Anything that you can do for free that will keep your business looking professional to your customers and not affect your bottom line is a good thing. Here are four services that all businesses need from time to time, and five online tools you can use for free.
It’s easy for large companies to look professional. They are supporting maybe 200, 300 or 5,000 employees and their operating budget is through the roof. It’s not likely that they’re too worried about incorporating free services to fax, videoconference, setup conference calls, or create PDFs. Its just part of their budget – a way of life in their daily business.
Now let’s look at your organization. Limited budget, smaller customer base, an operating budget that gets tugged in 100 different directions. Anything that you can do for free that will keep your business looking professional to your customers and not affect your bottom line is a good thing.
Here are four services that all businesses need from time to time, but if you can avoid paying for them, then that’s all the better. These are: faxing, conference calling, videoconferencing, and PDF document creation.
Let’s look further at what I’ve determined to be the best free (or nearly free) options for each of these that you can take advantage of today…
I used to have access to the very costly Adobe software for PDF document creation. However, since I’ve been consulting independently, I no longer have that access. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there were free options available to turn my project status reports and project schedules into PDFs before delivering them to clients.
PrimoPDF. I’ve personally used(www.primopdf.com) for the past 2-3 years and it has been great. I’ve installed it on all of our laptops at home – well, except for my Macbook and I’ll get to that in a minute. It installs very easily and then just appears as an option in your available printers list when you go to print a document. When you select it as your printer, you’ll be asked to name the document and tell the software where to put it on your hard drive. Then you can simply attach it to an email or fax it using Faxzero if you need to.
I’ve always been happy with the quality and readability of it’s output and I’ve used it extensively – even on multi-million dollar projects that I’ve managed. My clients have never commented on the documents and have always been able to view them and read them easily so I know it’s working fine for my needs.
Mac. PrimoPDF is a Windows-based software package and there’s a reason for that. Mac’s, as many of you probably already know (and I found out last March when I bought my Macbook), can easily create PDFs and it’s built into the Mac OS. So my use of Primopdf has decreased, but I still use it on my Windows XP laptop from time to time.
Mikogo for Video Conferencing
Mikogo () is great for small businesses and consultants looking for a free way to setup videoconferencing with customers. As with any free service, there are full-featured premium options available for a very good price, but the basic free service offers nice options and should work for most needs.
Free conference calling
FreeConferenceCall.com () is a simple and quick way to setup free conference calls with your customers and clients. Just signup by entering your name and email address and you’ll be instantly provided with a dial-in number and access code for immediate phone conferencing. Your conference line is not shared with anyone – it’s available to you 24/7 and you won’t need to schedule calls or make advanced reservations. The number you get is assigned to you and it’s yours permanently.
Each conference line can accommodate up to 96 callers and you can use up to six hours for each free conference call. And best of all, there’s no limit on the number of times you can use the line.
I’ve personally used Faxzero () for a couple of years now and it’s always been reliable for me. The receiver gets an advertisement on the coversheet, but other than that, it’s like any other fax that they receive. With Faxzero, you can only send faxes – you can’t receive them. But there’s a free option for receiving that I’ll describe next. One of the best things about Faxzero is that you don’t even have to sign up to use their services. Here are the basics of what they offer:
- Send a fax to any fax machine in the United States (including Puerto Rico) or Canada for free
- Cover page for your fax contains advertising when it reaches your destination – that’s how it’s free
- Send a PDF, Microsoft Word (.DOC or .DOCX or .RTF) file, or Excel spreadsheet (.XLS or .XLSX)
If you don’t have a document to send but just want to fax a message, there is a textbox on the online sending page where you can just input text instead of attaching a document. Once it’s sent, you’ll get an email telling you whether or not the fax was sent successfully.
Everything is done online – nothing to download or install ever. There is a three-page limit, but you can purchase a premium service that allows for longer faxes.
Faxaway (And, unlike the few truly free incoming fax services, your number will never expire. When someone sends you a fax, Faxaway saves it as a TIF image and sends it to you in an email as an attachment.) has been around since 1995 and, while it isn’t quite free, it’s close. For a $1 per month maintenance fee, you can receive an unlimited number of faxes. When you sign up, you’re assigned a fax number you can give to individuals or businesses when you need to receive a fax from them.
With these great options, you’ll always look professional to your clients and you’ll be saving lots of money in the process. It’s truly a win-win situation.