Ten Free Software Tools for the Cost-Conscious Consultant - Slide 9

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Billables: Express Invoice

Depending on the complexity of your business, a simple invoicing solution may be all you need to track billables without worrying about payroll or inventory. NCH Software offers a free version of its Express Invoice package for small shops with five or fewer employees (be sure to use the "Get it Free" link on the left of this page). The free version of Express Invoice is not as graphical as many of its competitors, but Ken has found it easy to create a simple database of customers, quotes, and billable items, complete with presumptive tax rates. (There is a simple level of inventory control at the Item level, but he’d suggest that if you need to actually manage inventory, you should buy a tool for it). Minimal invoice customization is available, mostly in the form of logo insertion, and there's even a simple Web-based access to a backup of your account info. NCH offers a wide range of business solutions (including that inventory software you might need) that work as part of a suite, and you can expect limited upsell to these tools and the multi-user pro version of Express Invoice in the free tool.

Free with limited upsell, unlimited use for small organization.

Consultants need to do a little bit of everything, and that can mean loading up on a lot of potentially expensive software packages. Thank goodness for open source freeware projects and proprietary software publishers who give away powerful free samples as a marketing tactic.

These software packages provide more than adequate – sometimes surprisingly powerful – functionality for your Windows-based PC, and interoperate quite nicely with brand-name apps. They won't necessarily replace industry-standard tools for your core business; professional project managers are still going to have to bite that $500 bullet for a seat of MS Project.

But for general productivity and most niche tasks, software doesn't have to cost a lot, or anything, for that matter. These tools don't expire and won't frustrate you by suppressing necessary functionality. They just work.

This slideshow features 10 free client software packages identified by Ken-Hardin, an independent business analyst and management consultant, as well as an IT Business Edge alumnus.

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