The Complete Guide to Free Online Business Tools (That We Swear By)
We scoured the internet for the best free online tools for businesses, so you don't have to.
Do you sometimes feel all over the place when you're at work? Do you feel disorganised and have issues consolidating your work files and documents? Do you get overwhelmed by your daily tasks and just can't seem to get on top of things?
On this post, we will share with you our recommended no-nonsense online tools that we use to keep our web design business and team organised. The tools we mention here are guaranteed free to start using and ones that we actually use every day. Enjoy!
A little bit of a disclaimer: We know that there are a lot of awesome digital products out there that should be included here, but don't worry. We are always on the lookout for other great digital tools and we will surely include them in our future posts - if you have suggestions, feel free to let us know in the comments.
Best Organisation and Multipurpose Tool: Notion
Let's admit it. We still tend to use multiple programs to organise our work and personal lives — e.g. Google Drive for its apps/calendar/file-sharing functions, Trello for project management and task monitoring, Evernote for syncing my desktop and mobile notes, and Notes on Mac for, well, personal notes.
That's not always bad. However wouldn't it be great if you have the option to have just a single workspace where you can track your progress, take down notes, write a to-do list, manage your team and your schedule, create a database, and all other things you can think of? Wouldn't it be nice if you don't have multiple apps running on your device so it doesn't slow it down and drain the battery so quickly? If yes then you're in for a treat because I got just the thing for you in the form of Notion.
What is Notion? Notion claims to be an 'all-in-one workspace' solution for your files, notes, databases, calendar, etc — and it delivers successfully. It is a web-based productivity and organisation application. Think of it like having a very reliable web assistant that can keep your notes, manage your calendar, organise your documents, track your task progress, streamline your process, and all other things you can think of doing.
Why should I use it? It's built to be multipurpose and intends to replace your other tools and apps that you use. There might be a bit of a learning curve but once you get used to the interface and discovered all its features, you will understand the hype. Notion is a tidy digital application that allows (almost) all types of content to be embedded in a document, anywhere from lines of code to tables and even use emojis for file names. It also has a clean user experience and a smart interface, minimising cognitive load and making it easy on the eyes even after hours of using it.
How do you use it? This online tool has a wide range of capabilities and can be overwhelming to use at first. That is why it comes with pre-made templates to help you get started. It shows a blank page when you first launch the tool, similar to taking a blank piece of paper where you can create anything you can think of: Notes and documents, knowledge bases, tasks and projects, and spreadsheets and databases. The sidebar menu makes it easy to manage pages and subpages, and the editor tool allows for advanced formatting and styling.
Our simple way of planning out our blog topic ideas. But it's more interactive than a typical note app - it opens up the topic as a subpage so you don't have to leave the page to edit it. Pretty great experience if you ask us.
Here is another sample: A team task board populated with to-do items. You can move the cards/items around depending on its progress: No Status, Next Up, In Progress, and Completed. Photo by Guiding Tech.
My recipe table: Pretty evident how Asian I can get with my food choices.
Another way to manage and track work progress within Notion is by creating a project timeline. Photo by Updateordie
You can create Wikipedia-style knowledge base pages to document all your business processes and systems. Photo by Helpcrunch
Running a website business in Northland requires some lead management magic. Need a CRM tool? Ditch the spreadsheet, Notion can handle it. Photo by Make Tech Easier
Best for Team Communications, Managing Teams, and Herding The Cats: Discord
For those teams who are working within the same office they typically rely on physical interaction to deliver messages. If we have an office-wide message to share, we go to the memo board. If we need to reach the manegement, we send an email or leave a post-it note on their desk. If we want to talk to an individual, we come over to their workspace for a chat. Easy as that. But sometimes we need a different channel to make shared information feel more 'official' and one that would manage communications asynchronously. That's where an online messaging platform comes in.
When it comes to team communication tools, first few things that come to mind would be Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Skype. However if you or your friends are into gaming then you will already be familiar with the alternative: Discord.
What is Discord? Discord is an online messaging tool that allows you to chat with others, and audio and video call them as well. You can think of it like Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams.
Why should I use it? Some say it's like Slack for the gaming community, but it's not exclusively made for gamers. It's a feature-rich alternative to the other tools mentioned above: You can create and join servers (groups), go live and share screen, integrate with Spotify, share gifs and memes, build your own bot etc. You will also enjoy its clean interface which looks great on dark mode.
How do you use it? Register so you can start using it for free — just sign up on their website then launch it on your browser or download the desktop or mobile app. You can then create your own server and invite other people to use it by sharing with them your Discord Tag (a combination of your chosen username + unique # ID). As long as you and your team have their own accounts, you can use it just like any other chat tool, say like Facebook Messenger.
Discord is known for its dark mode interface, and an example of what a channel looks like.
