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Must-have Free Apps for Small Businesses Part 1

For those of you starting a business or trying to cut costs, looking for free (open source) or low-cost software can be a daunting task. The amount of technology to sift through can be overwhelming.

Would your needs be better met with a mobile application versus a desktop application? Should you go with something web-based so you can access it everywhere?

These are all valid questions. The good news is, the list below will give you a jump-start. I have quite a few free and low-cost alternatives to expensive software you may be pricing out. Please add your favorites to the list for others to see.


Most of us have an email account for personal use. It may be Yahoo or Gmail or perhaps the ons from your internet provider.  If you are looking for a desktop client to work in conjunction with your email, I recommend the combination of  Mozilla Thunderbird as your desktop software and Gmail or Google Apps as your email provider.

The reason this combo is so amazing is because Google lets you access your email with IMAP settings. If you are not familiar with IMAP, this may help. IMAP allows you to set up folders on your desktop or in your web-based email. These folders and any messages will automatically sync. For example, if you set up a folder in Gmail called pending, you will see the same folder in Thunderbird.

This is great for when you travel or use other computers. At your base computer you can use Thunderbird and when you are traveling or out of the office, you can access your Gmail account via your Android, Blackberry or laptop.

Social Apps

Social apps are getting to be more important to businesses of any size or industry. The applications come with a wide variety of features on many different platforms. If you are in need of a desktop application for accessing sites like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and others, TweetDeck is great. You can schedule updates, sort searches into columns and many other wonderful things.

If you prefer a web-based or Android app, I would head right over to Hootsuite. They have a phenomenal hub for your social site updating and monitoring needs.

I don’t want you to forget about other ways of socially connecting. What I mean is instant messaging. You know AIM, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, MSN,, Blackberry messenger… all of those are great for staying in touch or quick chats. The easiest to use and most versatile app around is Digsby.

You will have access to just about every instant messaging system out there and can access it all from one window. One application to log into and see every one from any system. Very easy to use.


Most windows computers come with Microsoft Office. This is a nice piece of software. However, what happens when you need an upgrade? Yup, that’s right, there is a fee. Sure you can keep the old version, but you may not be able to open up a version of a Word or Excel document sent to you. It’s a waste of your time and money to have to buy and learn the new software every year or two.

There are several options to help you out and they are all free. Google Docs is free if you have a Google Apps or Gmail account. You can open, edit and create presentations, spreadsheets, surveys, documents and other things online.  Office online is similar and part of Microsoft Live. If you have a Hotmail account, you already have this.

If you would prefer a desktop app, OpenOffice is a great piece of software. You can do pretty much everything you can do with Microsoft Office, but do not have the cost.

Next week I will give you some more apps to help you keep your costs down and your productivity high. In the meantime, leave a comment with any of your must have free or low-cost apps.

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