We realized recently that we use over 50 services to run EPW! More on that in a future post.

Like all small businesses, we are on a budget. And as a virtual business our main fixed overhead is the total cost of our monthly and annual services. With such a long list of services, we are enormously thankful for the awesome SaaS tools offering free versions that suit our current needs.

Here are 3 free services that have become critical to our work. We are happy to sing their praises!

1. Airtable: “Part spreadsheet, part database, and entirely flexible”

In 2015 Elizabeth mentioned that she had heard some buzz about a San Francisco-based database SaaS. At the time, we were tracking clients using a combination of Insightly CRM for current clients and Google Sheets spreadsheets for past clients. We still use Insightly for client project management, but I didn’t realize how much we needed a database until we started using this spreadsheet-database hybrid. The display of information is familiar because it is spreadsheet-like, but there is a dynamic and customizable relational database underneath. Clunky old databases be gone! Having just scratched the surface of this terrific service, it is good to know that as we grow, there will be robust options for organizing and generating data. For now, the free plan with up to 1,200 records per base works great for us!

Quick tip: Need to rearrange the data or hide columns for a one-time or recurring project? Create a “new view” instead of modifying the “main view”–this keeps your main view free of clutter, and then your new view’s rearrangement is saved for future use!

2. Asana: “Move work forward”

When we hired a 3rd person for our team and needed task management for admin and marketing projects outside of the client work in Insightly, we started experimenting with another Bay area native, Asana. Like all SaaS, you won’t get it by just looking at the blank space–you have to dig in. Once we started using it, Asana quickly became essential for each of us to manage our own tasks and we use it also to organize the agendas for our weekly Google Hangouts team meetings. We don’t use the comments and communication features in Asana very much, because we use Slack for team collaboration– Small Business Collaboration: 6 More Reasons to Use Slack! But for task management for teams up to 15 members, the basic free version of Asana is excellent! And it includes a team of unicorns.

Quick tip: At first we had a jumble of projects, but once we added our initials before each of our projects, along with color coding, the side panel was much more visually organized.

3. Canva: “Easily create beautiful designs”

Bringing basic graphic design abilities and possibilities to the online masses since 2012, this terrific Australian service is our favorite for creating in-house graphics for social media. And the possibilities are endless! Once you get the hang of the easy drag-and-drop interface, you can upload your own photos or use free layout images and get all kinds of creative. We have created template graphics for certain repeating marketing campaigns, like our client spotlight series, but the real fun in using Canva comes from imagining and creating new designs. The free version for up to 10 team members, with 1 GB storage, suits us well and facilitates the essential visual pieces of our social media marketing strategy.

Quick tip: If you find a color or set of colors you love, copy the color codes to a notes app or Word document for easy replication in all your images!

Time for a spring refresh? Free is fantastic, but for all those paid services it’s the perfect time to revisit our post Small Business Budget: Spring-Clean Your SaaS Overhead.

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