So there I was, 12 years old, sitting in Mr. Lindsey's history class, wondering why I was being forced to learn about something called a “seed drill” and its inventor, a man called Jethro Tull, who I imagined to look like a something like this:
What does any of this have to do with small business software on a budget, I hear you ask? Because history is repeating itself right now and the “techno-industrial” revolution of the 21st century is the 2.0 version of the industrial revolution that took place in the late 18th century. If purpose-built machinery drove that revolution, this one is being driven by technology but more specifically, software.
Computer software has revolutionised the way modern businesses communicate, collaborate, and innovate. However, for some small businesses, getting the software the need, at a price they can afford, can be a real challenge. For example, the market leaders in CRM/marketing automation software have products that are notoriously expensive for many small businesses with modest budgets and humble turnovers.
So what should the freelancers, independent consultants, and home-based businesses do?
This should be your first task when trying to source software for your small business and I'm going to show you a website that will be a big help. This site has been my first port of call for many years and it hasn't let me down yet.
alternativeto.net - “Alternative To” does exactly what its name suggests. If there's a software product you need but can't afford, search for it on this website and you'll be presented with a list of lower-cost, and even free, alternatives. Some of the suggestions will be better than others but with a little trial and error, you're bound to find a good fit. And if not, then Google is your friend!
In addition to this tip, I'd like to share with you some of the past and present software solutions I've found useful.
Xero (Accounting and Bookkeeping)
This is superb software! I used Xero for quite a few years and always found it simple enough to use despite the fact that I have no accounting experience.
The thing I liked most about Xero is that you can choose whether or not you want to use it more advanced features. It can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. This makes it a good fit for companies of all shapes and sizes.
It's also very reasonably priced, which you can see for yourself here:
PIXLR (Image Editing)
If you're looking for a good and inexpensive alternative to Photoshop, this is it! It may lack the power features that a professional graphic designer would rely on, but if you want to quickly make a PNG image with transparency or create a layered image, this works extremely well. If you're familiar with Adobe products, then there's almost no learning curve here as the interface is quite similar.
The thing I like best about this software is that it's online and registration is optional. However, the down side is that you need an internet connection to access it, which shouldn't be a problem for most people. There is a desktop version that's available for download from the main website, for offline editing, but I haven't installed it because I like to keep my laptop as 'software light' as possible, so the more online software I can find, the better.
The desktop version is free to download, with a paid subscription option to access advanced features. But at just $1.99 per month or $14.99 per year, who could complain?
Zoho (Invoicing, accounting, email, office software, cloud file storage)
And I've saved the best for last!
Zoho has a suite of apps that covers all the bases for any modern business! All online and mostly FREE!
So far, I can't fault any of the apps I've used, I just wish I discovered them sooner. Zoho has really focused on integration between their products, which means that data can easily be imported or aggregated from one app to another. For example, if you use their CRM and email software, your contacts can be synced between both products.
So far, I've only scratched the surface of what Zoho has to offer but here's what I think so far.
Zoho Invoice - Simple invoicing software, ideal for sole traders and freelancers, with a mobile app that doesn't compromise on features. This has saved me a lot of time and stress when it comes to billing and recording expenses, I can't praise it enough. However, medium to large businesses or limited companies may find Zoho Books a better fit.
Zoho Expense - Companion software to Zoho Invoice for tracking business expenses. Really easy to use with a great mobile app. The mobile app even has GPS for tracking the miles covered for business travel.
Zoho Mail - Web-based email client with really great features and a mobile app to rival some of the most popular alternatives. If you're used to Microsoft Outlook, you may find it a bit light on features but personally, I really can't think of anything I need from an email client that this doesn't do extremely well.
Zoho Docs - Cloud storage for all of your files with a desktop sync app. It also comes bundled with productivity web apps for writing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. You can also save your docs in standard Microsoft Office file formats, so you can send email attachments without having to worry about compatibility issues.
Zoho has a lot more to offer than this. I really urge you to take a look at their entire suite:
You CAN get the tools you need to run your business and do great work, at a price you can afford.
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