Category

Productivity

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Originally published June 8, 2017

Running a business is no easy feat so why not make things easier for yourself?

There are a plethora of great free business tools that are available on the Internet that can give you excellent results with half the effort.

And the best thing? They are completely for free so you won’t have to dig into your budget either.

Here are 5 free business tools that save you time and money

1. Graphic Design: Canva

CanvaEveryone, except for those blessed with design skills, will know how difficult it is to create beautiful visuals. Logos, websites, and even blog images can take so much time and effort that you may not have.

If you have a professional designer to take care of these things for you, then that’s great. If not, and applications such as Photoshop or Illustrator are too advanced for you, then I am pleased to introduce you to Canva.

Summary

Canva – empowering the world to design – is a graphic design tool for everyone, especially those who are not graphic designers.

It comes completely for free, with some purchases and upgrades (Canva for Work) if you desire. However, I feel as though most of the features and functions that I need are available the free version, based on my experience with it for the past few years now.

Canva offers different side design templates to help get you started. From social media posts to posters, infographics, eBook covers, menus, logos, business cards, and YouTube channel art.

The possibilities are endless, and if for any reason you want to create your own sized design, then you can choose your own custom dimensions.

How to use it

Whichever design you choose, you will be presented with templates that are relevant to it.

For example, if you choose a business card design, it will display a blank business card in the correct size, with the option of starting from scratching or clicking on one of the available templates.

These templates are not only there to give you some visual inspiration but you can also use them as your own.

The easy-to-use drag and drop feature means that you can customise it to however you like.

There is an array of features that you can choose such as icons, lines, shapes, charts, and fonts. You can upload and use your own images or choose one of the many stock photos they have in this free business tool.

Once you are happy with your design, you can choose to save it as a PNG, JPG or PDF.

[Author’s Note: I find that when I try to upload a Canva image to WordPress as a PNG file, it does not work. If you experience this problem, save and download your images as a JPG file type].

You can always revisit your designs anytime and make as many copies, changes, and downloads as you want.

Advantages
  • Easy to use
  • Offers a design school and design tutorial to teach you how to create the best design, e.g.font combinations, using different functions.
Disadvantages
  • You cannot organise your images into folders or categories, meaning that your designs are displayed in chronological order from the most recently opened. It can make some older designs more difficult to find.
  • It does not let you make a background transparent. To do so, you need to upgrade to the work account.
  • You also cannot resize images once you have created it. Likewise, you will need to switch to the work account.
Price

Free – It is completely for free. However, some elements do cost $1USD once it is downloaded, though this will be labelled as such.

Canva for Work offers a free 30-day trial, and then costs $9.95USD/month, or $12.95 per user/month.

Want to get started? Click here.

2. Scheduling: Calendly

Calendly

Another one of those great business tools is Calendly.

Summary

Have you ever had those endless conversations where you message a client or customer back-and-forth trying to come up with a date and time that you are both available to meet up?

It is annoying, time-consuming, and tedious.

This is why Calendly is the perfect solution.

How to use it

According to their website, “Calendly helps you schedule meetings without the back-and-forth emails.”

With different plans, it offers a basic $0  plan that allows you to schedule unlimited events.

All you have to do set up calendars for different events.

For example, you may set up an event for 1-hour consultations, another for quick coffee catch ups, and another for phone calls.

Once that happens, you can generate a unique URL to send to people, and even just embed on your website or email signature.

Once people click on it, they will be taken to a page where they can choose the date, and then the time. If a particular date or time is booked, then they will be unable to click it as it will appear as unavailable.

They will then need to enter in their contact information and any other additional questions you set up. If you want to conduct a business consultation with them, you can choose to require their business URL, and what exactly they need to help with so that you can prepare for the meeting accordingly.

Your calendars will be updated automatically, such as Google Calendar, iCloud, Outlook, and more. Those booking can also choose to add it to their own calendar too.

It is that easy.

Advantages
  • You can establish a unique URL to maintain a professional look.
  • You can use this link to add to your social media accounts, email signature or even embed it to your website so that anyone can book in at any time.
  • It is flexible. Let’s just say that you want to only have coffee catch ups for 20 minutes at a time between 11 am – 1 pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. When people click on your coffee catch up calendar, only these days and times will be displayed.
Disadvantages
  • There is no way of double-checking that people who are booking using this free business tool are legitimate.
  • The free plan doesn’t give you the ability to make customisable reminder and notification emails to invitees.
Price

Calendly offers three plans:
Basic – Free
Premium – $8 per user/month (billed annually)
Pro – $12 per user/month (billed annually)

Want to get started? Click here.

3. Organisation: Evernote

Evernote

Summary

Do you want to “remember everything, capture what’s on your mind, and get organised?”

Then Evernote will be your new best friend.

Evernote takes the typical Notes app and enhances it, making it better for organisation, keeping track of multimedia notes, and improving productivity.

How to use it

Evernote comes with such a plethora of functions and abilities that this free business tool will become a staple in your work life.

(Author’s Note: In fact, I am using Evernote right now to write the first draft of this post.)

