4 bits of free software that can save small businesses loads of time

Screen grab from Wave Accounting

This isn’t really a tech blog, but copywriting involves a lot of time on the computer. And computers can be a time-consuming pain in the arse.

That’s why I’m always on the lookout for cheap online services that can make me more ‘productive’, to use the current lingo. Here are four free ones that really have saved me a lot of time and effort, and can probably do the same for you.

1. HelloSign

HelloSignThis is one I’ve just found, and it prompted me to write this post. Do you ask your new clients to sign a contract before working with them? I do, and I find it awkward asking them to print, sign, scan and email them back to me. Also, anything that put puts an obstacle between business and client is obviously a bad thing.

HelloSign is one of a number of legally-recognised electronic signing services out there, but I think it’s the only one that offers a free, limited-use account. That’s great for finding out if e-signatures are useful for you – and so far, they definitely are here.

What I’ve done with HelloSign is create a template for my standard contract/terms and conditions doc, which allows me to fill out all the contract-specific details like a form. Clients can then add their legally-binding e-signature in less than a minute. That’s much easier than what I used to do!

There’s a good chance I’ll switch to DocuSign or RightSignature when I do upgrade to a paid account, because those services are apparently a bit better (and possibly cheaper too). But for now, HelloSign is a fantastic way to try out electronic signing for free.

2. Wave Accounting

wave-accountingI used to use an old version of Sage for Windows. It was complicated and I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now I’ve switched to the cloud-based accounting service Wave, and I still don’t really know what I’m doing – but everything is so easy to use, it doesn’t really matter.

I can’t give an in-depth review of Wave because I genuinely know very little about accounting. But I can tell you the following:

  • It’s free
  • It’s online, which means you can access your accounts from anywhere and you always have the latest version. (The developers have added a ton of improvements in the two years I’ve been using it, like estimates and online payments.)
  • It’s really easy to make and send good-looking invoices

That’s all I can really tell you, but if you’re looking for some nice free accounting software (and don’t live in fear of hackers, since all your data is kept on a server somewhere), definitely give Wave a look.

3. Receipts by Wave

Receipts by WaveThis amazing iPhone app is an add-on for Wave Accounting, and it feels like the future. Thanks to this app, I am genuinely on top of all my receipts right now. That’s rare.

This is how it works. You get a bill or a receipt. You open the app and take a picture of that receipt. The app then recognises the value, date and vendor of the receipt and files it accordingly.

Ok, so it’s not 100% infallible in its recognition of numbers and company names. That doesn’t matter – the app gets most of the info right, and you can easily correct the rest. You also have an electronic record of all your receipts that’s accepted by HMRC. That’s right, you don’t even have to keep the paper copies if you don’t want to! (Personally though, I put them all in a big binder. Better safe than sorry.)

This app is actually reason enough to use Wave Accounting. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. Have a look at least.

4. Google Drive for Desktop

Google DriveI’m a Google Apps for Business customer. That’s right, I actually pay Google about £3 a month to have my email managed by Gmail, get cloud storage, and other stuff. That means I use Google Drive rather than DropBox, SkyDrive or one of the others. Point being: Google Drive probably isn’t the only cloud service that does what I’m about to describe.

What I love about Google Drive for Desktop is that I know all my copywriting and business docs are always backed up online. I keep all of them within the Google Drive folder on my computer. The little Drive program sits in my Windows system tray, and whenever I save a document it’s automatically sync’d with my online storage.

This means that (1), I never have to worry about backing things up, or spend time backing things up, or spend money on a backup solution. (Although actually I’ve got a NAS box too.) And (2), it’s much much easier to format my computer or upgrade to a new laptop. Because all I need to do is download Drive for Desktop on my clean OS/new computer, and all my stuff is right where it should be within an hour or two.

(Note: You might get fewer GBs of storage if you’re not an Apps for Business customer, but I’m pretty sure it’s still free.)

Which software saves you time?

Those are the bits of free software that make my life as a freelance copywriter easier. But I’m sure there are many more out there. If you’d like to share your favourite, leave a comment below.

Enjoy – and do have a look at Receipts by Wave, it’s amazing!

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Author: Neil Wheatley

Copywriter since 2008, specialist in IT, software and video game marketing, dad to Wolfie and Rock.

2 thoughts on “4 bits of free software that can save small businesses loads of time”

  1. Nice post Neil.

    I’ve just discovered the delights of Hootsuite to help schedule my twitter posts. I haven’t really given it a proper go yet but it looks promising.

    I’ve used HelloSign before as a signee but never for my own contracts. This might sound like an obvious question but do all contracts need to hand signed? Is it enough for someone to tick a box or type their name agreeing to your terms? I’ve always wondered.

    Wave Accounting sounds like a handy piece of software. I always have difficulty trying to make my invoices look presentable.

    Keep up the great posts!

    1. Thanks Jamie. You can just type your name with HelloSign, mouse/touchpad signing is optional. You get 3 free signings per month as a free member, so might be worth trying it.

      One day I’ll get my Twitter act together enough to need Hootsuite!

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