The 5 FREE online tools I (or my business) can’t live without

Whenever I meet someone who’s either working full-time and pursuing something on the side or just looks like they might know someone who’s considering working for themselves I very over-eagerly start talking about some of the following online tools as if it were a brand new Carpool Karaoke video.

Even though I use a lot more than the following software like Hootsuite for Social Media management or Adobe’s Creative Suite for custom designs … I really believe that any small business or freelancer, not just designers can benefit from the ones I’ve listed here.

But wait, it gets even better … all of them have free options! The only one I selected the paid option for is Dropbox, and it’s still super affordable.

1. Accounting – Wave Accounting

Whether accounting is kind of your thing, or you’re like me who awkwardly takes out your phone’s calculator when the bill arrives … Wave Accounting is absolutely perfect for any entrepreneur. Wave is specifically designed for small businesses and literally does everything for you:

  1. You can create and send invoices and estimates based on the products and services you’ve created in your dashboard.
  2. You can connect your bank account to Wave and link received payments to invoices or manually enter them (and yes they do have South African banks as options).
  3. You can scan receipts with their app, and they’ll process all the information on your receipt.
  4. You can pull reports and statements

I’m literally just naming a few of Wave’s awesome user-friendly features. And the best part is, it’s absolutely free … there’s none of those locked features, I cannot recommend Wave enough!

2. File system, backups & file sharing – Dropbox

Most of you are probably pretty aware of Dropbox already, so instead of explaining what it does, I’ll explain how I use it and why …

  1. I’ve downloaded the app to my desktop and use it as my documents folder because after the laptop theft incident of 2017 I decided I needed a proper backup-system that requires little to no effort on my part.
  2. When a client project is completed or I’m sharing a concept presentation file with a client instead of attaching said files to an email I copy the Dropbox link and send that along instead. Attaching files to emails (especially big design presentation files) take up a lot more space than we realise … and this avoids the awkward “please upgrade your server space” email from your hosting company.
  3. Having access to ALL my files from any computer is such a bonus. For instance I was visiting a friend in Cape Town and didn’t take my laptop along … when something came up I was able to log in on her computer and handle the situation.
  4. Lastly, I create a shared folder for each client where I either upload their final design files for them or they can upload any files they need to share with me like images for their website or Social Media.

P.S. Google Drive is also a great tool that offers a similar function, I personally decided on Dropbox because most of my clients preferred it.

3. Client Design Templates – Canva

When I work on custom projects I use Adobe’s Creative Suite, design however is no longer static … client’s often need to be able to adjust the text on designs or reuse a Social Media template. Canva is by far the best FREE online design tool I’ve encountered, it’s easy to use, has loads of great templates and allows for a lot of customisation.

I primarily use Canva to recreate my custom designs into templates for my clients to use, but you can use it for most small business needs like Social Media, presentations, letterheads, invoices etc. … in case you don’t have it yet, there’s also an app available for your on-the-go social media post & story design needs.

Speaking of Canva … once you make it to the end of this post you’ll get some FREE canva social media templates I designed especially for you!

4. Project management – Asana

Asana is an amazing project management tool, no matter your management style!

  1. Firstly Asana doesn’t limit you with the way you setup a project, you can set it up as a list or board view and rename and rearrange to your heart’s desire.
  2. You can add as many projects, tasks & sub-tasks as you want and assign each task to the responsible person with a deadline.
  3. You can share a project with your client and assign tasks to them as well with attachments. That means you can share updated files with clients and allow them to give feedback or conversations on the task itself.
  4. This is a big one, you can integrate Asana with loads of other online tools … including Dropbox.
  5. Lastly, this might just be a thing to the UI designer in me, but the interface is really beautiful and simplistic!

5. Email Marketing – Mailchimp

If sending a beautifully designed email to a targeted segment of your community without having to sit in front of your computer sounds like your jam then Mailchimp is for you!

  1. Mailchimp allows you to create multiple mailing lists that you can further tag according to your business’s different audiences.
  2. You can create custom sign-up forms that can either function as a Mailchimp landing page or be embedded on your website.
  3. Mailchimp has loads of template designs you can use as a starting point for your email campaigns or you can custom design your campaigns with their easy drag & drop builder. If there’s a bit of a developer in you (or your team), you can also build a custom html template.
  4. You can build campaigns that can be scheduled ahead of time or automated according to triggers … what do I mean by triggers you ask? Well events like signing up to your mailing list, 3 days after they received your previous email, a subscriber’s birthday can all be triggers for an email you thoughtfully created ahead of time.
  5. You’ll get detailed stats about who signed up, who opened your emails and whether they followed a link to your email.
  6. This may not be applicable to everyone but Mailchimp is widely used and can be integrated with most online shops e.g. when someone buys something from your online shop, they will be given the option to receive future news before purchasing.

There are tons of great software out there, and this list is by no means the only options … these are however the ones I found that works for me and my business. I hope that you happened upon something you were looking for among this list. If you’re using and loving a software that didn’t make my list please leave a comment below!


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My name is Marike,

I’m a social media manager, content creator, Instagram coach and your new social media bestie!

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