Lancaster County is covered with small businesses. From farm stands in the countryside to painters and sculptors in Lancaster City, from family farms to high tech and software companies; we have it all. The one thing all these small businesses have in common is the need to get things done. Quickly, efficiently and without a huge investment in technology before you even get started. There are hundreds of free software applications out there to help you out.
From office suites to accounting software to project management and team collaboration software, the staggering cost of proprietary software can be one of the biggest expenses an owner may face. This is not to say an accounting firm should not spend some money on a good accounting package. Otherwise that may not be accounting for very long. But most software can easily be switched out with free/cloud based alternatives with no, or minuscule, difference.
Below you will find software I recommend for common office tasks. Additionally, I will list some low cost alternatives in case the free version just does not measure up.
Office Suite: LibreOffice
For the free option I would recommend LibreOffice. It has full support for Microsoft Office documents, as well as the full suite of Office applications (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and database applications). LibreOffice has an active user community and updates and fixes are quickly and easily applied. The interface is similar toMicrosoft Office and most other paid office suites, so you should feel right at home and can start to get stuff done. The only caveat here is if you are going to be firmly in the google world. Google docs has a number of advantages of LibreOffice, especially when you are using Google Drive, or need to have access to all your docs on both a desktop and a laptop.
If you just must have Microsoft Office, I would recommend Office 365. This will give you all the future updates as well as the possibility for email hosting, web hosting, and a number of other collaborative options.
Email Client: Thunderbird
When I look at email clients only 2 come to mind, Outlook and Thunderbird. If you have Outlook and like it use it, Outlook is one of the top email clients in the business. . The best free alternative is Thunderbird. Thunderbird is developed by Mozilla,the makers of Firefox, and has been around since 2003. With integration for all the major email providers, as well as IMAP and POP3 support, Thunderbird gives you the added advantage of having a local copy of your email in the event that you find yourself without internet access.
Give it a try. I promise it will not cost you a red cent.
Project Management Software: Trello
Every business no matter how big or small needs to get things done, and when things need to get done work need to be tracked. Tracking and managing projects and tasks canmean the difference between a business that succeeds or fails.
Trello, using some super smart management process used by a huge car company and what not but honestly just think whiteboard with sticky notes. It does not sound efficient, but try it. You can create tasks and have other employees move them to show status updates. You will know what needs done, who is doing what, and why.
This one is Freemium software but it does come with a limited free version. In the free tier you get unlimited cards and boards with 10mb limit on the files you can attach.
Team Communication Software: Slack
If you can reach over and slap your co-worker on the back of the shoulder, there is a very good chance you don’t need and team communication software. However, if your employees are spread out or work from home, having a single place to keep track of all project communications, as well as just the water cooler kind of conversations is a godsend.
Administration could not be easier, Slack fully supports and integrates with Google Office Suite as well as allowing you to automate a number of tasks involved with keeping everyone up to date on a project.
For those concerned about security, and want to host their own solution. there is rocket.chat which offers similar functionality to slack, but is open source and offers encryption, and Off the Record (otr) messaging.
Accounting Software: Adminsoft Accounts
I wanted to include a free accounting package in this list because I believe it is imperativeevery small business manages their money effectively. That said I do not use this package. I will talk about what we use a CHS Tech Solutions below.
AdminSoft looks like it rolled off the developer’s desk about 10 years ago and it definitely takes some getting used to but I has all the basic functionality you could ask for. It has charts of accounts, full stock control, PO Management, it can manage your cash-flow and budgets. You can even do some basic HR stuff. There will be a fair amount of work WHEN you find you need to move to a more fleshed out paid package.
At CHS Tech Solutions we use QuickBooks online. There is a monthly cost behind it but the support is good and the tasks that I as the owner need to perform are easy to find and super simple to complete. It is not my bookkeeper’s favorite solution but I absolutely love it.
Invoicing Software: Wave Invoicing
Invoicing is the best and worst part of having a small business. Invoicing needs to be simple, FAST, and look super professional. Wave accomplishes all of these tasks within a free(ish), cross-platform app that you can even create invoices from your phone. If you don’t invoice you don’t get paid…
The free(ish) part, If you choose, is you can also use it to take credit card payments – Wave takes a standard percentage of the total transaction fee. 2.9% + $0.30. This is a little on the high side but unless you are charging thousands of dollars every week I don’t think you will notice to much.