10 Top (Mostly Free) Tools You Can't Live Without

If you're looking to improve efficiency, effectively connect with clients, or secure your data, have a look at these great tech tools, most of which are no-cost.

March 1, 2011

Don’t you wish you had a way to do so much more using so much less? Well, stop wishing, because here’s Mr. Internet’s Top 10 Tools that can make your business much easier and more profitable. (Note: Here’s a video demonstration of how each of these works.)

1. Say goodbye to password angst

Password Agent is a tool I’ve personally used for years that lets you store the ID and password pairs for an unlimited number of online or offline services so you can have a different password for each service (highly recommended). Here are some of its time-saving benefits:

  • Automated password generation: Password Agent can generate password of any level of complexity so you can be confident that they will never be broken. (Don’t worry; you’ll never have to remember them.)
  • Automated password/ID field entry: Password Agent will automatically enter your login ID and password for any service or software you’ve saved.
  • Instant open of online services: Password Agent also allows you to store the URL of any online service for which you’ve saved the password and ID. This allows you to go to that page instantly.

The folks who created Password Agent offer a free version (limited to 25 entries) or an unlimited, full version for about $25. The only password you’ll ever have to remember now is the master password to open Password Agent. The video mentioned above shows you a very clever trick to create an absolutely unbreakable master password that you will never forget.

2. Copy and paste without the garbage

If you’ve ever tried copying and pasting from a Microsoft Office product (i.e., Word or Excel) into something that didn’t need or want all the formatting that usually comes with it, here’s a free and instant way to solve that problem forever. PureText is a free utility that allows you to paste copied text without any of the hidden formatting that often transfers during a normal copy and paste operation. Once installed, it stays unobtrusively in your system tray. To use it to paste unformatted text, hold down the Win key (with the Windows logo) and press V; you’ll be pasting pure text.

3. No more Post-its

Post-its are one of the world’s greatest inventions, until your desk is covered with them. Here are a couple of ways to eliminate these intrusive yellow scraps yet still never lose a thought or idea again:

  • EverNote: This free online service provides a way to save, organize, and retrieve all of your “notes” (on ideas, random thoughts, Web pages, media, etc.) from one convenient location. Since it’s online, you can access your notes from anywhere.
  • Microsoft OneNote: This is a much more powerful and full-featured way to record and organize nearly any kind of information. While it isn’t free (it’s part of the latest Microsoft Office Professional software bundle), it is my note-keeping tool of preference, one I use every day to run my various businesses.

4. Screenshots on steroids

Screenshots can be used to help communicate, train, and demonstrate. Although many tools perform this function, here are my two favorites:

  • SnagIt: This is arguably the gold standard of screen-capture software. It is easy to use yet has an incredible array of features to capture just about anything on your computer, including videos.
  • Jing: This is a free screen-capture utility from the same company (Techsmith) that makes SnagIt. The reason I like and use Jing often is that when I need to create a quick capture and send it to someone, it allows me to do that without even storing the captured image or video on my computer. Instead, it creates a link to an online server that stores the media, for which you only need to send the URL.

5. Brainstorm heaven

One of the most powerful idea creation strategies I’ve ever learned is something called “bubble charting.” Think of bubble charting as a one-person brainstorming session. Now, you can use pencil and paper to do this just fine, or you can become even more effective with one of these tools:

  • Lovely Charts: This affordable and elegant charting program has both an online and a downloadable version. In addition to standard types of charts, you can also use it for your brainstorm bubble charts.
  • MindGenius: This is for hard-core mind mapping activities, and it’s my bubble-charting tool of choice. What I like most about it is that you can create and modify mind maps very quickly without thinking about the process of doing so. Note that this is a fairly expensive piece of software, priced at about $250.

6. Free virtual meetings

Virtual meeting services like GoToMeeting are a powerful way to expand your scope of control and interaction with today’s online consumer. However, they are not inexpensive. Adobe ConnectNow, however, is a free, effective way to have up to two people in a virtual meeting with all the screen sharing and interaction tools you would want. Adobe ConnectNow is the Web conferencing part of Adobe’s Acrobat.com online productivity services. To use it, simply create a free trial account — which never expires — and you will have immediate rights to launch a Web conference for up to two people at any time.

7. Free heavy-duty file sender

Need to send dozens of files or large files easily and at no cost? WeTransfer.com is an easy-to-use, large-capacity, free file-sending service. In fact, just recently one of my virtual assistants needed to send me a 1.25 GB (that’s gigabyte!) video file, which she did without a problem using this service. Watch the demonstration video to learn how you can use this service to enable your clients or prospects to send you large files without knowing anything about WeTransfer.

8. Free PDF-to-Word conversion

Have you ever wanted to convert a PDF into a Word document so you could make changes? If so, you probably have discovered that it isn’t a trivial exercise. Most PDF-to-Word conversion services do a poor job of maintaining layout, font styles, and so on. However, the free online service PDF to Word will take any PDF file and convert it to an editable Word document in no time at all. I’ve tried it with some pretty complicated flyers and forms, and it did an incredible job of keeping the layout and styles. One exception, though, is if your PDF copy is really just an image of text (that is, a scan). In that case, PDF to Word will treat it as an image and embed it into the resulting Word document.

9. Free file sharing

DropBox is something that my business simply could not do without. Think of this as a file folder that contains any number of any other files or folders and resides both on your computer and in the “cloud,” which you can share with any number of other people anywhere on the planet. It is a free collaboration tour de force that makes file sharing completely transparent. You really have to see it in action in order to appreciate what it can do for you and your business.

10. Peace of Mind

Don’t play Russian roulette with your critical business data. It’s not a matter of if but rather when your hard drive will fail. Carbonite, one of the best-known names in online backup services, is very reasonably priced. Once installed, it will automatically back up your data over the Web, and you never have to even think about it. It’s dirt-cheap insurance to pay to keep your business running in the event of data disaster.

At this point you might feel just a bit overwhelmed, and that’s perfectly natural. A good way to counter this is simply watch the demonstration video and mark down which of these tools you can implement right away, and which ones you may attempt later on. Then take action, because a tool that is never used has no power whatsoever to help you or your business prosper.

NOTE: Mr. Internet®, RUSSER Communications, its staff, and officers receive no compensation whatsoever from any third-party vendors (unless he/they are directly involved with the creation and/or improvement of a vendor service or product), and make no recommendations as to the suitability of the products or services mentioned in this article. Always thoroughly investigate any product or service before trying or purchasing it.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.