Starting a business requires a lot of investment — of time, effort, and money. However, a fledgling enterprise can get a lot of mileage out of online tools with little or no up-front cost.

There are a plethora of online services that offer valuable business tools for startups, many of which you can get started using for free. Here are nine of our favorites.

MailChimp

Communicating with your customers is paramount, and keeping them informed is key. MailChimp helps you automate the process by managing e-mail distribution lists. Easily manage subscriber lists, and send out newsletters with a click. Their free tier lets you start right away with a mailing list of up to 2000 users.

MeetingBurner

Facilitate a two-way dialogue with your clients and colleagues by hosting an online meeting or seminar. MeetingBurner allows you to manage a conference call and share your computer’s desktop in real time, and their entry level allows you to host up to 15 attendees for free.

Screenr

Capture the contents of your screen in real time, and save it for posting on your web site or sending to a client with Screenr. If you don’t want to download and install a dedicated app for the purpose, this free service enables you to do it right from your web browser.

Ta-da List

Everybody needs to keep to-do lists (feature requests, bugs to fix, leads to follow up). With 37Signals’ Ta-da List, making and editing lists is a snap—and you can easily share them with other people, too. And it’s free.

Highrise CRM

Manage your customers and keep track of your communication with them using Highrise, a web-based customer relations management (CRM) application. Highrise includes a free plan which includes 2 users and up to 250 contacts.

Google Apps for Business

Most everyone is familiar with Gmail (and perhaps Google Calendar and Docs), but these same quality apps are also available for businesses. Use the Gmail interface on your business’s own domain, and share calendars amongst your team. And even like Gmail for personal use, it’s free.

Google Analytics

Get insight into your web site’s visitors with intricate but easy-to-use traffic analysis. You can integrate Google Analytics into your web site in minutes, and track its performance using a web-based interface. Google Analytics is free.

Dropbox

Synchronizing files between computers is now as simple as drag and drop, using a special folder that’s part of your regular desktop experience. Files stored in your Dropbox are also easily accessible through a web browser. With Dropbox you get the first 2 GB of storage for free.

Stack Exchange

Question-and-answer forums have been around for quite awhile, but finally they’ve been done right. Stack Exchange represents an array of subject-specific self-help sites where participants help to answer each others’ questions and share their expertise. Stack Exchange is a doorway to a wealth of information, and completely free to participate.

Socket

I did say 9 tools, but of course no list of indispensable online tools for startups would be complete without mentioning Socket. While not free, starting at only $24/mo, Socket’s ability to automate your online sales quotes will more than make up in time saved. Socket can be tried for free for 30 days.

Without spending a dime, your business can jump out of the gate running with a suite of professional tools working for you in no time.

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