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Best free software for small business in 2020

small business software
Image credit: Pixabay (Image credit: Pixabay)

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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.

This means there are free platforms available to use for everything from office software to accounting, communications to project management, internet security to backup software.

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 a free small business software that covers a wide range of functions, allowing you to cover a lot of essential bases without charge when starting out, or simply streamlining.

Best free software for small business at a glance

  1. LibreOffice
  2. Thunderbird
  3. Trello
  4. Slack
  5. Adminsoft Accounts
  6. Wave Invoicing
  7. Duplicati
  8. Comodo Small Business Anti-Virus


(Image credit: LibreOffice)

1. LibreOffice

Best free office software

Familiar interface
Similar features
Compatible with MS Office

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.


(Image credit: Thunderbird)

2. Thunderbird

Best free email software

Works offline
Control own content
Lots of plugins

While Microsoft and Apple have their own options for managing email for free, neither has the sophistication or advanced features of Thunderbird, a well-trodden email package from Firefox's parent company Mozilla.

Now, you may choose to have all mail managed online through services like Gmail, which is certainly useful if you have a distributed team, no definite hardware ownership, or need frequent access to mailboxes remotely. There's nothing stopping you – you can integrate web mailboxes with Thunderbird using IMAP, and the changes between them will be synchronized.

The big advantage to using an email program is redundancy. If a rogue digger slices through the fiber to your building, at least you won't be without your email records – and let's face it, sometimes email is the only place a critical piece of business info lurks. Thunderbird makes it easy to search and manage your messages, so it's well worth installing.

Another advantage of Thunderbird is that there are a lot of third-party plugins available, some of which are particularly focused on protecting your privacy and security by offering encryption as an option.


(Image credit: Trello)

3. Trello

Best free project management software

Create and manage tasks
Build and test workflows
Whiteboard ideas

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 10MB of file attachments – this won't go an awfully long way, but for small projects it should be adequate. A worthy addition to our best project management software countdown.


(Image credit: Slack)

4. Slack

Best team communication software

Easy to administrate
Integration options
Communicate with teams

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.


(Image credit: Adminsoft)

5. Adminsoft Accounts

Best accounting software

For small businesses
Lots of functionality
Many features
Somewhat clunky

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.


(Image credit: Wave)

6. Wave Invoicing

Best invoicing software

Invoice from your phone
Take credit card payments
Send reminders

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.


(Image credit: Duplicati)

7. Duplicati

Best backup software

Open source
Encrypts data
Manage and organize

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.


(Image credit: Comodo)

8. Comodo Small Business Anti-Virus

Best SMB antivirus

Licensed for business use

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.