There are lots of reasons (or excuses) people use to explain why they can’t start their own business.

One of the main ones is money. This is closely followed by a lack of know-how.

The objective of this post is to show you how many (often free) tools there are to help you start something online.

We started Esc with a free wordpress blog. That’s it. No cash, no experience. Just an idea and the determination to turn it into a reality.

It struck me the other day quite how many amazing tools we use to run our business today – 18 months after the first blog post on our crappy off-the-shelf blog. I thought I would share them with you today.


Start with a free blog and don’t beat yourself up about details that aren’t yet clear. Your blog will essentially be your website. You can build a proper one further down the line but equally many business just use blogs as their permanent online home.

Start talking about your concept online, you don’t have to spend a penny on anything physical, just evolve your idea in public – even if at the beginning only your mum is reading it.

This is relevant if you are planning for any business from selling beach clothes to starting your own catering company. Make sure your to-be business has a point-of-view that people can relate to and get your thoughts out there.

2. Facebook Fan Page

It goes without saying that you should be on Facebook. But be relevant. Don’t just post offers / plugs for your products / services. That is not the way to grow your fans. Engage, interact, have a character. Be human, don’t hide behind the brand.

3. Twitter

Twitter is a tough one for lots of businesses because it isn’t immediately clear where the value is. You can spend a lot of time on it without being hugely clear on why. Follow people who are prominent in your area. You can be passive and use it as an information source or you can get active and begin tweeting relevant information and communicating with people. It’s essentially another way to communicate. Don’t bank on it to transform your business though.

Use Tweetdeck to interface with Twitter on your computer and use Echofon on your phone.

4. Newsletter software

To start with we used the Subscribe2 plugin in WordPress to email our early subscribers (the first 1000 or so). Now we use MailChimp. MailChimp is amazing and if you want to send a regular newsletter (which every business should) we can’t recommend them strongly enough. Free till you get above 1000 subscribers.

But remember – with your newsletters – send something people will actually want to receive and read.

5. Eventbrite

We use Eventbrite for managing RSVPs and tickets to events. This isn’t free but you can choose to pass on the ticket charge to your attendees. Really slick little system. Think even my Mum could use it (maybe).

6. Dropbox

Dropbox is amazing. File sharing between your team and also an online backup. It’s free up to about 2GB I think. Which is absolutely nuts. I often feel like we should be donating them cash the amount of value we get for nothing. Use it.

7. Google… ah Google.

Google also gives away a hell of a lot of tools for free. Although I think we pay a little bit a year for our Google Apps account (in order for them to host our emails).

Using Google Mail for your company’s emails is great – no more worries about deliverability (which you often get with a small hosting provider).

Here are all the Google products we use:

8. Google Calendar.

Everyone in the team has synced their diaries with each other via Google Calendar. We are a small team and we like each other so don’t mind everyone knowing what the others are up to. But it makes scheduling meetings very easy.

9. Google Reader

I read 100+ blogs (I’ll share all the blogs I read in another post). I would never be able to do this if I had to go to 100 different sites to check for new posts / updates.

Stay up to date with what is going on in your area. Competitors, thought leaders, industry news. There’s lots to learn – expose yourself and your business to it.

I use my Google Reader (RSS reader) on my iPhone and it’s like a personal newsfeed.

10. Google Docs

We use Google Docs to share spreadsheets and documents within your team. Work off the same version at the same time.

No more ‘who has the master copy?’ confusion.

11. Google Analytics

Want to know what on earth is going on on your website? Who is using it? What are they clicking on? Where do they live? Etc, etc, etc… Google Analytics.

Stat heaven.

12. Paypal

We use Paypal to process all of our online payments. The interface isn’t great and they take a % of every transaction but it’s convenient and works for now.

13. Xero

Xero is fantastic online accounting software. We use it to generate invoices and to reconcile all of our company transactions. I think it saves our accountants a lot of time too.

14. PicResize

A bit of a strange one, but we’re so often resizing images for our newsletter and our blog. Picresize allows you to change the dimensions of your images for free. It’s really good actually.

15. Basecamp

37 Signals are a fantastic example to anyone trying to start anything online. Their philosophy and teachings (Signals vs Noise blog and ReWork book) are spot on.

Basecamp is the best simple project management software out there. Check it out.

We’re currently building our new website with a fantastic front-end developer in New Zealand, us in London, and our main developer in Southampton. No probs.

16. Skype

Stating the obvious here – but Skype is great for staying in touch from different locations. We’ve constantly got a chat window open and use it to share links, make decisions etc.


So there you have it. 16 tools we use to run our business.

We started with a free blog and have now become complete wannabe techno-geeks. I’m sure there are masses of other programmes and services out there that would save us time and help us make more money but these are the core tools that we couldn’t do without…

What have we missed? What do you use?

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