Starting a business is always difficult, and trying to start one in the middle of an economic crisis be even harder. To add to the problem, many small businesses are unaware of the internet’s power when it comes to free business advice. So we’ve compiled a list of simple small business software applications and tools to help small business managers setup and grow their businesses for little or no cost.
Zoho CRM – This customer relationship management software allows small businesses to track inventory, sales, customer databases as well as offering customer support combined with sales data. It even syncs calendar, contact and e-mail information with Microsoft Outlook.
Dropbox – This program is essentially a virtual hard drive that can sync to your computer when new files are added. The first two gigabytes are free making suitable for any small business.
Mozy – A cloud computing service that backs up your data.
Portable Apps – This download fits easily onto a flash memory drive and contains popular programs such as Open Office and audio-editing program Audacity. No matter what computer you’re working on, you can be sure to have the tools you need to get the job done.
oDesk – This program finds remote employees all over the world. Search for a particular job that needs to be done and you’ll find an employee to do it.
Google Docs – Create and edit documents that are kept safe on remote servers, no software necessary. You can allow others to access and edit your files as well, allowing employees all over the world to work on a project, such as a spreadsheet.
MailChimp – Free mass email client, but you have to pay after the first six emails per month.
Fulfillment by Amazon – This system allows you to own your business’s inventory but have it stored in a warehouse owned by Amazon.com.
Skype – An online utility popular with thousands of small businesses allowing video conferencing for free to other Skype users. The system also offers VoIP international calls for rates cheaper than most major telcos on traditional telephone lines.
Northwest Centre – This centre gives disabled adults a place to work by handling outsourced inventory and packaging work for other businesses.
Benchmark Your Wealth – Ever wondered how your personal fortune stacks up against the rest of the population? This free calculator has been developed by Melbourne-based wealth planner Doug Turek, who started his Wealth Benchmarks site as a research project. The quick check tool is free and you can enter your details anonymously, or you can register for regular updates (also free).
Business Finance Affordability Calculator – If you’re looking for a loan to start or grow your business, it’s nice to know if you’ve got any chance before you walk into the business banking manager’s office. Most banks have finance affordability calculators that allow you get a quick idea about whether you are likely to get your loan, based on some basic business information.
Loan Repayment Calculator – Nearly every Australian is keen to enter the property market, but with such tight lending restrictions and high prices it isn’t an affordable endeavour. Input the loan amount, the interest rate and the length of the loan to determine your weekly, fortnightly or monthly repayments and see if you’re ready to enter the market.
Guide to writing a business plan – Business plans can come in all shapes and sizes – from a one-page summary through to a detailed War and Peace-style manuscript. To get an idea of how to set out a thorough but useable business plan, check out this guide from the ANZ Bank. There’s a fictional example to guide you through as well as some tips on where to get the information you need to develop a good plan.
Business Set-up & Growth Calculator – Preparing a business for growth is a daunting task, and one that is only achievable when you have a complete understanding of how your business is run at any given moment. This calculator from Infochoice provides a detailed analysis of set up expenses including advertising, marketing and technology costs, as well as monthly product/service revenue and monthly running expenses.
Customer Acquisition Calculator – Here is a tool to help businesses determine the cost of each customer obtained online. Judged against the amount of money spent by each online customer, businesses can determine how much these customers are contributing and whether their online strategy needs to change.
ATO’s Rates Calculators & Tools – Engaging with the tax office can be a daunting affair, but there is enough information on the ATO’s official site to make tax time a touch easier. The site provides information and rates for PAYG withholding tax, income tax, excise rates and fuel tax credits. There are also calculators available for employment termination payments, capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax, fuel tax credits, GST, income tax, PAYG withholding, prepayments and superannuation.
Additionally, the site also provides calculators for ABN entitlement decisions, an employee/contractor decision tool for the construction industry and a link for information on how to obtain the tax withheld calculator on CD.
Financial Plan Template – This spreadsheet from the Commonwealth Bank allows users to calculate set-up costs, along with a profit and loss forecaster. This break-even analysis tool provides a cashflow forecast and a balance sheet. While it may seem cumbersome to fill out – the budget details even stationery costs – this Excel spreadsheet is as comprehensive as a free online tool gets and can even be saved to your computer for offline use.
