When you’re starting a business, you try your best to keep costs down, including and especially your start-up expenses. If you can, you use space, supplies and assets you already own, and when looking for software, you look for the lowest-priced items that you need. For some of those items, you can find many basic tools for free if you know where to look, and free always fits the budget!
If you can’t afford the exorbitant price of Microsoft’s popular Office 2010 or any other yearly version, but you really need a word processor, a spreadsheet and other common document tools, fear not: You can download a free, open-source program called Open Office.
Open Office provides all the tools the Microsoft product does. Your default file extension is .odt, but you can save in Microsoft-compatible formats and a rich text format as well. Open Office even lets you export your document into .pdf format that allows you to secure the information, allow or prevent others to change the document, allow or prevent printing or copying. You can even require a separate password to open the .pdf.
Invoices, Quotes, Receipts
One of the easiest programs you can find is free for a business of less than five employees. You work within various templates to customize your invoices, quotes and receipts. Your invoices can even include a remittance slip if you’d like.
You can email or fax the invoice directly from the program, save drafts until itemization is complete, sort clients and maintain separation, apply payments and even export into .pdf format for your files or to send as email attachments.
The program is Express Invoice Invoicing Software by NCH Software. The Express version includes almost all the features the paid-version possesses, and again, it’s free. As you expand, you can purchase the full version for extra bells and whistles, but for a small business with one person, you get the records, invoicing and a good selection of additional tracking tools in Express Invoice.
Why the employee limit? Express Invoice can also act as a check-in/check-out clock for up to five people, allowing for hours and wage tracking and payment.
Maintain your invoice and payment records online or locally in the downloaded program files. Full adaptability allows multiple choices all down the line.
Keep electronic files not only locally but secured online in free online storage sites. In case of catastrophic failure, don’t rely on just your back-up procedures to recover most of the data: Your computer could be hacked or a trojan infest the back-up. And those possibilities don’t approach physical theft or damage of the actual equipment.
There are several excellent, highly secure free storage sites on the Internet from which to choose. Look carefully at the Terms of Service and the security guarantees. Play it doubly safe and store your files on different sites—just in case.
Know what you can and cannot note as a business expense. You may not get 100 percent of the cost allowed, but even 50 percent that qualifies as a tax deduction will certainly help: Consult a tax advisor or the IRS to make sure you’re not expecting a tax credit for non-deductible expenses or percentages.
Make sure you check back each January, for tax laws change, and don’t forget state tax exemptions and deductions. Often states have different standards and restrictions than the federal tax code allows.
Keep all your receipts! Scan all of them to duplicate your records between hard copies and electronic copies. Scanning them into electronic format is especially important with many register receipts: The ink fades after a short time, and if you can’t read it, you can’t claim it.
Save as much as you can as often as you can and in as many ways as you can. Save money, save data and save energy and worry. Good luck!