They say it takes money to make money, which is a painful reality for many new business owners. When you’re starting a business, there’s a certain catch twenty-two that starts to feel depressingly familiar: You need certain things to get started — services, products, software. These overhead costs are essential to running your business. But they are costs. They require capital. But you need these things to get that capital. But you need the capital…to get the things…to get the capital…

And everyone’s least-favorite vicious cycle begins. Sound fun, right?

Doesn’t “free” sound better to you? Thanks to the bounty of the internet, there actually is a plethora of useful business tools available for literally zero dollars. How do they make money, you ask? That’s their problem! It’s time for you to capitalize on their wild ventures and, if you’re not using them already, get on board with these five free online tools that will make your entrepreneurial life a whole lot easier.

  1. Trello (For Organization) – Let’s face it, you didn’t get into the starting-your-own-business game because you’re a bastion of organization. If keeping yourself and your team on track is clean and simple to you, please, tell me your secrets. But if you’re like the rest of us, Trello is a free service (a site + app) that helps you keep projects, to-do lists, files, even imagery, all organized in one place. Make a ‘card’ for each project; move cards to different boards to signify completion, or perhaps the next step; attach images and files to cards and even invite others to your boards to contribute! It’s blessedly visual, intuitive, and easy to use; you’ll be surprised how much it can streamline your workload.
  2. Hootsuite (For Social Media) – No matter what — I repeat, no matter what industry you’re in, you need social media. You do. Accept it, embrace it, engage it — it’s not going away, and if you’re not utilizing this stuff you are missing out on a plethora of marketing opportunities. But I’ll be real, the vast array of social media options can make things kind of confusing. That’s where Hootsuite comes in. For the base (free) plan, you can sync up three different profiles (think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). You’ll be able to schedule posts ahead of time (a whole week’s work of posting scheduled in one happy little hour!), manage analytics, and even generate leads via sweepstakes. All your social media in one place, less social headache for you.
  3. Unsplash (for Imagery) – Whether you’re posting on Instagram or writing a blog post for your site and/or email newsletter (which you absolutely should be doing), high-quality imagery is an essential. People respond more to imagery, click-throughs are higher when there’s an image, and you’ll look more professional. Problem is, creating beautiful imagery is hard, and we’re busy. Unsplash provides a deep well of fantastic images, searchable by topic, which you can organize on your own personal profile. And it’s all free. That’s right: you can download and use any image for any reason, even commercially, completely free. They’re super specific about that, and their imagery is nothing short of gorgeous. So put your camera phone away and sign up.
  4. MailChimp (For Emails) – Speaking of newsletters, you’ve got one, right? Email is still an essential way of connecting with your customers on a deeper level. It’s a way to reach them directly, it can absolutely drive sales, and you never have to worry about the platform (Vine might have died, yes, but email is forever). MailChimp is a great way to keep your email lists, newsletter campaigns, even RSS feeds, all organized and scheduled. Once your list grows to more than 2,000 people you’ll have to upgrade to the paid version, which offers even more benefits, but until then it’s completely free.
  5. Wave (For Accounting) – I saved the best for last with Wave. Accounting, in my opinion, is the single most annoying and hassle-filled aspect of running a business. Accountants are expensive, and so is most accounting software — except for Wave. Their accounting software is completely free. No, I’m not joking — I was kind of flabbergasted myself when I discovered it. Free invoicing, free expense tracking, they accept credit cards so your clients can pay online (which does come with a charge, of course, per transaction), they connect with your bank account, they’re double-entry…you can even add payroll for dirt cheap once you hire your first employee! Plus, it’s all in the cloud, so you can manage your accounting from anywhere. Most other plans charge at least $20/month for what they offer.

Starting a new business is a tough road to travel, but massive expenses don’t always have to be the first step (or any step, ideally). These tools can help you skip that vicious cycle altogether. 

What about you guys? Did I miss anything? What are some of your favorite free resources for new businesses?

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