Sales Target Calculator – Targets are crucial for any business developing a sales strategy, but taking the next step in the budget process can often be difficult – especially for online businesses. But another calculator from Panalysis allows businesses to determine how many visitors a website needs in order to meet those targets. Online retail can change dramatically from day-to-day, so regular updates will be crucial for developing a detailed sales budget.
Break Even Calculator – Breaking even is an important milestone for a business, but unfortunately one that many start-ups don’t even reach. This tool from ANZ allows businesses to determine whether they are breaking even, along with detailed analysis of business drivers including sales volumes, average cost of production and the average sale price. It also calculates the number of units that must be sold in order to: cover start-up costs, cover fixed costs in an established business and achieve a certain profit level.
Industry Analyser – Maintaining your own business is all well and good, but how do you stack up against others in your sector? This calculator, based on information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, will give a snapshot of a typical business in any industry given a particular financial year. Based on annual turnover, the calculator can give information such as the industry average for gross profit margin, quick assets ratio, debt to income ratio and sales per employee.
Retail Markup Markdown Calculator – Determining how much to charge for merchandise can be a difficult task, particularly when considering how much your business stands to lose. This calculator allows businesses to see how much they stand to lose, or gain, when setting a retail price for merchandise. Simple, but fundamental for any retail business.
Search Engine Ranking Tool – Search engine optimisation is becoming more crucial as the use of the internet grows on mobile devices such as smartphones. This survey from SEOmoz of SEO experts delivers a range of information on what prominence websites should place on specific SEO techniques, such as the top five ranking factors for websites and the “effectiveness of link building tactics”. If you’re looking to improve your presence on the web, this information should be your first stop.
Free Web Monitoring – If your website provides a substantial amount of your sales, then having it crash for several hours without warning is an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. Thankfully, a service has been set up that will allow webmasters and site owners to be made aware of their site’s status whenever they like. This service allows free updates of a site’s availability, 24 hours a day for seven days a week. It includes website testing every hour, a weekly statistics report, email alerts, false alarm protection and accounting for multiple URLs within one account.
Keyword Spy – As more websites become dependent on search engine optimisation for traffic, the use of “keywords” will become more prominent in developing a new website. It’s hard to know where to begin, which is where keywordspy.com.au becomes useful. This service obtains data about various keywords and how much they can help your site, along with information on competitors’ sites and what keywords they are using. The service also provides “profitable keyword and ad copy combinations”, and information on how much a particular site is spending on Adwords.
Google Insights for Search Tool – Building up a website is all well and good, but knowing how customers look for and find your site will only help you improve your traffic. Using Google Insights for Search Tool allows entrepreneurs to compare volume patterns across geographic regions, categories, time frames and other details. For example, users can see how popular certain search terms become during different times of the year, which can allow companies to determine when and where to spend their advertising budgets – particularly for online businesses.
SEO Pro – While keywords and good amounts of content on a site are important for determining your site’s prominence on the web, the number of links to your site is just as important. There are a variety of free back-link tools on the internet, but many are unreliable and some even contain malware ready to infect your computer. This free tool documents the number of links to your site – the higher the number of links, the more likely your site is to appear higher on a search engine ranking.
Website Grader – Knowing how to optimise your website for search engine results will only go so far until you can see how you stack up against everybody else. This tool asks users to submit a URL for their websites, along with the URLs of competing websites in their field. The subsequent report features information on how your website ranks in comparison to others, your Google front page ranking and advice for your page title, meta description and meta keywords. It also provides information on whether your page has too many images, how optimised your internal pages are, the “readability level” of your site and how healthy your presence is in the “social mediasphere”.
Oanda.com – There are hundreds of currency convertors out there, but Oanda offers a tool that allows you to check what the local currency was worth on a past date – very useful when you are trying to compare price movements from foreign suppliers, or check how the value of your export sales have changed over a set period. There’s also a nice function that lets you print out a foreign exchange “cheat sheet” to take on overseas trips and helps you make sure you’re not getting ripped off.