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My Top 10 (Mostly) Free Business Tools to Work Smarter, not Harder

Read about my favorite tools and programs I use in my business to make it successful. Most are free programs, and help in my productivity >> https://alirand.com/my-top-10-mostly-free-business-tools-to-work-smarter-not-harder/

Are you a nosy curious person? Always wondering, “How does she do that?” or “How can I do that too?”

I’ll be the first to admit it that I am definitely like that. And I’ll wager that most of us are like that too.
Because if there is a better/faster/cheaper way to work, you want to know about it. Click To Tweet And then use it to your advantage!

So I’ve put a little list together with my top 10 current favorite tools & programs I use in my business.

And if you don’t want to read the whole article, grab a copy of My Top 10 List to peruse later.

1. Asana | Project Management

asana-project-management
Asana project overview | asana.com

Here’s a FUN fact for you: I love lists (…wait did I say “fun?” I meant nerdy…).

I adore organization and get stressed out if I feel things are chaotic and disorderly.

So, needless to say, I’ve tried out quite a few project management software tools in my quest for the best one.

Asana was actually one of the first I’ve tried, and unfortunately it spoiled me when I’ve had to work with other project management systems (PMS) for clients.

Because its features and ease of use are amazing!

It pretty much does everything I need:

  • It’s easy to comment with team members and upload files (i.e. no more searching through super long email chains)
  • Duplicates large projects (some PMS don’t allow this, which I can’t fathom because I LOVE project templates)
  • Can add tasks, subtasks, and even further subtasks (because sometimes there are a lot of things to do…)
  • Schedule repeating and dependent tasks (YES!! Makes it easier for me to see what I need to do every day/week/month/year with reminders)
  • And makes moving tasks as easy as click and dragging (some PMS make this impossible, which I don’t understand)

The best part is that it’s free (which makes this frugal girl happy!).

So, if you aren’t using a project management system yet (or are unhappy with your current one), give Asana a try. It can really improve your organization!

There’s a little bit of a learning curve, but it’s totally worth it to stick with it.

Price: FREE (up to 15 team members)

View Asana’s site

2. ActiveCampaign | Email Marketing

activecampaign-email-marketing
Active Campaign’s site | ActiveCampaign

So I worked my butt off researching email marketing programs before landing on ActiveCampaign. There are just so many options for email marketing out there!

I started thinking about what I wanted most and priced out the platforms accordingly.

First, I knew my email marketing system needed to have automation capabilities. I have a free 5-day email course on website maintenance that needs to be sent out each day to subscribers. As well as a nurture series to other subscribers. So it needed to be able to have automated series and logic conditions as well.

Then, I wanted something affordable, as I’d much rather pay $10 vs. $200 a month. This was something that varied across platforms, but I tried to find the most value for the most subscribers. If there were limits across platforms, I made note of that (ex. number of emails sent per month, templates, contacts, etc.).

And lastly, I wanted something easy to use. I’ve seen firsthand how ridiculously complicated Infusionsoft could be and that’s something I definitely didn’t want. I wanted something more along the lines of ConvertKit.

But for the features, price and usability, I settled on ActiveCampaign. It’s very powerful with logic, automation, tags, etc. and can integrate with my other apps (great bonus!).

It takes a little bit to learn how to use it, but there are nice video tutorials on their website.

Price: starting at around $9/month for lite plan. They charge more for their CRM integration, but I work around it with…

View ActiveCampaign’s site

3. HubSpot CRM | Customer Relationship Management

hubspot-crm-for-customers
HubSpot customer overview | HubSpot.com

If you’re looking to organize your customers better, I recommend HubSpot CRM.

I was using Insightly before, but I found it overly complicated and limited in the free version.

So after researching and testing out others, I landed with HubSpot! And I haven’t looked back since.

It’s pretty intuitive albeit with a medium learning curve. But once you get through that, it’s pretty great.

Probably my favorite feature is trackable emails!

Once you integrate with your email provider/Gmail, your emails are tracked and you’re notified when someone opens or clicks them. This is amazing for keeping on top of clients, to make sure an email hasn’t gotten lost.

Then you can also place calls from HubSpot and record notes as you talk.

And you can add as many custom fields you want (like birthdays, anniversaries, pets, etc.).

You can also track website conversions, see who’s visiting your site (and repeat visits), and move contacts through a sales pipeline.

