As the staff here at the Gig Life were chatting the other day, we were discussing how open sourced coding shifted everything in 2006. And indeed, if you are old enough to remember the web before the rise of communal coding effortsit was a very different world out there. 

Happily, the changes have brought about many improvements, especially in the range of things you can do for free. Gone are the days when pointy-headed nerds (like me!) controlled every move you could make online: it is completely up to you now. You can do as you please, easily. 

“But,” you wail, “I don’t have any experience with building the things I need to do online.” 

Again, the web’s expansion has provided well for you…you can use free tools to learn some things and get a presence going, then scaleup whenever you see fit. 

Finding Free Stuff: Beware 

Before you go out and start downloading all kinds of free apps and programs, do heed a strong word of warning. Many scammers and shifty players will use free software as the means to pollute your system with viruses and other issues 

Your best bet is to use only known and trusted providers to get your tools. The ones most people need, like photo editing tools and web development things are released by huge and trusted companies on safe websites.   

Tread With Caution, Always: 

A virus can’t hurt you until you click on something or accept a download. Use trusted providers and seek safe environments – it is worth it to you over time.  

Warnings aside, here are some things to think about to help you get your tool set in order: 

  1. Identify your needs: look at both long and short term uses. Sometimes, you get something that will work right now, and later learn it limits you. Adobe’s Photoshop Express comes to mind, because you could download it for free, and process a JPG quickly and simply. While a range of tools are not in the palette, there is enough to make a good image better for sure. However, you will quickly learn than in addition to having limited editing tools, you can ONLY work with JPG files – which may force you into an alternative more quickly. If you went toward GIMP, which is an open sourced free image processor, you would have a steeper learning curve, but be able to do more with your images both immediately and over time. More file types and a much wider range of editing possibilities could make a difference to you.
  2. Look at the terms and limitsin most cases, companies will release a limited version of their tools to entice new buyers. Email companies like MailChimp allow you to use some of their tools for free right away: they will show you upgrade options and available pro plans, butyou can operate completely free if your user list and sends stay within the monthly limits. If your list grows, you will have to start paying to keep the account in place or shaveoff your users and send less often to stay in the free zone. Constant Contact, a competitor to MailChimp offers only a 60-day free trial before you will have to start paying…however,during those 60 days your tool set would be larger and you would have more direct supportthan free options, if that is what you need. Understanding the difference in the offers of each mail provider can help you determine your own best step forward. But don’t stop with only two providers, either: as open sourced coding shows us, there are lots of ways to skin your cats now. MailerLite, Benchmark, Active Campaign and GetResponse all come to mind as other options to explore in developing email campaignsdo your homework. 
  3. Be ready to scale, when needed: keep in mind, the goal is not to get stuff for free, really – it is to use free tools to determine which ones you should pay for, later. For example, using the free version of Photoshop may show you that this is a tool you should have in the arsenal to get a wider toolset and more options. On the other side of the coin, you may see that the free version of WordPress is all you need for your web presence, so can safely stay with the free version. Some tools will be ones that you use all the time, and these are the ones you should look to pay for willingly. Others will serve a single purpose, so using the free version to get your results makes better business sense. 

Consider that the people who released the free version of the tools you are using, are much like you in the fact they are trying to build a business on non-traditional grounds. There is a certain degree of Zen to balance here in that regard. 

Maybe if you like the tools/software and don’t have to pay, you can promote it on social media or offer other forms of encouragement that help the author. 

You can’t be offering goods and services in the gig economy and be unwilling to pay for the same things yourself…that is simply not good form.  

You can, however, certainly find free tools or introductory offers to use to help figure out the ones that will work best for you. Using free resources in this regard is smart business on anyone’s terms.   

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