Every signmaking business can afford to pinch pennies. One great way to do so is by finding free (or nearly free) tools on the internet that are just as effective as pay versions. The following 5 tools are designed to make small businesses more productive, without breaking the bank.

1. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can take advantage of Google Apps for Business, which gives free e-mail under your organization's domain name. If you don't already have one, Google will get you one for just $10. With Google Apps you can also get your own Google Docs system and Google Calendar system.

Zero configuration, no maintenance, the usage of Google's computers, and spam filtering are all just a few of the benefits. The caps on the free version are pretty reasonable: 50 user limit, max of 500 sent emails a day, and attachments limited to 25MB. But, if those are an issue for you, you can up to the Premier Edition for only $50 a year.

2. Next on the list is a personal favorite of mine, Dropbox. This tool lets you save items in a folder on your computer that automatically connects to the cloud. It is perfect for backing files up, storing, and sharing files remotely. Using a shared folder between another user you can transfer larger files with ease. Another great feature is the ability to store things in a public folder and then create a link that non Dropbox users can use to access and download the intended file. Dropbox makes storing and sharing information easy, it is secure, and you get 2GB free. If you want to get 50GB of storage the cost jumps to $10 per month, and 100GB of storage will cost you $20 monthly.

3. What are your thoughts on Linux? Most of us don't even consider it, probably because we all already paid for Windows when we got the computer we use. However, why not give Linux a try for its file servers. If you use Windows you know that Windows Server licenses aren't cheap, but by getting Ubuntu, the most popular form of Linux, you have the ability to serve an unlimited number of client computers. Give it a shot - Try downloading Ubuntu Server here.

4. I know I love AVG free antivirus software for my home computer, but obviously the office needs something different. Recently I found it in Microsoft, which has just made its Security Essentials software for free small businesses to use. It covers up to 10 office computers and does a fine job catching those viruses. While it may run a little slower than other antivirus softwares, the whole free thing has most of us putting up with the speed.

5. Microsoft Office is a traditional favorite of mine, perhaps because it is the word processor of my educational period, however there are solid free choices out there, such as OpenOffice.org.

What free tools do you put to work for your small business?