So, while I would love to integrate my email marketing and CRM into one program, that usually brings a hefty monthly price tag. To work around it, I use Zapier (free) to link ActiveCampaign and HubSpot CRM so they stay connected.

Price: FREE

View HubSpot CRM’s site

4. Google products | Productivity

google-products-gmail-calendar-docs-sheets
Google Sheets | Google.com

So while you may be familiar with Google products, I’m still going to explain how I use it to increase my productivity.

Gmail

First, all my emails are forwarded into my main Gmail account, so I’m not wasting time logging into multiple accounts. So if you have other domain account emails, instead of logging into your hosting’s email (ex. Roundcube), you’ll just get to use your Gmail.

And I’ve also connected them via SMTP, which means I can reply as the account anyway. For example, if my forwarded email from hello {at} alirand.com comes into my Gmail inbox, when I hit reply, it’ll be from hello {at} alirand.com, not my personal account.

To enable this, log in to Gmail and go to settings. Then find the “Accounts and Import” tab and go down to “Send mail as” and click “Add another email address you own.”

It’ll then walk you through the steps to connect your account. If you have trouble, try googling it for your email client. Especially because the port, username, password varies.

Docs & Sheets

I use Google Docs and Sheets instead of uploading regular Word or Excel documents into Google Drive as they don’t count against your storage limit. Plus, they’re backed up to the cloud!

And they make sharing super easy to do with clients! Just click the link at the top right of the page to share with anyone or create a sharable link.

If you download your files to your computer, they still open well in Word or Excel.

The only downside is that there are fewer options dealing with formatting, but the benefits outweigh that.

Google Calendar

And lastly, Google Calendar is my go-to calendar for my appointments and scheduling.

It integrates with so many apps and is easy to use.

Also, I love the reminders, notifications and repeatable event options. It just makes your life easier.

Price: FREE (unless you require more storage or other options)

View Google’s site

5. Adobe Suite | Graphics

adobe-suite-illustrator-photoshop-indesign-graphics
Adobe Photoshop | adobe.com

Adobe Illustrator
I LOVE Illustrator and don’t know where I’d be without it (…not joking!).

I use it for everything – from designing graphics and website mockups, to business cards, to Facebook banners.

I used to use Photoshop years back for all of that, but then I realized that Illustrator was MUCH more suited to those tasks! It was like night and day. Graphics are so much easier to make, once you learn how to use Illustrator.

If you’re new to Illustrator, here are a few of my recommendations on how to learn it:

  1. Find a video tutorial walking you through how to use Illustrator’s tools and options. Search on YouTube (My favorite is from Terry White. He explains things very well and covers the basics).
  2. Then, search for free project tutorials to try out yourself. You’ll learn how to use Illustrator and learn graphic design techniques. DesignCuts is a great resource.
  3. Then once you’ve had some experience, try to replicate graphics you see. This will get you to think how to use what you’ve learned. Just don’t sell them as your own, of course. Just for practice!

Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop is great for editing photos and the like. A lot of times clients will need backgrounds removed from their logos or images, and Photoshop makes this easy.

It works best when you can work between Illustrator and Photoshop. You can edit a photo, save it and the linked photo in Illustrator will auto-update. Saves a lot of time!

Adobe InDesign
I also use this software to create eBooks or digital downloads. It lets you put hyperlinks in (which Illustrator doesn’t) and is easy to have page templates.

Price: varies depending on your subscription or have an earlier stand-alone program. Try searching for free alternatives, if Adobe isn’t within your price range.

View Adobe’s site

6. Pixabay | Images + Videos

pixabay-for-free-graphics-and-vidoes
Pixabay search for images | Pixabay.com

The frugal girl in me also doesn’t want to pay for stock photos if I can help it.

And I’ve found the solution in my go-to site for free images and videos: Pixabay.

Their media is free to use under Creative Commons and attribution free! They have everything from photos and graphics to videos, so get to looking!

You’ll just need to create a free account to download the highest resolution sizes.

And for another tip, use TinyPNG to optimize your images before placing on your website. It’ll reduce the file size to make your page load faster than it would have otherwise.

Price: FREE

View Pixabay’s site

7. Pandora Radio | Music

pandora-radio
Pandora radio | Pandora.com

Are you someone who likes to have music on while they work? Because I sure do.

My favorite music app is Pandora. They have a large database and allow you to shuffle stations.

