10 best free (or free to trial) online tools for your small business

Running a business is tough.

With competitors snapping at your heels and the continual pressure to be more efficient and more effective, knowing what you can do to stay ahead becomes critical.

If you’re not already doing so, one small but significant change you can make today is to start taking advantage of the vast number of online marketing and management tools available to help you work harder, faster and smarter.

But with literally 100s to choose from, where do you start? Based on some first-hand research, we’ve come up with what we consider to be the 10 best SMB friendly.  All are free to use or free to trial so give them a go, you’ve got nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

10-best-free

1. Google Analytics

Over 67% of websites have this tool set up, so if you don’t, you should. To use it, simply set up an account and add a code to your HTML. You can then start tracking and analysing visitor activity to better understand their needs. What can you see? How many people have visited; how they arrived at your site; how long they stay on each page and more.

Like so many Google tools it’s completely free, offers loads of support features and is combinable with a wide range of other software. You can even customise your dashboard (what you see when you visit your account) so you can get straight to the info you want.

Related: Google Analytics for beginners: Top 8 metrics for website tracking

2. Hootsuite
If you’re on the ball with your marketing, you’ve likely already set up social media pages for your business – from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram. However, as you might have experienced, keeping them all active and current can be both challenging and time consuming. Enter Hootsuite.

A social media management tool, Hootsuite lets you run all of your accounts from one place. So instead of logging in separately, you can schedule and post content in one hit across platforms. You can also track what people are saying about your brand. Manage up to three accounts for free or up to 10 with an upgraded account from US$12.99 per month.

3. Screaming Frog SEO

Search engine optimization is critical if you have an online presence. When done well it can get your business right to the top of Google’s search results pages – the prime position for getting seen and clicked on. Unfortunately, at any one time you might have SEO errors you’re unaware of. Fortunately, there’s Screaming Frog.

With this nifty PC software, a web spider is sent to crawl your site and collect SEO related-data. It then reports back to you identifying everything from page speed, to server and link issues and unfriendly page titles and copy length so you can correct them. The LITE version gets you 500 URLS analysed for free.

4. Canva

This slick little graphic design software tool lets you create and download beautiful designs and documents for all your business needs. The interface is clean, simple and easy-to-use even if you have zero design experience. Basic use is free, but if you want more advanced features it costs US$9.95 per month with a 30 day free trial.

From social media images to presentations, flyers, business cards, infographics and more, you can use a template and follow a pre-set design or start from scratch and utilize its wide range of design tools. It even has a selection of free stock photos which are better than your average.

5. Dropbox

Dropbox certainly isn’t a new tool, in fact it’s been around for over 10 years, but it’s still a good one. Offering cloud-based file hosting and sharing, some of its main features include automatic backups, syncing across devices and shared folders – all updated in real-time.

For businesses it certainly beats sending files back and forth between team members or clients. It also offers enhanced file security to protect files from hacking and corruption. A basic account is free but you can upgrade to Dropbox Business from US$17.50 per month for more powerful admin and productivity tools.

6. Basecamp

When you’re running a business and have multiple projects on the go, the management side of it can get messy. Keeping track of who’s working on what and what stage each project is at is both time consuming and ineffective. The solution? Basecamp.

This flexible project management tool enables real-time project, team and company-wide communication all from one easy-to-navigate interface. Once you have set up an account – which you can trial free for 30 days (it’s US$99 per month after that) – you simply create boards which act as central message hubs through which you can add to-dos, upload files and more.

7. Unbounce

Want to up your conversation rate? I’m betting the answer is yes. A great way to do this is by creating campaign or product specific landing pages. Don’t know how to create them. No problem. Unbounce helps you build, publish and test landing pages – no coding required.

Once you sign up for your free 30 day trial you can access 125+ landing page templates, which are customizable using a simple click and drop creator tool. You can also build targeted overlays and it’s easily integrated with other software such as MailChimp, Google Analytics and WordPress. Post-trial it’s US$75 per month for 75 unique pages.

Related: How to create the perfect landing page

8. MailChimp

Emails are not only one of the most effective forms of marketing but they also offer great ROI. However, creating and managing campaigns isn’t straightforward – unless you have the right software that is, and when it comes to email marketing software you can’t get much better than MailChimp.

As well as letting you create highly professional looking emails with minimal effort, MailChimp also manages your contact lists and provides easy-to-access analytics, including A/B testing – all free with a basic account. If you want to access its more advanced features, such as automation and chat support, prices are from US$10 per month.

Related: The beginner’s guide to getting your email send times spot on

9. Buzzsumo

A clever content marketing tool, Buzzsumo tracks both web content and shares across all the major social media sites, from Facebook to LinkedIn, so you can see what content performs best for any topic or competitor. Simply type in a specific keyword, or a URL, and wait for the results.

When you know what content is performing best you can use this knowledge to create content that will better resonate with your audience. Using the tool you can also identify key influencers to connect with, share content with and curate articles from. If you want to test it out you can trial it   free for 14 days. After that it’s US$79 per month.

10. Google Trends

Last but not least, is Google Trends. Another content marketing tool, this one lets you tap into all the billions of searches performed each year to discover the world’s most popular topics in real-time. And because it’s Google, it’s again completely free.

You can sort the trends into different types of searches e.g. web, image, news, products, YouTube, as well as confine them to geographical areas, timespans or topic categories. Use it to test the strength of your keywords, generate content ideas, identify cyclical trends and more. Also try Google Alerts which sends the most interesting content on any topic straight to your inbox.

Already used some of these tools for your business? Let us know your thoughts and experiences. Alternatively, if you’ve got any others to recommend please share.


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