There are some essential programs that your business must have, or it breaks down when you try to do without it. These pay for themselves in terms of efficiency and time savings, and they don’t cost an arm and a leg.

Cost-control is all very well if your funds are as limited as those of most bootstrap entrepreneurs are. You think 10 times before you spend a penny, and you only buy what is absolutely essential to run your business, but there are a few programs that count as essential, even for a penny-pinching start-up entrepreneur.

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1. Brainstorming software

Scapple is a freeform brainstorming program that you download. It gives you an unlimited number of whiteboards to plan out everything from website design to new product launches and social-media posts.

Scapple costs $14.99 as a once-off payment but is infinitely more intuitive and customizable than any free, cloud-based brainstorming tools you can find. Everything can be changed, including: background and text colors, text size, fonts and borders for each point. Notes can be linked together and moved anywhere on the page. You can use images and web links as notes in your Scapple storm. Scapple also allow you to export your notes as jpg files, or as .scap files for anyone else with the software to work with.

2. Word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software

You will need to write documents, prepare spreadsheets and presentations. The Softmaker Office Suite is an affordable alternative to Microsoft Office that is available for download on Windows, Linux or Android.

The price of the software suite (word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software) is $69.95. If you download FreeOffice, then you qualify for an upgrade price of $29.95. There is even a 30-day free trial to give you time to get used to the software before you pay! Try asking Microsoft for a free trial and give their sales team a laugh. When you compare that $29.95 to a monthly subscription for Microsoft’s Office 365 or the exorbitant price of Office 2016, Softmaker Office looks irresistible.

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3. Project management

As a bootstrap entrepreneur, your money is tight, but you still need help. An office assistant would be ideal, but that means wages and other costs. WorkflowMax allows you to do more and still keep on top of everything.

WorkflowMax is an all-in-one project management tool that you can afford. A single user license is $15 per month, and a 5-user license is $50, which works out at rather less than even employing a virtual assistant from the Philippines. Having a tool like this is the difference between getting paid and going bust. The included time-tracking, quoting and invoicing components in WorkflowMax will save you the costs of separate subscriptions to other services that provide those.

4. Lead generator

Who are you going to sell to? You need leads and ideally an automatic way of finding leads so you are not spending every minute of the day on Twitter.

Socedo lets you search for people on Twitter according to their roles, social media activity and needs. Once you have found your prospects Socedo has an automated system that allows you to interact with them, so you can prioritize who you want to talk to first. This lead qualification process is automatic, but you appear human: Looking like a robot would be a big turn-off after all. Socedo pulls data from Twitter and LinkedIn, which are the two networks where professionals are most likely to be active.

Pricing is on an individual basis, so you will need to talk to someone from Socedo to find out how much your campaign will cost.

5. Business dashboard

You need to stay on top of your business data without burning a hole in your bank account. Cyfe offers a dashboard that you can customize to your heart’s content.

Cyfe has a free option with a limited number of dashboard widgets which allows you to try out the program without any commitment. Even a premium Cyfe account is very reasonable at $14 per month (paid annually in advance).

With a premium Cyfe account, you can have an unlimited number of dashboard widgets, data export and the historical data analysis any business needs to establish trends. There are ready-made widgets for Intuit Quickbooks, Stripe, Alexa, Google Trends, Get Response and many more. Your premium Cyfe dashboard allows you to check all of these at a glance rather than 20 different websites.

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