Plus, you can customize your radio stations so they play the music you like. And it’ll introduce you to songs you’ve never heard before but might like.

That’s how I’ve discovered some of my favorite artists and songs these past few years.

Tip: To avoid paying a fee to remove the commercials, you can use an ad-blocker extension (like uBlock) in your browser. That way you won’t have to hear any ads!

Price: FREE

View Pandora’s site

8. Calendly | Scheduling

calendly-meeting-scheduling
Calendly schedule meeting interface | Calendly.com

In your business, you’ll wind up sooner or later needing to have meetings with clients, vendors, or even team members.

To avoid the phone tag trying to find a convenient time, use a scheduling app like Calendly.

Calendly is a beautifully simple scheduling app that integrates with your calendar, like Google Calendar. It’s super easy to use and set up.

For my website and in my onboarding process, clients can schedule to have a phone call with me with the click of a button. They’ll see what times I’m available and choose one.

Then the meeting is automatically added to my Google Calendar (and I’m notified). It’s just a great way to schedule meetings!

Price: FREE (with a premium plan available)

View Calendly’s site

9. WordFence | Website Security

wordfence-to-protect-wordpress-websites
WordFence dashboard on WordPress | WordFence.com

If your website runs on WordPress, then you should look into a security plugin to protect your site from attacks.

While there are a lot of plugins out there, my favorite is WordFence. There’s a premium version as well as a free version.

It includes a firewall and virus scanning as well as a host of other great features. Below are some of my favorites.

Real Time Login Reporting

I love this feature! Because whenever someone successfully logs in to your website, you’re sent an email notification. So I’m always aware if someone (me or a hacker) has broken in. It even lists their IP address so you could add it to your block list.

Lockouts

You can customize how to respond to failed login attempts. If someone keeps trying to log in, you can choose when to lock them out (ex. After # of failures) and for how long (ex. 30 minutes). It also allows you to prevent WordPress from revealing valid users in login errors. That way a hacker won’t know if it’s the username that’s wrong, the password, or some combination.

Two-Factor Authentication

For added security, you can even enable Two-Factor Authentication for WordPress. This means that after you login, you’ll enter an extra code that’s sent to your phone. Many other websites are doing this, and it’s a great way to protect your site from login breaches.
Note: WordFence offers this as a premium feature.

If you’re interested in learning more about keeping your website safe and secure, you can get my Free 5-Day Course: Worry-Free WordPress.

>> Get peace of mind with knowing how to maintain your site

Price: FREE (with premium available)

View WordFence’s site

10. UpDraft Plus | Website Backup

updraft-plus-for-backing-up-website
UpDraft Plus dashboard in WordPress | UpDraft Plus

And lastly, you should backup your website regularly in case of issues down the road. But I know life can get in the way, so it’s nice to have a tool to do it for you automatically!

My favorite backup tool I use on my and clients’ sites is the plugin UpDraft Plus.

It backs up your files AND databases automatically or on a schedule.

And it can restore your site from a previous backup and supports cloud backup.

Just one thing to know is that the free version doesn’t work on WordPress multisite; you’ll need to upgrade to a premium subscription.

Price: FREE (with premium available)

View UpDraft Plus’s site

Conclusion

So now you know my favorite tools I use in my business!

The honorable mention is Zapier, as it links my programs together. Check it out as it’s free for up to 5 zaps!

And feel free to download My Top 10 List so you can refer to it in the future!


Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase from the affiliate. I only recommend products and services that I know or trust to be of high quality, whether an affiliate relationship is in place or not.



Got a second? Leave a comment below with what programs or applications you’re currently using and how vital they are to your business.

And if you’ve found this post helpful, please share it with your friends so they can also make their business more successful!

About the Author
I create beautiful and conversion-focused WordPress websites for service-based entrepreneurs and businesses. Because websites should sell for you, not just look pretty. And if you're interested in learning how to maintain your website (so you can fix those pesky issues!), then click here.

2 thoughts on “My Top 10 (Mostly) Free Business Tools to Work Smarter, not Harder

  1. This is super helpful! I just had a question, do you have any asana templates we can download and use? That would be great! Thanks again!

    • Thanks Julie! Glad you found this useful. For Asana, there’s not an easy way to import templates right now. But I might at least do a post with CSV files you can copy and paste into. It’s a good idea, thank you!

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