Just a few years ago it was impossible to imagine the number of software tools that are now available to business owners.
Whether your organization needs to do its accounts, collaborate on work or handle client relations, there are a number of cloud-based platforms fit for purpose.
In this guide we’ve focused on some of the top free cloud apps, so no matter the size of your business you can get started today. As these tools are cloud-based, it’s easy to keep data in sync across your organization. There’s also no need to setup and maintain your own servers.
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Bitrix24 is a collaboration platform which was founded in 2012. It provides a suite of social collaboration, communication and management tools.
The solution has a huge variety of functions. It is geared towards any size business. Bitrix 24 centralizes all collaboration and communications from its user dashboard. From here users can organize and track customer interactions, log all store lead data, generate sales reports and perform segmentation of target audiences.
Bitrix24 allows users to create personalized invoices for clients. This is done through automatically inserting all client data.
Users can create a name for their Britrix24 system upon registering. This will immediately display your ‘Activity Stream’. Users have the option of adding a message at the top of the stream for the rest of the network to view.
Files, events and processes can be uploaded to share with your colleagues. Adding new users to Bitrix24 CRM is straightforward and hassle free. Admins can assign departments and groups to each user.
Bitrix 24 free tier includes 12 users, 1 admin and 5GB of online storage.
There are paid versions which provide more features and online capacity, starting from $69 for the cloud version, or $1,490 for the on-premises version.
Magento is a FOS (Free & Open Source) software solution for managing all aspects of virtual shopping carts. It's currently used in some shape or form by nearly ¼ of a million merchants including big name companies like Nike, Cisco Systems and Ford. Magento was originally developed in 2007 but the platform is now owned by Adobe and provided as part of their Adobe Cloud suite of apps.
The benefit of being open source is that Magento supports a huge number of features and can be customized to your individual store's needs. The software supports accepting manual payment solutions such as checks and money orders out of the box. It's also pre-configured to work with a number of major payment gateways such as PayPal, SagePay and Authorize.net.
Magento can be hosted on your organizations own server meaning you're no longer dependent on a third party for shopping cart solutions.
The Magento website clearly states that the software is not for beginners and that those with no coding experience should visit their partner site Zoey for a quick and easy setup.
As open source software there are no funds to support a dedicated, chat, email or phone support service. Confused users can find help nevertheless through the dedicated community portal. This includes a friendly forum where you can post queries, detailed documentation and even the option to register for a Magento training course.
Slack (Searchable Log of all Conversation and Knowledge) is a handy cloud-based tool that keeps all messaging and files in one place. This application is available for all mobile devices and can also be accessed via the web.
Slack was originally brought to life to be used as an online tool for the game Glitch, which is now defunct. It was officially launched in 2013 as a way of helping people collaborate online.
The Slack channel system enables businesses to divide up work based upon teams, clients or in whatever way you need. Employees can join and leave the chats as they see fit. It also has a handy video feature where you can speak to members of your team face to face.
The Slack directory integrates with over 1000 apps which include Dropbox and Google Drive. You can drag and drop files, images and videos directly into Slack if needs be. The app also includes a handy screen sharing tool.
Slack has three tiers. The first tier is free and includes search for up to 10,000 messages, 10 apps and integrations and 1-to-1 video calls. This might be too limited depending on the size of your team.
Some commentators have claimed Slack’s UI is no user friendly and there’s a steep learning curve.
Wave provides a suite of financial services and online software for small businesses. It was founded in 2009.
The platforms accounting features are free of charge. It is geared not only towards small business but it also suitable for the freelance sector.
Wave has a dedicated setup feature. From here users can decide what applications to access first: general bookkeeping, invoicing or payroll. Although users have to pay to access Wave’s payroll services.
Users can utilize the bank reconciliation feature. Businesses can also link their bank accounts, PayPal accounts and other relevant data sources for transaction records.
Wave has a dedicated invoicing tool where users can choose from a variety of templates. Invoices can be sent via email and credit cards can be processed through the platform.
Some reviewers have noted Wave might be too limited for larger organizations.
Google Drive is a cloud file storage service provider launched by Google in 2012. It encompasses all of Google’s own office suite such as Docs, Sheets and Slides.
It is not just a cloud storage provider, Google Drive also allows users to create, edit and collaborate on documents online. It is a first choice for most Android users as it comes pre-installed on most Android smartphones and tablets. However, it can be easily integrated to use with iOS devices and has a web interface, which can be used across all platforms.
Google Drive very rarely has any issues with compatibility and you can upload and edit files in most formats such as RTF, PDF and DOC. The service recently introduced a Microsoft Office plugin which now allows users to edit and store files from Microsoft apps they have installed without worrying about any incompatibility issues.
Google Account users get 15GB of storage free which can be used by Google Drive, Gmail and Google Photos. This means you can not only save and back-up your files but you can also save emails and photos on the drive. Google are currently launching Google One which will allow users to pay a certain rate per month in order to increase their storage.
Some users have noted that the Google Drive interface isn’t always intuitive.
Other free cloud apps for business to consider
There is a wide variety of free software available for business use. Some is completely free, while others offer free-tiers with limited features. Here we'll cover some of the other free software apps you can run from the cloud to help with the running of your business:
Evernote is most famous for being a note-taking app, but really it can be so much more. Aside from the basic note-taking functions, it can be treated more like a personal organiser, storing documents, images, video and audio together. Additionally, there is also the option to include document scanning which can be incredibly useful to run from a cell phone or other mobile device, especially when it comes to digitizing documents. The basic Evernote package is free, but there are paid upgrades available to unlock more features.
Trello is a great piece of productivity software that allows teams to work together collaboratively on projects. The team might include staff or co-workers, but could also include freelancers and suppliers. It's a great way to see who is working on which projects and what needs prioritizing. It may not be a top-level project management suite, but it's a great starter that's simple and easy to use. While there are paid plans that open up the features and limits, the basic free tier provides full-functionality for many needs.
Zapier is a neat little app that works with many other apps to automate processes between them. For example, if you receive a business email with an attachment, Zapier could then automatically save it to Dropbox, then alert you about this on Slack. It can also be used to cross post social media to different platforms and automate CRM tasks. It's a neat little app that can be a real time saver, and while there are paid versions to work with premium apps, the free version is worth playing with to get an idea of how it can work for you.
Square's Point of Sale (POS) software is worth taking a look at if you run your own mom and pop shop and want an easy way to process sales. Although Square sell hardware such as tills and car readers, their POS software can turn your cell or mobile into a cash till for taking orders. Even better, it's free to use, with no monthly fees, and the transaction fees are some of the best on the market.
Google Analytics is probably one of the best tools you can use for growing your online business, because it shows where your customers are coming from, where they are going, and how many end up buying a product or service. You can set up goals to get a better idea of your sales funnel, and combined with Google's Adwords marketing program you can develop a clear sales and marketing strategy, that allows you to keep track of your Return on Investment (ROI) in real-time.