This application has folders called “Notebooks”. In each notebook, you can create an unlimited number of “Notes” This way, you can organise everything into categories. You can even add tags to make it simpler to search for things, a tool particularly useful if you find that you take notes on anything and everything.

It works just like a word document, with the ability to customise font size, style, add bullet points, checkpoints, links, attachments, and more.

But this is where it gets interesting.

You can also chat with other people and collaborate with them without having to use another application. You can take images right in Evernote, and sync it across 2 devices.

Advantages
  • It has the ability to sync across 2 devices that have Evernote so that you always have updated notes on hand.
  • It offers plenty of features to help make organising easier, such as tags.
  • You can change the interface to your personal preferences: list view, grid view, images, and more.
  • You can clip images from the web straight into Evernote, helping you store information and articles to read later.
Disadvantages
  • Some great features are only available in the Premium plan such as presentations.
  • You are limited to 60MB worth of monthly uploads.
  • The maximum note size is 25MB
Price

Evernote has 4 different plans to consider:

Basic – Free
Plus – $49.99/year
Premium – $89.99/year

Evernote Business – $132/user/year

Want to get started? Click here.

4. Email Newsletters: Mailchimp

Mailchimp

Summary

Sending emails to customers, clients and prospects is a great way to cultivate long-term relationships with them and to send reminders about your business.

Emails are delivered directly to their inbox, unlike other marketing strategies such as social media, where they may miss an update from your business.

Creating, designing, sending, and analysing email newsletters doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think, not when you have one of the best free business tools for emails on your side – Mailchimp.

How to use it

Mailchimp works similarly to Canva in which you can create your own email design or use one of their templates.

With drag-and-drop functionality, you can customise the template to suit your own.

Mailchimp makes it very simple to add images, change the font size, style, and format.

To be able to send your finished email newsletter, you need to create a list where you can add your contacts. You can do this manually or import a list over.

Once it is created, you can preview it on different devices such as desktop, smartphone, and iPad so you can see if the responsive design is functioning properly.

From there, just pick a list that you want to send it to, determine a time to schedule it or just send now.

Once an email is sent, you can analyse the results in a free report. Mailchimp tracks how many unsubscribes, bounces, opens, and clicks you receive.

Advantages
  • Easy to design beautiful emails with its simple interface
  • Can analyse the results so you are not running an email campaign blind. You will receive tactical results to then effectively re-strategise for your next campaign.
  • Even the free plan of Mailchimp allows you to set up automated emails to help with your marketing strategy
Disadvantages
  • From my experiences with Mailchimp, sometimes the formatting can be a bit of an issue. At times, it doesn’t do what you tells it to do.
Price

Mailchimp offers a pricing plan based on how many monthly emails you send and how many total subscribers you have.

Free plan – Up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month.

The price then increases depending on these two factors.

Want to get started? Click here.

5. SEO: Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Summary

Want to know great your reach is with your audience? Eager to find out the exact number of visitors coming to your website, which pages are the most popular, and how long they are spending on it?

Download and install Google Analytics to take the guesswork out of it.

You will get real answers that you can then use to adjust your strategy and maximise results.

How to use it

By installing Google Analytics custom dashboards to your website, you can then choose different options to see the results.

For time frames, you can choose to see data for the past three years, one year, 90 days, 30 days, 14 days, 7 days. In addition, you can see results from the day before, results on this actual day, as well as in real-time.

There are multiple statistics that are tracked with this free business tool. These include sessions, users, organic, page views, bounce rate, location, pages, referrers, searches, traffic, technology, and 404 errors.

Advantages
  • No more guessing how well your website is doing. Google Analytics gives you real results so you can make adjustments as needed.
  • It is very easy to install.
  • It is updated in real time so there is no delay in receiving updated information.
  • The time range that you can view results allows you to see any patterns emerging so you can prepare, such as busier periods or quieter seasons.
Disadvantages
  • Google has changed the way their analytics work so if a user is signed into a Google account while viewing your website, their views will appear on your dashboard but it will not specify which page/s they visited. This may make it harder to really analyse which pages are performing the best.
Price

Free – Google Analytics is free.

Want to get started? Click here.

Now that you have the 5 best free business tools that save you time and money, are you planning to use any of them?

Are there any other free tools that you enjoy using in your business? Do you want me to talk in detail about in particular ones? Let me know in the comments below!

When you are lacking motivation and feel like you are ready to give up, do you try to banish those negative thoughts from your head? Do you try to keep a positive mindset and keep going?

This optimism has long been thought to help give people that much-needed boost to reach your goals.

After all, you should always look on the bright side right?

Hmm..maybe not.

Recent studies have actually shown to contradict this belief. Some have concluded that positive thinking and optimism may actually be detrimental to your ability to reach your goals, whether it is advancing your career, hitting those personal bests in the gym, or any other objective that you may have.

Sound crazy? Hear me out.

The Downside to Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is great because it results in fantasies that you have achieved what you have always wanted.

The downside is that it can reduce your commitment to meet these goals because, in your head, you have already reached it.

This means that you are unlikely to visualise the potential obstacles and hardships that you may have to overcome to get there, and this can make you less likely to take action.

