Google Workspace : Collaboration + productivity apps
There are many different office software suites but Google Workspace formerly known as G Suite remains the original cloud one and one of the best business office suites, offering a huge range of features and functionality that rivals can't match.
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The best free software for small business users can help complete routine and general every day tasks, while still offering premium-grade features.
This is important because setting up a small business is hard enough without the extra costs associated with modern software licenses. Some business owners will aim to limit the software they use precisely to avoid these costs, but doing so doesn't mean to say you have to miss out.
The open source ethos behind much of the internet has also translated into software development for business purposes. In short, there are free software services and business apps available for a number of different business needs.
Although it's often the case that paid-for software promises to deliver more, that doesn't mean to say that free software for small businesses isn't useful or competent. In fact, free software and trials can be a great way to explore your options.
Here we'll feature the best free small business software that covers a wide range of functions and tasks.
- Also check out the best small business software.
If you require compatibility with Microsoft Word and Excel, open source OpenOffice successor LibreOffice is probably your best choice since it's very similar in terms of interface to those paid-for packages.
It also includes a presentation package similar to PowerPoint, a drawing package perfect for flowcharts, and its own database software. Of course, it also includes its own document writing and editing software as well.
While there are a number of rivals to Microsoft Office, LibreOffice is probably the best, not just because it's very feature-rich, but also because MS Office documents opened in LibreOffice retain their formatting, something a lot of competitors struggle to do.
This means that if you do need an office software suite but don't want to pay for it, and you also don't need a cloud-based software suite, then LibreOffice could be ideal for you.
First released back in 2004, Google's Gmail has become the market leader in free email services with more than a billion users across the globe.
Gmail's stripped-back web interface is a highlight. Most of the screen is devoted to your inbox, with a minimum of toolbar and other clutter. Messages are neatly organized via conversations for easier viewing, and you can read and reply to emails with ease, even as a first-time user.
There's plenty of power here. Dynamic mail makes Gmail more interactive, with the ability to take action directly from within the email, like filling out a questionnaire or responding to a Google Docs comment. Messages can be automatically filtered into tabbed categories like Primary, Social and Promotions, helping you to focus on the content you need. Leading-edge spam blocking keeps your inbox free of junk, you can manage other accounts from the same interface (Outlook, Yahoo, any other IMAP or POP email), and there's 15GB storage for your inbox, Drive and photos.
You can also access Gmail offline, although you'll need Google Chrome for that to work. Furthermore, there is a neat snooze feature that allows you to, well, snooze an email for a specified amount of time (it also automatically labels that email as important).
Other features are more questionable. Instead of organizing messages into folders, for instance – a simple metaphor which just about every user understands – you must filter them using a custom labeling system. This works, and has some advantages, but isn't popular with all users. Still, Gmail is an excellent service overall, and a good first choice for your email provider.
Keeping tabs on what needs to be done, who's doing it, and what's being done at any given time is the central pillar of good project management. Trello uses the Kanban technique, originally created as part of Toyota's ultra-efficient just-in-time manufacturing process – think a whiteboard covered in sticky notes and you won't be far off. Create your tasks, and as users move them into the different columns, you'll know their status and who's taken charge.
Trello's just as useful if you're using it on your own, and since each task card – which is simple on the surface – can contain all the information you need to store about each task, it's a great way to keep your projects in order. The free version offers unlimited boards and projects but only limited space for file attachments but for small projects it should be adequate. A worthy addition to our best project management software countdown.
Make no mistake about it, chatting with co-workers on Slack is one of the best sanctioned ways there is to procrastinate. But this online collaboration tool is not just about flinging the latest memes and cat pictures around the office, and there's a reason so many businesses have come to rely on it as the backbone of their working environment.
Firstly, it's an absolute breeze to administrate – if you're working on a new project, you can create a new chat channel in seconds and invite everyone involved to share status updates, ideas, and even related files.
It's fully integrated with Google's office suite, so you can attach related documents to each channel for ease of access, and you can even install bots in each channel to perform various business functions or connect with other services. And if you're working with a geographically-distinct team, it's a great way to keep them connected with all the relevant business banter without resorting to the clutter of email.
Look after your money and… well, you know the rest. Adminsoft Accounts may be a little clunky to look at (okay, a lot clunky) and somewhat tricky to get to grips with, but it offers a massive amount of functionality that can manage most aspects of your financial business for you. Made by a small business owner for other small business owners, it's currency independent and perfect for managing a growing customer base.
You can do full stock control, purchase ordering, deal with various HR functions, manage your cash-flow and budgets – basically everything important. We leave it here with a small caveat, though: you may have to put some work in if you later want to export Adminsoft Accounts' data and import it into a paid-for package like Sage 50, but that would be true whatever accounting software package you were using.
Proper invoices are important. If you're demanding payment you want to look professional, you want to be quick, and you want to make it as easy as possible for your payees to get you the funds. Wave accomplishes all of these tasks within a free, cross-platform app so simple that you can even issue invoices from your phone.
If you choose, you can also use it to accept credit card payments – Wave makes its money by charging a small fee on payments made, and in all other respects it is free.
You can use invoice templates to speed things up even further, and Wave can automatically hound those who are late with your money to make sure they know it's time to pay up. It covers sales taxes, gives you 'read' reports on invoices you've issued, can issue estimates and quotes as well as full invoices, and you can customize its templates to match your logo or color scheme. It's basically a one-stop invoicing shop.
Backing up your data is crucial to the security of your business. If you've ever lost a hard drive, you'll know how catastrophic it can be. To do it right, you'll want to follow the rule of three: you should have three copies of critical data stored in at least two places, at least one of which should be off-site in case of environmental disaster.
Duplicati is the perfect choice – it's free, open source, encrypts your data before backing it up, and you can choose for your backups to go to a number of locations. That could mean a local drive, a fileserver you've set up yourself, or even a cloud service.
It can take incremental backups, meaning that – after the initial backup – it needs only send a small amount of data each time it runs to keep its archives up-to-date. Yes, it's not pretty, and it might take a bit of technical knowledge to get it (and whatever backup targets you've designated for it) going, but once it's up and running you'll be safe.
We're ending this list with an antivirus choice that wouldn't normally be high on our list, but the realities of license agreements have forced our hand somewhat. You might think that installing something like Avast, AVG or Avira on your users' machines would do the trick and, technically, we're sure they'd be fully protected.
But delve into the small print and you'll realize their free versions are not actually licensed for small business use – and you wouldn't want to get your business into legal hot water.
Instead, turn to Comodo Antivirus For Small Business, which has a license agreement that specifically states it's valid for small business use. It's a fine, no-nonsense package valid for both Windows and Mac devices – there's the usual free AV upgrade hassle, and you'll certainly get more features and stronger security for your business if you do make the leap, but for cash-free protection it's entirely adequate.
- We've also featured the best small business apps.