Small Businesses spend a lot of money on software and services that have great free alternatives. In fact I would argue that almost any general purpose tool has a free alternative that will get the job done just as well as its paid counterpart unless you need something specialized. That being said here are a few tools that I’ve used in the past when I didn’t want or need to fork over the cash.
Libre Office (formerly Open Office)
The “official” open source alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite. It opens and saves Microsoft office files and includes the ability to create PDF files (more on that later). For basic document creation and editing it can more than get the job done, and that’s the just the word processor. Libre Office, like Microsoft’s offering is full suite which includes alternatives to Excel, Powerpoint, Access and Visio. Unless your small business NEEDS the Microsoft Office suite, give Libre Office a try, it’s completely free – which could work out to hundreds of dollars saved if you’re looking to outfit a whole office of PC’s – plus it works on Mac and Linux in addition to Windows.
Occasionally you may need to make some basic edits to an image of some kind. Paint.NET is the paint.exe that comes with Windows on steroids. Again it’s completely free and will handle most basic image editing jobs. If you’re doing photo edits or creating images from scratch for an advertising agency then you need Adobe Photoshop or something similar but if you’re not Paint.NET should do the trick.
Don’t be one of those people who e-mail word documents around. If you’re sending a client a proposal, report or any kind of final document for review sending a PDF shows that you’re computer savvy and looks more professional to boot. PDFCreator is an applications that allow you to make PDF’s out of your documents whether they are Word documents, spreadsheets or slides. Anything that can be printed on paper can be converted to a PDF and sent off. If you need more robust capabilities like the ability to create PDF forms or other interactive PDF documents you’re going to need Adobe Acrobat or another full featured PDF program but if all you need to do is create and send a PDF this utility will get the job done.
Dip your toes into the cloud and see how good it is. Dropbox is a service that syncs your files between multiple computers and mobile devices. Some businesses keep ALL of their data on Dropbox because of how easy it is to share data among multiple computers or even other people. The great thing about Dropbox (or Box or SugarSync) is that it has mobile apps for every major mobile platform, so you can access you files (documents, pictures, music, videos) from your mobile phone or tablet. Dropbox gives you 2GB of storage on their service for free but you can pay for additional storage or to use it for your whole team.
Pandora (honorable mention)
Almost every client we have has users that rely on Pandora Internet Radio to make it through the day. Pandora allows you to choose an artist, song or genre and it will play similar tracks. This normally results in you hearing some of your favorite songs and new songs that you’re bound to like. It also lets you “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” a song so it knows which songs you like and which ones you don’t. If you don’t have an account, there’s no reason not to create a free one which gives you unlimited listening with ads. Pandora got me through the writing of this post, give it a try.
The great thing about technology is that it gives us options, if you don’t have special needs give some (or all) of these tools a try, small businesses need all the help they can get. Now with these tools (and services) I’ve bestowed upon you go forth and be productive, without breaking the bank. Your welcome.