Many Filipino Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) have flourished perfectly well without the use of technology. In fact, many essential businesses that remained operational during the quarantine period managed to make a profit and pay their employees just fine with business as usual activities like manually logging inventory and products sold, using spreadsheets to report financial statements, etc.
But times have changed. This week the Department of Labour and Employment announced that 3,000 establishments had closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our GDP is also projected to contract by 3% to negative 0.2%, which is a challenging environment to move and grow a business in.
It’s undeniable that we live in a different world now and we owe ourselves and our employees an upgrade to ease work during this time of continued uncertainty. It may take a few hours or days to get used to these applications and software, but change has never been comfortable and most of the time, change does your business good. It would be better to undergo this seemingly arduous process now than to rebuild five times slower during another pandemic or disruption just because none of your data and processes are automated.
The best part about upskilling yourself and your employees with these free online tools to optimize your business is that it won’t cost you a thing.
Free online tools: Collaboration
1. Google Suite
If you already use Gmail then all you have to do is click those nine dots tiled into a cube at the top right side of your Gmail inbox. Upon clicking you’ll find a dropdown list of icons that lets you create a written document through Docs, a spreadsheet through Sheets, and a presentation through Slides. These three applications are pretty similar to Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and you have a Microsoft 365 package for personal use. it’s easy to convert files from Google applications and back.
So, if they function pretty much the same way, why are we encouraging the use of Google applications? Because it’s a free online tool and you don’t have to pay for another user’s subscription unlike with Microsoft. As long as everyone in your business has a Gmail account, they can create files online and even collaborate on it together. Depending on the access you provide to your staff, there will be no fuss about who has the final file as all collaborators would have access to the contract or invoice you just drafted and edited together.
As Work From Home (WFH) arrangements have become popular in the startup community as well as for many small businesses, there are other Google applications you can make use of such as Google Meet that has no time limit and Google forms for internal and external surveys and feedback. For starters, an open and regular communication is always encouraged for businesses to run smoothly. Feedback through surveys is also the best way to get indications on where to improve and what you’re doing right.
Free online tools: Task Management
In an office set-up with at least 10 employees, it sometimes becomes impossible to finalise and execute goals when there are multiple subtasks across the business. When business units and teams are interdependent, especially in a highly-specialised business, teams can sometimes be overburdened by “favours” that are instructed via word of mouth and when the list gets full you can be sure that these tasks will be forgotten.
Enter Asana, a multitasking application, which is free for up to 15 users. It’s easy to use and lets you create tasks that you can set to repeat every week or month then assign them to people in the office. These tasks get sent to users and can also be simultaneously sent to their emails to notify them once a task is created. With Asana, nothing is forgotten as each login shows you a dashboard of all your tasks and their progress.
Free online tools: Automation
Do you have programs or events that require you to send out regular emails or communications to your customers? Instead of having to do repetitive tasks manually, you can automate with the help of Zapier which integrates with business applications such as Google Docs/ Sheets, Slack, or Salesforce. This will save your employees wearing multiple hats time and effort.
If you’re strengthening your lead generation for example, Zapier can export leads from their system into your email marketing platform
Free online tools: Customer Relationship Management
Having a good CRM in place has been a relief for many businesses and has also helped them acquire more customers and improved their sales. Hubspot is one of the biggest apps that is widely used and they offer their basic CRM package for free.
It allows your sales team to manage leads and projects, tracking customers’ progress on their journey, their interactions with sales representatives, etc. It also has simple but helpful tools for email marketing and analytics.
Free online tools: CRM + Accounting + Invoicing
Imagine being an entrepreneur bouncing back not just from the COVID-19 lockdown but from the Taal volcano eruption. You just got the go signal to check on your hotel and restaurant business in Tagaytay City, which hasn’t been open for six months. Since closing, two of your staff had to look for permanent employment elsewhere and with one of them being your operations manager you’re left with cash flow statements, balance sheets, and inventory you’re not confident to sort out as you previously only had time to go through topline reports. This is where a Point of Sale (Pos) software comes in handy to help you easily understand the data in the balance sheets as your customers buy them and help you manage payroll as it also tracks the time your staff logs in and out.
