Most businesses are started on a shoestring budget, and many on no budget at all. Unless you’re a Silicon Valley wunderkind with a few million in investment under your belt, you’re likely in a very similar situation. A single-digit bank balance can make getting your fledgling enterprise off the ground an almost impossible task, but luckily we live in a world where free online services and apps are in abundance, and cheap doesn’t necessarily mean nasty.
It’s now possible to start a professional-looking business on a very limited budget, so we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite gadgets and services to help you get your business started with the minimum outlay possible.
If you need an emailing and word processing machine with good battery life, Google’s Chromebook range is well worth a look. Running the no-nonsense Chrome OS (imagine a web browser in place of an operating system and you’re most of the way there) and with big batteries attached, these machines will run all day and never bother you about patches, upgrades or viruses.
The cheapest Chromebook available in the UK, the Acer C270, is available for a whisker under £200 on Amazon, while the slightly newer, slightly prettier HP 11 will cost you £229 from Tesco. If you need a Windows laptop Lenovos are a solid choice – the bulky-but-functional G500 will set you back £300, while the more svelte Asus V550 offers a slightly faster processor and a touchscreen for £100 more. If you simply must have a Mac, the entry-level Macbook Air is £849.
A smartphone really is must-have these days, so we’re focussing on those. If you really only need to make calls and send texts you can pick up a dumbphone for £10 from most large supermarkets.
Recently labelled “the only cheap phone you should buy” by Trusted Reviews, the Moto G is a great budget option. You can get it unlocked for as little as £130 if you shop around. Couple it with a £12 per month unlimited data Giffgaff SIM and you’ve got a great mobile workhorse with a comparatively tiny cost of ownership.
Those after something even cheaper should check out the Nokia Lumia 520, available for a hair over £100. Running Windows Phone, you’ll find a slightly narrower app selection than on Android or iOS devices, but solid Nokia build quality should mean this handset will last you a long time.
For Apple lovers on a budget, the still-perfectly-usable iPhone 4 is available for £244 SIM-free.
You’ll notice we’re not listing any smartphones on contracts here. Getting a free phone on a contract may seem like a great deal, but once you calculate the total cost of ownership you’ll always lose out. For example, running the Moto G on a £12-per-month Giffgaff SIM for two years will cost you a total of £418. An equivalent unlimited data contract through T-Mobile, with no upfront costs, comes in at £27.99 per month with a minimum 24 month term. You’re getting the handset “free”, but the total cost over two years will be £671.76 – over £250 more than buying the phone outright.
Website – from £0
There are many, many free web hosting services out there these days, most of which allow you to put together a perfectly passable website with the minimum of fuss. Here are just a few of our favourites.
- WordPress.com – The grandaddy of hosted blogs and websites. Highly customisable, and a piece of cake to maintain. Note WordPress.org is the self-hosted version, for those who want a little more freedom.
- Tumblr – An even simpler blog hosting platform. Post updates in seconds and never worry about backend gubbins.
- Facebook pages – Take advantage of Facebook’s 1-billion strong audience and set up a simple business page in minutes. Simple to setup and maintain, but you won’t get much control over the look and feel.
- Google+ page – A great option for local businesses with a physical storefront, due to Google+ integration with Google Maps. A similar beast to Facebook pages – post updates, interact with your fans, but don’t expect much customisation.
For those who have a few quid to spare, a custom domain should be your first stop. Depending on the TLD you want (that’s the bit after the dot – .com, .net, .co.uk and so on) these can be snapped up for a few pounds per year. Unless you have a totally unique business name getting a decent domain can be tricky – tools like Domainr can help you find available URLs.
Hosting for your website, similarly, can be found for not much more than a latte. Check out our pals Easyspace for some special offers on that front. A self-hosted website incurs small monetary costs, and needs some time investment too, but has the advantage of being totally customisable and can grow with your business.
Email / Calendar etc. – from £0
Most large technology companies provide their own free email, address book and calendar services – the choice will usually come down to what hardware you’re running. If you’re using a Chromebook or Android device you’ll probably find GMail and Google Calendar is the best bet. If you’re using a MacBook and iPhone, iCloud is your friend. If you’re a Windows person, Outlook.com has you covered.
Paid-for business versions are available, but personal accounts (which can be configured to work with your own domain, if you went that route) will work well, and won’t set you back a penny.
For actually getting work done – whether it be word processing, spreadsheets or presentations – there are a range of options from free to moderately-priced. At the free end, there’s Libre Office, the open source contender to the Microsoft Office crown, which will work on Windows, Mac or Linux machines.
Online, Google Drive is free to any Google account holder and has nifty collaborative tools – although don’t expect as full a featureset as in offline equivalents.
Email Marketing – from £0
For those with fewer than 2,000 contacts, MailChimp has a free tier that allows the sending of 12,000 emails per month totally gratis. For higher volumes Sendy is a great budget option, although requires a bit more technical nous to set up. Once you’re up and running (the Sendy software costs $59) emails will cost you just $1 per 10,000.
Bits and bobs
Business Cards – from £0
As you’re such a good friend, we’ll let you have 100 free business cards courtesy of our pals at MOO.
Other than that, your options for freebies are fairly limited. With business cards, by and large, you get what you pay for. A good quality set will usually cost you about £15, and this is one area where we’d say it’s worth spending money. Judicious use can make one set last six months or longer, and a good business card always leaves an equally good impression.
Business Bank Account – from £0
The number of free Business Bank accounts out there is rapidly dwindling – but you can still get one from Cater Allen if you have a balance of £5,000 or more (if you look around you can find this deal available without the minimum balance caveat through a Cater Allen partner).
Bear in mind if you’re a sole trader you can use a personal account rather than a dedicated business account, which will usually offer preferable fees – but be wary of mixing your personal and business finances.
Paperwork – from £0
A quick Google search will reveal free downloadable copies of all the paperwork you need to keep your business ticking over – in fact we have plenty of them right here!
Total cost – £300
Of course, there will come a time when you need to upgrade to more streamlined or user-friendly solutions, but the products and services above just go to show that the cost of starting a business has never been lower.
Those are the basics, but what else might you need to run a successful business? Let us know your handy freebies in the comments below!
Photo by Erich Ferdinand