When Tim Berners-Lee was creating the network that’s popularly credited with being the first internet, it was all about sharing stuff for free. Now, over 20 years later, the open source movement is as strong as ever and the web’s still a fantastic source of FREE stuff.
In fact, there’s a business tool for just about everything you need to create a professional online presence, using low-cost or free options. Here’s a few of my favourites!
Free content management software & web hosting. You can’t beat it. There are lots of options – like the free hosted wordpress.com or downloading the software (www.wordpress.org) to customise it yourself. SquareSpace or Eden Platform are strong, low-cost alternatives. In Australia the Getting Business Online project offers free sites using the MYOB Atlas tool. And Google sites is another basic option.
2. Free website designs
If you’re using one of the free content management systems above, you’ll get a choice of design templates. But if you’re site’s just got a few pages and static HTML suits your needs, there almost unlimited free designs to choose from. Sites like Dream Template or Free web templates offer literally thousands. You could spend a day looking through them all.
3. Stock.XCHNG (free stock photos)
I love this site – a stock photo exchange. Amateur photographers share their work and it’s mostly free to use (check the terms for each photo).
4. Gmail (free email hosting)
Host your email, with your domain, for free. That is, you can have an address like firstname.lastname@example.org (go on, send me a message) and host it through Gmail, making use of the calendar synchronisation and other small business tools.
5. The rest of Google’s toolbox
I’m lumping these all together – Google docs, maps, alerts, calendar, blogger, mobile – they’re all unique and separate tools that would probably make the list in their own right. Add to these:
Social networking for professionals. Get real leads, connect with peers, share information on benchmarking and best practice. Yammer is another good social networking tool for within your business.
7. Open Office
An open-source alternative to MicroSoft’s tools.
More than just a web browser, Mozilla is open source web at its best. The code is absolutely free and you can download it, modify it and re-release your own browser no questions asked. The open source community also contributes to a wonderful library of add-ons that make Mozilla more than a browser. There are link checkers, accessibility tools, site speed reports – have a look yourself.
9. Issuu (a flash way to present PDFs)
Here’s a recent discovery of mine (there are a few of these tools around but this one’s so simple). Take your stock-standard Adobe Portable Document File (PDF), which is a free tool in itself that we shouldn’t take for granted, and turn it into a flash (another free tool) application so you can embedd a page-turning document into your website. Just looks so nice!
Ok, you already know about it but, stop for a moment to think about how wonderful it is. If you can remember (or imagine) what it was like having to format your own videos and try to have them stream from your own server, you’ll appreciate every opportunity to use YouTube. Other options like Vimeo offer a similar service.
11. Mail Chimp (free enewsletter tool)
Choose and modify your templates, and get a fantastic looking HTML newsletter. Wonderful for small business.
12. Drop box
13. eBay stores
Ok this isn’t quite free but when you think of what it costs to build an online store, it’s nice to have the option to set up your own on ebay and integrate it with the rest of your online presence.
14. Xenu Link Sleuth
Check your links and more! It doesn’t look flash but this little web crawler tool has a lot of cred. It’s light and fast and it just scans huge volumes of pages quickly. Scan your site for broken links, create XML sitemaps and more.
Last but not least, perhaps the best free business tool available on the web is the wealth of information. Wikipedia is the poster-child for the best that the web can be – collaborative, expansive, global, ever-changing, adaptable and very, very useful. WikiSpaces is a free tool you can use to create an editable wiki space for within your own organisation.
These have been some of my favourites, why not share yours. Post a reply – what’s your favourite online business tool or freebie?