Sellsy is a great app for simplifying data from online, your PoS and other sources. It allows you to manage client relations, contact marketing, inventory and schedule tracking.
For businesses with an online presence or are about to start an online presence
Free online tools: Blogging
Often mistaken to be a tool only for B2C or Business-to-Consumer companies, blogging has become the best tool to get your brand out there on the web for all kinds of businesses. Maintaining a blog may be time consuming but it’s the best way to communicate updates about your business, tips for consumers who may also be in B2B or Business-to-Business companies.
You may have heard about WordPress from way back when personal blogging became popular and you’ll be happy to know that it’s sustained its popularity and has grown to become a reliable platform for corporations as well. In fact, 20% of all self-hosted websites are using Wordpress and that its running big parts of the internet, likely even some big websites that you are using on a daily basis.
It’s easy to sign up for a WordPress account, which you can hook up to your web hosting service to create and manage your blog. Of course, the more functional and beautiful you want your blog to be, the more complicated it can get but it doesn’t have to be right away. The key is building on your blog as you go along and adding widgets or applications that spruce up your blog or help you manage it better.
Free online tools: Marketing Design
If you were tempted to create a Hubspot account to optimise your sales activities and improve on your acquisition metrics as well as overall revenues, you can bolster your marketing emails through beautiful designs you can easily create even with a free Canva account. Of course, there are features that you can only use when you upgrade your account, but these features aren’t really necessary.
Canva is the fastest growing design tool and is most likely second to none in its category of free tools. It recently raised $60 million, which is a testament for its success among SMEs.
With a free account you can still get access to templates for social media posts, flyers, graphics, presentations, letters, brochures, etc. Trust us when we say you need zero Photoshop skills to make powerful designs.
Free online tools: Social Media
Once you’ve decided to take your marketing to social media, we’re assuming you’ll be creating more than just a Facebook account but an Instagram account, maybe create a LinkedIn profile, Pinterest, depending on which of the platforms suit your business. Can you already imagine just how many steps that would be for you or whoever you’ll be assigning to handle social media and marketing?
Hootsuite is a social media management tool that lessens the steps you take in uploading social media messages on various platforms through one dashboard. A free Hootsuite account lets you manage three of your social media accounts by scheduling posts so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing just to post at the most optimal time, reply to all your customers (up to 30 scheduled messages), and followers to keep your engagement high, track how well your content is doing and much more.
Remember it’s not enough to be present in all relevant platforms. You’ve got to engage with all who message you and check the performance of your content so that you can improve on content that will directly impact your sales.
Free online tools: Advertising
9. Google My Business
What is the world’s most used search engine? If you answered Google, then you’re right. Almost everyone you and I know are Googling for answers on almost anything. That means that if you’ve got a business you want more people to be aware about, sometimes it’s not enough to build a website and let it be.
Regardless if your company has a brick and mortar business or not, creating a Google My Business account indexes your business in a way that it lists it in the “yellow pages” so to speak. Customers can also write you a review on Google My Business, which gives those who are interested information they are looking for.
If you do have a store, you can list down your store hours, location, pricing information, store and product pictures, to help your customers interact with your better.
Free online tools: Analytics
10. Google Analytics
If you’re posting content in more places than just on social media, but on your website as well, it’s time you connected these to Google to track your marketing efforts. No matter how good you think your content is, it won’t matter if it’s not doing well and is not relevant to your target customers.
Step one is to find out how and from where your target market is accessing your website. Google Analytics will give you a snapshot of how people are landing on your pages and from what devices, which are important data for you to optimise your content further so that you’re able to serve your content 100 percent.
BONUS Free Online Tool: Cash Flow Management
Whether you’re WFH or not, it’s a good idea to try using these free online tools above to streamline your business so you can focus on other things like tightening your cash flow management.
As most MSMEs struggle with working capital at the moment, there are also online business financing solutions for that through private firms like First Circle. Our mission is to enable businesses to achieve their full potential through fast, fair, and flexible financial partnership. With products like invoice financing and purchase order financing, your cash flow gaps can get business financing in as quick as three to five business days.
Need business financing today? Apply for one with First Circle by clicking here.