10 FREE tools we use in our online business
free business tools

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As some of you may know, Warren and I live in South Africa and while we enjoy beautiful mountains, beaches and sunshine, our currency exchange rate with all the major currency players is rather undesirable. 1 US dollar is equal to 18 of our Rands ?? 

When we started Virtual Duo 2 years ago we were bootstrapping the business. We were both working day jobs earning Rands, but setting up an online business required us to spend Dollars – or did it?? We remember early on reading a blog article about running a minimalist business and with this in mind we set out to create our lean (spending as well as volume of tools) business and where we could get something for free and it was valuable to our business and growth all the better!

So let me just add a disclaimer here – by free I don’t mean ZERO [insert your currency] spent, there are a few essential costs, like registering your business, opening a bank account, investing in a computer (I bought mine second hand and paid the equivalent of $100 for it), internet connection and paying your taxes, but for the rest we ran the business for the first year for free and these are our top 10 tools!

These tools will absolutely help you start & and scale your business and will grow with you as you grow. As we have grown Virtual Duo, we have invested in the paid versions of some of the tools in this guide and they have made growing our business infinitely easier and more manageable. So let’s dive in.

Airtable

It should come as no surprise that Airtable gets our first vote.

We LOVE Airtable because they have a generous free option that:

  • Includes unlimited bases
  • Up to 5 users
  • Power up your base with 1 app per base
  • Design interactive applications with a drag-and-drop experience
  • Grid, calendar, form, Kanban & gallery views
  • Powerful automations
  • 2GB of storage

Airtable is a low-code platform that allows you to easily create a database that holds information that you can use to power the visualizations, processes and integrations that make up a custom application that is truly unique to you.

We use Airtable to build custom client management systems as well as business hubs for our clients and ourselves.

Airtable has 5 different ways that you can view your data helping you draw more insights and create easier workflow for everyone.

Sign up here for your FREE Airtable account, and if you like what you see grab our FREE Airtable Magic mini training and template.

Acuity

Moving on to number two. We realized early on that scheduling can be a bit of a nightmare.

Finding dates and times that suit us as well as our clients can be challenging to say the least. Throw different time zones into the mix and it becomes down right complicated. 

Acuity to the rescue!

It has a free tier, now granted some of the functionality is limited, but in all honesty there are workarounds for most issues. FYI we were using the free package for a long time before we upgraded.

It allows you to set several different appointment types and availability so that your clients or students can choose a time from your calendar that suits them within the scheduling limits that you have set.

You are also able to create class events within your Acuity calendar that enables more than one attendee. 

You get a booking link for each appointment type

You can embed your scheduler on your website or within MemberVault so that your peeps can book directly from wherever they’re at (only with the paid account)

Furthermore Acuity integrates seamlessly with other free tools like zoom and Google Calendar so that your appointments are scheduled and a zoom appointment is created automatically.

HERE is the link to acuity for all your scheduling needs.

  • It has a free tier now granted some of the functionality is limited, but in all honesty there are workarounds for most issues. FYI we were using the free package for a long time before we upgraded.
  • It allows you to set several different appointment types and availability so that your clients or students can choose a time from your calendar that suits them within the scheduling limits that you have set. 
  • You are also able to create class events within your Acuity calendar that enables more than one attendee. 
  • You get a booking link for each appointment type
  • You can embed your scheduler on your website or within MemberVault so that your peeps can book directly from wherever they’re at (only with the paid account)
  • Furthermore Acuity integrates seamlessly with other free tools like zoom and Google Calendar so that your appointments are scheduled and a zoom appointment is created automatically. 

Zoom

Zoom comes in at number 3 for us and if you haven’t heard about Zoom yet, then my friend, you have been living under a rock.

When the shit show that is 2020 hit, everyone quickly turned to online working and learning. Zoom’s platform became the go to platform for online video conferencing. They literally saw their subscribers grow by 3 million in April 2020 ?

  • Has a FREE tier (meetings of up to 100 participants is limited to 40 minutes)
  • Zoom is an online video conferencing platform that allows you to have live video chats with 1 or multiple people at the same time (conferencing). 
  • The have a mobile app that allows you to chat to anyone, anywhere
  • Allows for screen share
  • Can host webinars (paid version only)
  • Can create a new meeting link for each meeting 
  • Meeting can be password protected
  • Participants can only join meetings if the host admits them

We are still using the free tier and it more than accommodates our needs.

For more about zoom and to register your free account HERE is the link

Elementor

Because we were bootstrapping we decided to learn how to build our own website.

When searching for a free WordPress builder that was easy to use Elementor stood out for us right from the beginning and this is why Elementor is in our top 5 must have free tools. 

