How To Start & Run Your Business For Free (Basically)

I don’t think it’s uncommon for a small business owner to say they waited to start because of x, y, and z. More times than not, one of those reasons were because of the financial cost it takes to start a business. Unfortunately, that’s mostly true. It could take some up-front cost. However, I have compiled 10 FREE apps or websites I use everyday in my business.
I should fully disclose that I wrote this blog with the assumption that you already own or have access to a computer or smartphone. If my assumption is wrong, I am more than perplexed at how you are reading this already. Nonetheless, that’s not my business. If you don’t have a phone or computer, I do believe you can head to your local public library and use one there. You could also ask a friend or relative. And if you are one of those people who don’t like asking for help, I am right there with you. But I have learned that sometimes you have to and, in those times, the worst someone could say is, “No.” I’d rather not wonder what-if and just ask.

Listen, I’m not one for odd numbers so 11 just doesn’t fit and in full transparency I write the intro last. SO, make sure to register for your EIN which can be found by googling EIN followed by the name of your state (example: EIN tax IL). This is for tax purposes and will be easier for you to register for certain needs your business may have. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s start with the 10 apps or websites I use everyday to keep my business running smoothly and efficiently.

1. Google Sheets
If you already have Excel, you can use it. If you have an Apple device, then you have Numbers already installed. Using the free various spreadsheet apps to track the below have come in handy for me:

  • Hours per project
  • Notes from each project
  • Keep track of promos offered and dates
  • Keeps track of all monies (spent & received)
  • Preplanned spending for the year
  • Track analytics for social media posts and promoted ads
  • Keep track of notes and future topics
  • Keep a list of potential, previous, and future clients

Spreadsheets can be used for endless purposes. But the above are just some examples. Depending on what your business is will depend on what you use them for. If you have inventory, that would be a great purpose. To take it a step further, you can even lock your Google spreadsheets so the whole world can’t see all of your private information.

2. Calendar
Who needs a content planner? Who needs a fancy planner to keep their day straight? The key word in both of those sentences was NEEDS. Starting a business is hard, stressful, and exhausting sometimes. I can barely keep my life straight outside of work, throw in a full-time job and running a business? Forget it. Let’s also not forget keeping a social posting plan straight. Or reminding myself when these blog posts need to be completed, reviewed, and added to the website. I would lose my head without a calendar. Do I love a fancy agenda? For sure. Do I LIVE for a cool content publisher that creates all my reports, sends my posts out at optimal times, and even gives me analytics on them? Hello, Hootsuite. However, I do not have the money for those things listed above. Let’s actually scratch the term “have the money” as that is an entirely different post in itself. Let me say, my business has other NEEDS right now that funds would be better allocated to. So, for now, I have a cellphone, email, and computer. Guess what they all have included in them? A calendar app! My entire life is synced in these apps and it’s great! They send me FREE reminders for everything I need to do. I don’t know how I ever functioned before utilizing this tool.

But, kierst, what about the additional notes I need to make as a reminder to myself of topics per meeting? What about the website links that correlate with each client?

First, please note I forget almost everything in the world. I am not kidding, I forget conversations I had, things I did, and events I attended. It could truly be an art, how forgetful I am. However, back to my handy-dandy Calendar app, there is a section for Notes, Location, Website, and even other participants. We’re real fancy over here. And again, it’s FREE.

3. Email
When you’re starting out most people will more than understand why you don’t have an email at your own domain. You can take this next statement with a grain of salt if you so choose but, if a client is more hung up on why my email domain doesn’t match my website than the amazing work they are about to pay for, I am not too sure I am willing to work with them anyways. Your work, portfolio, website, social accounts, ect. should be what they are focusing on.

I do recommend getting a business email and there are a million choices to choose from (i.e. google, outlook, msn, yahoo, comcast, grics, etc.). You can set your email up for free (that will probably have a calendar attached to it *wink, wink*). Thus, making it virtually impossible to forget my meeting with a client because Google suggests that I add it to my calendar.
Now, after you’re established does it make sense to have your email domain match your brand/website? Absolutely! It isn’t even that much in terms of cost, but in this post, I am trying to show you how cost effective it really is to START your business.

4. Social Media
This one absolutely has to be my hands-down FAVORITE obstacle a business grapples with. If I had a penny for every time I have heard the following statement, I promise you I would barely even have to work. “I think I should get established more before I start a social media account.” Absolutely, 100%, completely false.

Hear me out:
As of April 2021, these are the social media account user numbers:
Facebook – 2.8 billion
Twitter – 192 million
Instagram – 1 billion
LinkedIn – 740 million
TikTok – 689 million
Snapchat – 265 million
Pinterest – 459 million

And you don’t think using these FREE apps will benefit your business? Then comes the common, “But Kiersten, I just don’t know how to work them.” Let me start by saying that statement is completely valid and marketing on these apps can definitely be confusing to many. THAT IS OKAY. You don’t have to have a complex marketing strategy or even have to hire anyone to do your social media for you. You just start by posting a picture. (More to come next week on How to Use Social Media to Market, For Beginners). But, in the meantime, create an account with your business email, give it a name, and post a picture of yourself or your service. Just trust me on this one.

