Ten Free Tools to Help You Start Your Online Business

Ten Free Tools to Help You Start Your Online Business

We’re huge fans of hustling entrepreneurs and creatives. We know that you’re busy working to make your business a success and need to get creative to stretch those Rands as far as they can go. When you’re starting out in business, you’re your own PR expert, stock controller, accountant, receptionist, and marketer. To that end, we’ve put together a list of ten excellent free tools to start and market your online business in South Africa. These are tools we’ve used ourselves and can vouch for as invaluable to entrepreneurs. So, sit back and take some of the pressure off while we run through ten brilliant tools to help you on your way to business success...

Tip: You may not need all these tools to start out with. Pick what works for you right now and file the rest away for a rainy day. 

Ten free tools for your online business

  1. Google Business

Whether you’re a physical business or an online store, it’s a good idea to create and maintain a Google Business Profile. Although you may not have a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll still benefit from having your business information, visuals, website and contact info, and reliable reviews for your potential customers - all without leaving Google search. You can follow these steps to create your profile. 

Tip: Add some great photos if you can as these appear alongside your business profile and are a golden opportunity to showcase your products. 

  1. Canva

Canva is a multi-purpose design platform and app that can be incredibly versatile for new and established online businesses. Whether you’re designing your first logo, putting together a budget report, looking for a stock photo or creating a cute video for Instagram, Canva has a template and a tool that will suit most needs. Canva’s templates are designed by professional designers so you can get a seamless look and feel for your online store. Give it a try here

Tip: Canva’s free version is more than adequate for most entrepreneurs, however their paid version offers more templates and photos to choose from.


  1. Wave

Invoicing can be a real time thief. While it’s entirely necessary to invoice your clients, generating monthly invoices in Excel or similar can be a tedious process and many accounting software programmes are very pricey. Give Wave a try, their basic version is free, easy to use and a total timesaver. 

Tip: It’s better to use software for invoicing than Excel or Word as you can keep track of what you’re invoicing and what you’re getting into your account. 

  1. Grammarly 

A picture may say a thousand words but if you’re reading this then you know words matter, too! For two reasons. Firstly, words explain things that pictures can’t. Secondly, Google bots love words. That’s how they know what your website is about and how to return your store in search results. If you’re more artist than wordsmith, Grammarly could be your new best friend. Install the app on your phone and the extension on your laptop and you’ll never miss another spelling or grammar mistake again! Get them here.

Tip: In addition to grammar, spelling and punctuation, Grammarly also provides feedback on clarity and writing style.    

  1. Google Primer App

Google Primer is one of those little heroes that have gone largely unsung in the smartphone era. It’s a nifty app that provides all sorts of tips for small businesses to make the most of online opportunities in daily bite-sized bundles. Just a few minutes a day and you’ll be working smarter in no time. Seriously, give it a try here.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” - Benjamin Franklin 

  1. Mailchimp

Mailchimp’s website claims that 13 million businesses use their emailing system to engage with their clients. Email marketing, newsletters, mailshots - whatever you call them - still provides one of the highest ROIs (returns on investment) of all the digital marketing tools. People still read their emails. People sign up for newsletters that they really want to receive. This is your most captive audience whether your email subscribers are 15 people or 15 000. Set up your Mailchimp account to learn more. It’s free for up to 2000 subscribers.

Tip:  Due to the POPI (Protection of Personal Information) Act, it’s important (and legal) to ensure that your subscribers feel safe providing their personal information. Shopstar has comprehensive versions of both Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy included in all Shopstaronline stores. To learn more about how POPI affects your email marketing, check out this article on LinkedIn

  1. Plannthat

We all know that Instagram is an excellent way to engage with customers, market our products, and tell a good brand story. Posting regularly, monitoring your account and relevant hashtags allows you to be in touch with customers and potential customers. However, there isn’t always time to post at the optimal time or to wait until inspiration strikes. Enter Plannthat, a social media planning tool that prioritises planning the visual look of your Instagram feed over time, allowing you to curate a visually appealing gallery for your online store. Included in the free plan is one Instagram account with 30 posts per month. Try it here.

Tip: Plannthat also provides a host of other useful tools including suggested posts, themed posts and suggested hashtags for those days when you want to post but inspiration just doesn’t get on board. 

  1. Clockify 

When you’re starting out with an online store or new business, it’s more important than ever to keep track of your time and to know how long things will take you. Are you spending time on social media? Sourcing new products? Emails? On the phone to your mom? Clockify is an easy way to keep track of your time and analyse where you’re spending your time. Check it out here.

Tip: The app is available on PC and mobile, so you can sync them and keep track of your time wherever you are. 

  1. Google Analytics, Search Console and Trends

In the same way that it’s useful to know where your time is going, it’s even more important to know where your customers are coming from, what they’re searching for and how they’re behaving when they visit your online store. By setting up Google Analytics and Search Console for your domain (online store), you’re accessing valuable information that you can use to grow your business and better serve your customers. Find Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Google Trends.

Tip: Keep an eye on Google Trends to see what South Africans are Google searching. You may find a golden opportunity in those tiny little searches. 

  1. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or Dropbox 

When you’re making sales day and night through an online store, it’s important to have all your product and business information at hand. By syncing your phone, tablet and laptop via Google Drive, One Drive or Dropbox, you’ll never be without your essential information ever again. The free versions of Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox range from 2GB - 15 GB, and Microsoft OneDrive is free with the Microsoft 365 package. The cloud is always accessible, wherever you are.

Tip: Set your phone to automatically back up your photos and video to the cloud when you’re on WiFi so you can access your photos and videos to upload to your website, blog or social media. 

With such fantastic free tools at your disposal, you’re well on your way to business success. Is there anything we’ve missed? Tell us about your favourite tools for managing your business online? 

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