The benefits of using Elementor to design your site are:

  • Free to start (you can build a basic site with the free tier)
  • State of the art software
  • Elementor is one of the leading WordPress plugins
  • Unlimited resources
  • Fast turn around
  • Mobile friendly
  • User friendly
  • Versatile
  • High quality UX
  • Great scalability 

We loved the process of designing and building our website so much that we now offer this as a 1:1 service for our done-for-you clients. To be honest, Elementor is the first tool that we upgraded to a paid plan. This is because we wanted to learn everything we could about designing websites for paying clients and we just couldn’t do this with the free version.

Check out Elementor and FYI this is the very first tutorial we watched about building a website with Elementor – we know it’s quite an old one, but still really good.

Here are some other channels you may want to have a look at – all amazing teachers in our opinion:

WP Tuts

Ferdie Korpershoek

Dave Foy

WP Crafter

However, if this is one you feel best left to the professionals, reach out and we will hook you up with some AMAZING web designers!

Canva

Making our top 5 is a tool that we use every single day! Canva is a total MUST HAVE if you have any type of business, not only an online one. 

Essentially we as designers have traditionally used programs like Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator for creating graphic designs and these are rather complicated and expensive programs to master. Enter Canva. Canva has made design more accessible to designers and novices alike.

It has a free version and quite frankly if you are just creating graphics for your own small online business then the free version is good enough.

  • It has a free version and quite frankly if you are just creating graphics for your own small online business then the free version is good enough. We of course upgraded fairly quickly to the paid version as there were features that we as designers needed to be able to serve our clients in a better way.
  • Canva has the optimal sizes for all the different types of social media graphic built in
  • You have the option to create video/moving graphic (pro)
  • Speeds up design time even if you aren’t creative with easy to use templates
  • 3 folder with the free version
  • Save 3 brand colors with the free version
  • Resizing of designs (pro)

Google Calendar

Before we started our online business we never really used a calendar. I mean I (Jacqui) had a paper diary that I would jot stuff down in at work but never really needed or used any kind of online calendar feature. It soon became apparent though that this was very much needed and Google seemed to be the way to go. Now I must tell you, we, and by we I mean South African’s, are a majority pc and microsoft market so having a gmail account was about as far as we went where Google was concerned.

  • It’s easy to use
  • Easy to modify and add events
  • Easy to share and invite
  • Syncs with other apps like Zoom & Acuity
  • You can use it on the go (phone app)
  • Is searchable

Google Drive

Following Google Calendar is Google Drive and accompanying Google Docs, Sheets & Forms. Now once again, remember we are Microsoft people so we were using Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. BUT our clients were using Google so it was kinda a no brainer, we had to adapt and we must say, we are now lovers of all things Google! We use docs, sheets and the drive itself on a daily basis to create documents like this for the business as well as share and collaborate with clients, so Google Calendar in conjunction with Google Drive is a must have and the best part – IT’S FREE!!!

  • 15 GB of FREE storage
  • Upload by dragging and dropping
  • Access files from anywhere
  • Share your folders and documents with anyone
  • Immediate mail alerts

Loom

Loom slides in as our number 8 FREE must have tool for your online business especially if you are going to be teaching anything.

Loom is great for recording videos whether they are of you facing the camera or of just a screen share like a presentation. 

We love Loom because:

  • FREE tier (5 minute recording limit)
  • it is easy to use 
  • Option to be fullscreen cam. only, screen share or screen share with cam ( have your face in the corner of the screen) 
  • You get notified when someone views your video
  • Viewer insights

ClickUp

Next up is ClickUp. For project management ClickUp is the best tool hands down.

ClickUp does have a learning curve but the functionality in my opinion is superior to any other project management tool out there.

Best of all, they have a generous free tier that allows you to have:

  • Unlimited tasks
  • Unlimited members
  • Collaborative Docs
  • Real-Time chat
  • List view, board view, kanban view, calendar view
  • Multiple assignees
  • Checklists
  • Recurring tasks
  • 100MB storage

Grab your FREE ClickUp account and if you like what you see, reach out to us HERE to help you with your ClickUp set-up.

YouTube

Last but certainly not least is YouTube. Our love of YouTube is two fold:

Firstly it is the best resource of free information on how to do stuff bar none. We always say: “YouTube is our friend!” when it comes to trying to figure out how to do anything. This is hands down the FIRST place we will search.

Secondly, if you are wanting to do any kind of teaching, you will need an online platform to house your videos and when you are first starting out, you definitely do not have the funds to pay for a platform like Vimeo.

YouTube is a way of uploading your videos to share on your course or membership platform (MemberVault) and all you need is your own YouTube account, which is….you guessed it FREE!!


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