Great free business software alternatives for SMEs

If there’s one thing every small business owner or entrepreneur needs to keep an eye on, it’s their operating costs. But in such a highly competitive marketplace, having the right tools, apps and software to speed up your administrative tasks –so you can keep your focus firmly on growing your business– is also vital. Thankfully there are hundreds of open source and free alternatives to the leading business software brands out there – you just need to know which to pick. 

A lot of the time, small businesses don’t even need all the bells and whistles that come with paid software in the first place; and many free software platforms give you the option to scale up to a paid plan when your needs justify it. Here are just a few examples. 

Documents, presentations and spreadsheets

There’s little doubt that Microsoft Office still very much rules the roost when it comes to documents, but for smaller startups on a budget or with a BYOD policy in place, providing it for all your employees can get pricey quickly. With such a large demand for these kinds of products, it’s not surprising that there are several great free alternatives for small businesses to choose from – including LibreOffice, Google Docs, WPS and Polaris. 


While many tech-savvy professionals are perfectly happy with web-based email clients like Gmail which are entirely adequate for most small businesses, it’s harder for some of us to let go of the traditional, reliable desktop versions we’re used to. One relatively new option is Mailspring, which offers some nifty features like syncing with Gmail, Yahoo and other web-based accounts, and unlimited email accounts in one unified inbox. Those who want some more advanced features (like tracking and scheduling) have the option to upgrade to a paid account. 


While free accounting packages will never offer the full range of functions that come with established paid accounting suites like the ever-popular QuickBooks, it’s pretty impressive what many of them do offer. For example, Inveezy allows your customers to make payment through PayPal or credit card, Brightbook is remarkably simple and easy to use, and ZipBooks allows you to connect your business bank account. 

Data backup and ransomware protection 

Coupling a free anti-ransomware ‘vaccination tool’ like Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware with a free antivirus program, screen unlocker and ransomware decryption tool should in theory keep you and your employees relatively safe from ransomware attacks – but unfortunately ransomware is big business, and this is one area where free software might not actually be the cheapest solution in the long run. If you rely on your data to keep your business running, your best option is to get in touch with an experienced IT firm like Tech Brain to advise you on where your weaknesses lie and what you can do about it. Having a separate data backup across the board which will allow you to restore all your files and data without having to cave to the demands of attackers, for example, is an excellent failsafe. Whatever route you do choose, making sure all your employees are educated about the dangers and know how to detect suspicious-looking emails or websites is always a good idea.   

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

When your business is still small and you only have a handful of customers, keeping track of orders and opportunities to upsell is pretty easy. As your client base grows, however, things can start to fall into disarray alarmingly quickly – and that means you’re losing out on insights, marketing opportunities and ultimately sales. On the other hand, if you implement a CRM tool early on, you’ll have ample time to make good record-keeping a habit which can grow with your business. There are several comprehensive and entirely free CRM options to choose from, many of which offer a cloud-based platform so they can be accessed by your employees wherever they are. 


Very, very few people enjoy doing their personal or business taxes – but luckily there is free software out there to make the process less, well – taxing. While you will have to investigate options for your country, here are several good free options for companies based in the US.  

Social media

Social media is no longer a nice-to-have for businesses of any size. Your customers expect to be able to find you on their favorite platforms, and potential clients may be put off by brands that don’t have an active social footprint. Remembering to post regularly and check in with all your mentions across the major social networks can become time-consuming – and that’s where freemium social tools like HootSuite, Buffer, CrowdFire and MavSocial come in handy.

Chances are, if you’re looking at software for your business, there’s a free alternative out there which offers many of the features of a paid product. Test them out before you part with your hard-won profits.     

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.