Running a lean startup? Here are 9 free tools that could help


Some entrepreneurs don’t have a choice when launching a lean or bootstrapped startup. They may struggle to find financing, but wish to still proceed with their business plan. Whatever the business, outfitting a company can be an expensive undertaking. Office tools can consist of applications, finance, website, and other items — all of which will help you focus on working on your business model.

These nine free online tools can help you achieve a slimmer startup and reduce initial costs. Some of them may require financial input once your usage expands, but most still give away a substantial amount of functionality.

Office software: Google Drive

At the heart of any businesses tool is the office application software. Business owners will at least require a word processor and spreadsheet application for their needs. While these programs may cost a small fortune, especially when staff is factored in, there are some free alternatives.

Besides their flagship Gmail application for email, Google offers an extensive range of office and productivity applications for free. These tools are grouped under the Google Drive banner.

Once you’ve signed up with Google, you’ll have access to several gigabytes of free space, along with Google Docs (word processor), Google Sheets (spreadsheets), Google Slides (PowerPoint), Google Forms (data collection), and Google Drawings Microsoft Visio). Applications created in Google Drive can be converted and downloaded for other programmes, such as Microsoft Word and Open Office.

Microsoft has their own online free alternative, Office Online, but it can sometimes be very slow to use. Desktop users can use OpenOffice as a free alternative.

Finance: 22seven

Nothing beats a full package accounting system. Unfortunately, along with paying for regular upgrades, package tiers, and product support, these become expensive for startups. A business owner could look at manually capturing all of their financials in Excel, though it will be a timely process; it’s a lot of work if you’d just want a snapshot of the company.

22seven is an online financial application available to South Africans. Users give the site their online banking details and it pulls data from the past three months. The accounts 22seven is able to pull from include cheque accounts, business, credit card, eBucks, PnP Smart Shopper, and more. Once pulled, the system will try to organise and categorise all of your financials. You’ll then be able to recategorise any info, create new categories, and re-name transactions. Monthly overviews and comparisons are also available.

While 22seven won’t be able to handle your company’s full expenses once you expand, it’s a great tool for starting out.


Companies these days need to have a website, especially those who plan on creating a tech orientated business. The website should correctly represent your company, info, and services. The problem comes in where not everyone knows how to install websites on servers or even code one from scratch. This is understandable. There are numerous platforms that can be used when creating your company’s website though I recommend

The WordPress software is relatively easy to use. The software is somewhat slimmed down from the standard WordPress package. Once created, the online platform gives you access to a range of options, such as categories, pages, and posts. The entire thing can be customised with free themes, a purchasable domain if required, widgets, and more.

When a user is eventually comfortable with moving over to a hosting package, the entire process is made easy with the WordPress systems.

Newsletter: MailChimp

An email list is one of the most common forms of advertising. MailChimp is an almost-free tool that can be used for bulk mailing needs. The company’s appropriately named Entrepreneur account allows users storage of up to 2 000 subscribers, as well as send 12 000 emails per month at no charge. This may be more than enough for any startup.

Besides the sending functionality, MailChimp comes with a coding and visual interface to create newsletters and integration with Facebook and Twitter. It also contains built-in analytics and spam ratings for emails.

Organisation: Trello

Any business needs to be organised, whether you’re looking at minute details or the overall project. Google Drive can be used for organisation, but it may become a muddled mess if you delve too deep. Trello is specifically created as an organisational tool for any project.

Within Trello, a user can create boards (think of these as companies), lists, and individual cards. Cards may contain information, such as bullet point lists, labels, attachments, and members. Users are able to leave updates and comments, and Trello will automatically log and change made in a project. The system boasts a wide range of functionality on its free plan.

File Storage: DropBox

Having to access your files while away from the office is more often than not a must. Without online storage, users have to constantly syncing files manually between their devices. DropBox is an online storage service for any type of file. It’s for those not wanting to keep all of their documents on Google’s servers.

The system can be accessed via its online interface for manual uploads and downloads, or the desktop and mobile applications. DropBox will automatically sync all information in its folder to the DropBox servers. When the app is opened on another system, DropBox will download all of your files and make sure they are up to date. After some recent updates, DropBox now allows documents to be edited online through Microsoft’s Office Online as well as leave comments for collaboration within DropBox.

Ecommerce: OpenCart

Ecommerce software is the backbone of any online store. There are a wide-range of solutions available, such as Shopify, but most will want to start with a free platform. OpenCart is a free and open source solution, which means it’s relatively easy to edit with a bit of programming know-how. The core package for versions one and two boast a wide range of features, such as payment gateways, shipping module, product options, and multi-store functionality.

The software requires a few easy steps to install on your website hosting account. Once done you are ready to start selling. OpenCart does include the functionality for secure checkout, email notifications for customers, and wishlists. Any further features will require the user to purchase modifications or create them.

Additional solutions to look at include Magento, PrestaShop, and WooCommerce (which requires WordPress).

Social Media: Hootsuite

Social media is should be incorporated into most business plans, which includes giving the customer the ability to find and interact with businesses on Facebook and Twitter. Hootsuite is an all-in-one social media solution for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

It is a web-based dashboard that gives users the ability to track of all their social media profiles. It’s core functionality includes bulk scheduling of tweets, tracking of hashtags, and cross-posting. For a small fee, users can use the HootSuite analytics system as well.

Live Support: LiveZilla

Being able to efficiently respond to customer queries is crucial in any business. Having to fill out email forms and submit tickets for any customer is an inconvenience. Chat software, such as Skype and Google Hangouts, eliminate this by giving users real-time chat interactions. LiveZilla takes this concept one step further. Instead of the customer having to create a Skype or Google account, they’re able to log onto your website and start talking to you.

LiveZilla gives its users access to statistics and reports, mobile apps, real-time visitor monitoring, and more. The software is installed onto your server and can be used on almost any websited. The free version only allows for one operator.



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