Best Cloud Storage and File Sharing Service: Google Drive
Setting up and running a business from scratch takes a lot of time. You usually end up wearing multiple hats to handle the marketing, sales, financial, operational, creative, and client engagement aspects of your company. Especially as a small business owner in Northland, you always have to stay organised and always on top of things. Eventually you will realise that what you need is a single space where you can consolidate all the relevant files and documents to get your business going.
Our team's current web design and development process requires a lot of collaboration within a feedback loop. That means sharing and presenting our work, gathering and documenting detailed feedback, and organising current and old files for future reference. It can get real messy as you scale up. That is where a cloud storage platform like Google Drive comes in.
What is Google Drive? Google Drive is a cloud-based file storage service. You can treat it like an extension of your hard drive, and since it's in the cloud you can access your files from anywhere in the world from any device through the web. Google Drive is a web-based app that serves as a storage space for all your files. It hosts about 37 apps to choose from, such as Google Sheets (if you need to create a spreadsheet), Google Docs (document editor), Google Forms, Google Slideshow (a Microsoft Powerpoint counterpart) and many more.
Why should I use it? Google Drive has to be one of the most used digital product today. It's an effective solution to our digital storage woes, as all my files can now be accessed from desktop or any mobile device. It best built for online collaboration where multiple users can sync, view, edit, and comment on a document. The best part? I don't need to buy Microsoft products anymore because now I can just use Google Suite: Files created using Google Suite are compatible with MS Office (e.g. you can edit a Microsoft Office file from Google Drive, and you can convert Google documents into Microsoft Word format as well) which is a big money and time saver.
How do you use it? It's free to use for Gmail users. All you have to do is create an account using your Gmail credentials. You also have the option to create a Gmail account while signing up for Drive, if you didn't have one yet. You can immediately store up to 15GB worth of files in your account, and then you can buy additional storage if you need more.
Best Social Channels: Instagram and LinkedIn
Social media will always be a part of our digital marketing toolkit, and they should complement the messaging on your website. These platforms are the perfect channel for showing your personality, a place where authenticity and creativity is embraced. Over time these channels have proven that they have massive influence and staying power, and that they're here to stay. If you want to effectively target your audience, grow your community, build and express your brand identity online, social is the way to go.
But with all the social media platform out there, which ones should you focus on?
Our picks: Both Instagram and LinkedIn make the perfect balance of personal and professional digital identity.
If you have a Facebook page most likely you have an Instagram account too. It is the most popular photo-sharing app today, and is now also moving into the video space. Instagram is powerful because it's more visual than its counterparts (except perhaps for Pinterest), making it more engaging to any type of audience. There are now more ways to reach and communicate to your target market what with its Stories and Reels features. The platform allows you to be as creative as you can be: any type of post can be spiced up with emojis, gifs, and filters. Instead of just a simple image or video clip it offers you countless ways of expressing yourself online. Let's not forget about geotagging and hashtags, which make your posts easily discoverable by specific location and keywords.
LinkedIn is a great platform for professional networking. It helps you build a network and a professional profile but its true strength is in the discoverability - it has a great online experience to discover new companies to follow, talents that might be a good suit for your team, or jobs you might be interested in if you're an employee. As a business or a brand Linkedin is the perfect channel to share your insights and expertise via blog posts.
"Be so good that you don't even have to think about algorithms." - Matt Avela
Best for Visual Design and Presentation: Figma
If we wanted to create a simple design file back in the days (I might be exaggerating and it was actually just a few years ago), we have to buy and download a design program like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. These were the go-to design software, but it hasn't always been a fun experience. Adobe has monopolised this space and their products are not cheap. There doesn't seem to be a lot of affordable alternatives so unfortunately we are stuck with it.
Since it's a program locally installed on your device, your team would need to have the same program on their computers before they can view or make changes to your work. Collaboration comes to a halt when they don't have access to the same software. The good news is that there is now a product that solves all these problem. Enter Figma.
What is Figma? Figma is a web-based graphic design and prototyping tool for all your digital projects. It's a user-friendly tool with a beginner-friendly approach to visual design.
Why should you use it? Figma is perfect for teams who collaboratively work on design projects as it allows you to easily share, comment, and modify your design work. It is a web-based app that you can access from any location using any device. It is also a modern design tool that has pre-made templates and lets you design on latest device interfaces. Whether you are working on a presentation deck, newsletters or an Instagram story, Figma has all the options you will need.
How do you use it? You can create a free account on their website. You will then be directed to their dashboard when you can create your first project — easy as that.
Other tools that we are exploring and enjoying so far:
For learning: Learn with Google
Email marketing: Mailchimp
That's it. Those are all the free tools online we swear by to help optimise and organise your business. And with all the new technologies and startups emerging nowadays, there will be more digital products and solutions to enter the market — all to make our lives one step easier.