Gabriele Oettingen is a psychology professor at New York University and the University of Hamburg. She has spent over 20 years contesting this conventional belief, resulting in her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.

Oettingen stated to Entrepreneur, “My research has confirmed that merely thinking and dreaming about the future makes people less likely to achieve their goals. 

“In our minds, we’ve already reached a desired future but there is a long way to go. [When people] pretend they are there, they will not prepare themselves for the obstacles and won’t get motivated to make the difficult climb.”

Oettingen is not the only one who claims this. Julie Norem, Ph.D., is the author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. Also a psychologist and professor at Wellesley College, she echoes this sentiment. She believes that positive thinking can actually hinder your ability to take action and achieve success.

“Focusing only on the positive side leads to processing that can gloss over important details. If you concentrate only on a specific outcome, say getting hired for a job, you’re not thinking about how to get there.”

Without thinking about the potential hurdles, you are not preparing yourself to tackle them.

So it is great to be positive but it takes away from that sense of realism that you need to take action.

Proven Studies

Of course, you cannot state a claim without having the studies to back it up as evidence.

There have been multiple studies that contribute to this discussion and actually support Oettingen’s hypothesis.

One such study that she conducted consisted of 164 female college students. Before the experiment, their systolic blood pressure was read. They were then instructed to daydream about wearing stylish high heels; half the group was asked to think about positive thoughts while the others were to focus on the negative. Afterwards, their blood pressure was measured once again.

Systolic blood pressure is used to measure how motivated a person is. The group that had positive thoughts had lower systolic blood pressure while the negative group showed no changes.

This study illustrated that positive thinking can make us feel very relaxed and calm. While this is great when we want to feel this way, it does little to help stimulate us to take action and proceed with gaining progress towards our goals.

We don’t want to feel relaxed and calm when we think about our ambitions; we want to be energised, pumped up, and ready to tackle what lays ahead.

But if positive fantasies don’t help us, then what does?

The Positive Side of Negative Thinking

Not only can thinking positively hinder your ability to get results but negative thinking can actually improve your progress.

A bit of a contradiction right?

In other words, the positive side of negative thinking is that it can strengthen your focus and effort.

For example, by thinking about all the problems, hurdles, and barriers that can potentially get in your way, you start to apply other areas of thinking.

This may not always be all gloom and doom but in fact critical thinking and problem-solving.

By engaging these core areas of the brain, you are doing more than just daydreaming, you are actually applying the effort and steps you need to make progress.

Your critical thinking kicks in when you begin to brainstorm solutions, and you use reasoning to determine whether or not it is viable and worth applying.

Take it from Bob Knight. Not only is he a basketball coach but he is also the author of The Power of Negative Thinking. He highlights the importance of being able to address any weaknesses that we may have that could act as a drawback.

Rather than view them as something to avoid, he welcomes it.

“Insecurity can have intangible benefits. Reviewing your mistakes is what makes you better.

“Being able to self-analyse and be self-critical is very important. Realising your shortcomings takes awareness.

“Negative thinking can bring about better results when you recognise and then admit the fact that something isn’t working.”

Finding a Balance Between the Two

But the point of this article isn’t to turn you into a Debbie Downer and start shunning all positive encouragement. It is to enlighten you to the positive side of negative thinking and how it can actually benefit you in the long run.

Each has their own benefits so the best solution is to combine the two.

Oettingen has penned a method to reach your goals that finds the balance between positive and negative thinking.

She calls it, “mental contrasting”.

She describes it as an approach that allows us to “dream our dreams, but then visualise the personal barriers that prevent us from achieving them.” Subsequently, this helps to generate the energy and determination we need to actually take the necessary steps to achieve it. “By adding a bit of realism to people’s positive imaginings of the future, mental contrasting enables them to become dreamers and doers.”

Once such mental contrasting tool that Oettingen has created is WOOP – Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. The method works like so:

    1. Name a realistic wish or goal that you would like to achieve. This could be getting more traffic to your website or hitting a new personal best in the gym.
    2. Imagine how it will feel once you have achieved that goal. Give yourself a few moments to bask in all that glory and happiness.
    3. Now, think about the main obstacle that stands in your way.
    4. Make your plan in response to the obstacle in the previous step. How will you overcome? What steps need to be taken?

WOOP is an effective method. It seamlessly combines both the positive (steps 1 and 2) and the negative (steps 3 and 4) into one approach. It allows you to dream your dreams while still creating a plan of action to make those dreams a reality.

Negative thinking hence has become not an obstacle to success but in fact a necessity to it, and there actually is a positive side of negative thinking.

The important point to remember is that a fusion of positive and negative thinking is critical as it combines the pleasure of our daydreams with a realistic frame in which we can motivate ourselves to reach our goals.

What are your thoughts on negative thinking? Do you believe that there is a positive side of negative thinking? Have you tried mental contrasting before? Has it made a difference to your progress? Leave me a comment below, I would love to know your thoughts!

I originally wrote this post here after being inspired by this article but have revisited it to make it longer, more detailed, and better!