5. Canva (Free version)
Coming in at a very close second to being afraid to use social media is worrying about your overall marketing. My first blog post topic was deciding if you really need a graphic designer and how terrified some people get when they hear that word. Listen, I understand. Even as a graphic designer, I get intimidated by the word, marketing strategies, by creating new images with different branding for each client. Marketing is and can be extremely intimidating.

Thankfully, there is Canva, which also has a free version. You can download the app, create an account, and there are millions of free samples depending upon what type of marketing materials you need. Within the app you can:

  • Create a logo
  • Create social media posts with the correct sizes
  • Create flyers or brochures
  • Create a menu or pricing sheet
  • Make your business cards
  • Design a newsletter if needed
  • And so much more

Additionally, it should be noted that all the above can match with your branding. That means you won’t have different color hues or logo types. You won’t even really have to guess at what was used or how to make things look as similar as possible. In addition to all of those basics, Canva also offers free stock images. That gives your posts or marketing materials variety without paying sites like Shutterstock, a large fee.

6. Zoom (Free version)
In 2020 we saw an entirely new approach to not only business but our everyday lives. In quarantine, video calls became the only way many people could see their friends, family, and coworkers. This also became a new way for businesses to host conferences, courses, meetings, and more.

Zoom has a free version, with limitations, but could serve a purpose for introductory meetings or brand strategy meetings. As long as you keep the meeting to 30 minutes or less, you are good to go with the free version.

A 30 minutes webinar or course may be hard to do but when we are talking about cost cutting or starting out on a budget, you can do it. Just be creative with your strategy.

7. PayPal/Venmo
Who says you need to get a Business Checking account at a bank that charges you a fee if you don’t keep a minimum balance every day and then takes an additional percentage as a fee for having the account? No one.

PayPal and Venmo are both free options for having clients pay their invoices. Granted PayPal will take a fee and percentage out if you send someone an invoice through them but that’s not money you are pre-paying. Venmo has also been known to take a fee out of incoming money but again, it’s not a pre-paying fee you have to pay beforehand.

The benefits to PayPal and Venmo are also that they have built-in accounting help. Each month they will send you a summary of the monies that came in and out of your account. You can use these freely generated reports for your accounting purposes to make it easier for tax time.

8. Be Creative
“I am not a creative person.” “I suck at art things.”

I am sure you don’t suck at art things but, that’s a different topic. That’s not what I mean when I say Be Creative! What I mean is, take your obstacles or struggles and think of other ways to solve them.

You are creative enough in your field to understand there is a market for what you are offering. And I will go on a limb and say you are creative enough to offer your business in a way some have not. Now, that doesn’t mean no one has ever followed your business plan or presented your business in a similar way. It means you found a niche or a way to show others a different side of your niche.

Look within what your true values, goals, and the mission of your company is. Take that, and amplify that. Whether you are first starting out or in a spot where sales seem low, do some research on your niche and add your own flare to it. 

9. Online Education (a ton of free courses)
So, here’s what I have learned about being a career professional and an entrepreneur – you never stop learning. “Learn something new every day,” is an understatement. Whether you are looking to learn how to market your business, start your business, expand your knowledge on business topics, learn new and current trends, upgrade your current techniques in your niche, learn new business uses, etc. There are so many webinars, series, PDFs, podcasts, videos, and so much more.
Google “_____ course” and a ton of things will pop up. There are definitely topics that require you to pay but I promise you can find one for free. I will warn you to DO YOUR RESEARCH on who is offering the information. Make sure they know what they are talking about but aside from that, you can find a ton of free education out there. Utilize it! YOUTUBE WILL ALSO BECOME YOUR BEST FRIEND.

10. Word of Mouth
Name a better type of marketing for your business, I’ll wait…
Word of mouth doesn’t have to be your last client. If someone is mentioning your business name, that is word of mouth. It could be your mom telling her best friend you started a business in ______. Then, someone standing by overhears this and knows another person looking for your niche specifically. Boom! There’s a potential lead.

Now, let’s talk more about the traditional word of mouth. That would be a previous client or person you know specifically telling others about your business, offerings, quality, and giving a recommendation. Or maybe it’s a social media post or review for your business on the website.

One of the most underrated things for a small business is the power of a positive review. I also beg you to remember that when you work with a business. I encourage you to always leave a review, especially when you are satisfied. You don’t understand how much they mean until it’s your business depending on one.

I could probably find more but these are the apps/sites I personally use everyday that do not cost me an extra penny. For a bonus tip, if you’re really looking to expand your marketing images but you truly don’t have the budget to pay for photography yet, visit pexels or unsplash. Those are free and free of copyright concerns.

Whatever you do please do NOT start stealing images from Google or other people’s business and passing it off as your own. That could and probably will get you in a lot of legal trouble.

It’s been a long week and the weekend is more grinding so that’s it for now. Take these tips, no matter what level your business is in, and see how they work with your current business plan.

all the love & espresso,

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