scaling your business properly, and making all kinds of important mistakes that can be very costly to repair. If you put the right solution in place before you need it, everything will be easy when you do start hiring.
Zenefits provides an all-in-one HR package that includes payroll processing, benefits management, and onboarding tools. Time-tracking includes time, attendance, and vacation accrual. The Zenefits brokers work with all the major national benefits providers to find you the best packages for your business. Onboarding and exit tools manage your people, including contractors. And compliance ensures you are doing everything correctly.
Are you still working with a Google calendar or, even worse, a manual paper-and-pen or spreadsheet schedule, for your client appointments? There are far better methods, ones that improve efficiency and reduce the opportunity for mistakes and misunderstandings.
BookSimple provides a free, web-based solution where clients can access your company’s appointment calendar from your website, an email or any of your social media pages, and book their own appointments with whatever staff member they choose. They can book, adjust and cancel their appointments with no assistance necessary from you or a member of your team. The system automatically sends follow-ups and reminders, so you don’t have to waste valuable time making sure your clients remember their appointments.
You can view your entire staff’s schedule in one convenient place. You can easily block out breaks, personal time and days off. And your BookSimple calendar will sync with your staff’s Outlook or Google calendars, to provide the maximum in convenience for them as well.
BookSimple also offers paid services, in addition to the free option.
If you have hourly employees, you need an efficient way to schedule their shifts. ABC Roster provides just that, for free. It’s a web-based solution with an intuitive interface, and the ability to export your schedules to Excel, PDF or html documents – whichever is the best way for you to share them with your staff. You can email the schedules directly to your employees, or print them out for posting in your workplace. And it covers all aspects of scheduling – employee availability, time off, leaves and vacation, special events – whatever you need.
ABC Roster is completely free to use, although the developer does include a Donation button in case you feel generous. It appears that the developer is consistently improving the product, as evidenced by the changelogs.
Any PM knows that being organized and having great inter-team communication are the keys to successfully implementing client projects. With small projects, maybe you can get away with text messages and a list of tasks. More complicated, and you risk a disaster without the proper tools.
Trello is one of the most intuitive PM systems around, based on the Kanban system developed by Toyota executives. The software actually represents tasks visually as little cards, which can be moved from column to column to indicate the stage of process (for example, for tv commercial projects, stages might include In Pre-Production, In Casting, Filming, In Post-Production). Tons of information can be included, calendar functionality shows everyone what is due next and when, and who is responsible. Comments from team members keep everyone in the loop, and it’s always updated in real time. It’s an incredibly simple tool that all team members can immediately understand.
The free version offers unlimited projects and users, but does include only 10 MB of storage space. Upgrades, however, to 250 MB per year can be achieved by introducing another user to Trello, or by paying $5 a month or $45 for a year.
And last but certainly not least, your small business needs a comprehensive accounting and invoicing package that can handle everything you can throw at it.
ZipBooks is totally 100% free, and is not simply accounting software – it can also do invoicing as well as time- and expense-tracking. And because it is cloud-based, you can access your ZipBooks account at any time from any device.
The ZipBooks solution provides accounting functions – including a compilation of all your financial accounts (checking, savings, credit card) and automatically-generated reports that quickly show you where your money is being spent; expense and time-tracking functionality – storage for an unlimited amount of data on all projects, employees and expenses, for complete transparency when billing; and invoicing – one-click invoicing and a choice of payment options to make it easy for your clients to pay you quickly.
So there you have it – a full suite of critical software for your small business, and all of it for free. Put your money into growing your business, and you can’t get off to a better start.
Brad Hanks is in charge of Growth at ZipBooks.