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Grow Your Business Technology

Free Apps vs. Microsoft 365 Business: What’s Best for Your Business?

Microsoft 365
Credit: Allmy

Microsoft's 365 Business package, its flagship solution for small to midsize businesses, includes a host of apps that easily integrate with other Microsoft products to make running your business easier. Some small business owners, however, may need certain apps or services that are not included with their subscription. While Microsoft offers the ability to download certain apps individually, they may cost extra.

The apps and services exclusive to the Microsoft 365 Business package are found in the Business Center and the Admin Dashboard, and include programs for things like email marketing or mobile device management. Yet, a lot of the services already exist, and they're free. While they won't integrate with your other Microsoft features – and they may not come with all the bells and whistles that Microsoft offers – they may be good enough to get the job done for your business. [Read related article: Microsoft 365 Business: Surprising Features Baked In]

Microsoft’s new email marketing program, called Connections, is built into Microsoft 365 Business. It comes with a host of features and specifically targets small businesses. It can create newsletters, track referrals and issue incentives for top referrers.

MailChimp is an email marketing service that offers businesses the ability to foster and grow subscription lists through newsletters and other types of marketing emails. Using MailChimp, SMB owners can target customers based on behaviors, preferences or purchase history as well as build ad campaigns in Google, Facebook and Instagram. There's also a mobile app so you can monitor and manage email marketing from anywhere.

The service is template-based and offers reporting through Google Analytics. It syncs with hundreds of apps and programs, like Salesforce and WordPress. MailChimp is free for businesses with up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails sent per month. If you run a larger business, MailChimp charges a monthly fee based on the number of your subscribers.

Benchmark is a template-based email marketing service that allows users to design and customize emails, build marketing campaigns, track campaign success and automate menial email marketing tasks. Benchmark is free for 2,000 subscribers and 14,000 emails per month. It offers individual templates for things like welcoming a new subscriber, turning a subscriber into a customer and following up with purchase confirmations or other messages. Each template can be customized to fit your business, and you can edit photos directly in Benchmark. Benchmark integrates with hundreds of apps.

With Bookings, customers can schedule appointments with businesses online. That eliminates phone calls and emails. And it will send out reminders.

Setmore is a free appointment management program that allows SMBs to book customers, update scheduling and automate reminders. Setmore works for both Windows and Mac, and can be downloaded and used on either iOS or Android. Setmore, like Bookings, integrates with Facebook so customers can book appointments directly from your business's Facebook page. It syncs with Outlook so you can link events between Setmore and your Outlook Calendar.

The program is free, or its Premium option is available for $25 per month. This plan includes the ability to send text reminders, two-way calendar syncing and online payments.

With Microsoft Invoicing, small businesses can create professional-looking PDF invoices. It even integrates with QuickBooks.

Invoice Generator is an easy-to-use, online tool for quick invoice customization. You can change and adjust invoices to create a professional invoice for free. Invoices can be printed or sent as PDFs. Invoice Generator also offers a tracking service so you can view when a customer has opened your invoice online.

With Invoice Generator, you can create an unlimited number of invoices. While it's a good desktop tool, the program is online-based, so there's no additional app for mobile invoicing like with Microsoft Invoicing. This service also doesn't integrate with payment programs like QuickBooks.

If you have a QuickBooks account for your business, you can customize invoices directly in the program. You can create invoices, save templates and build a library of invoices. QuickBooks provides a brief tutorial on its website to help business owners who haven't used this service before. Keep in mind that this invoice-building feature is only rolled into an actual QuickBooks subscription. If you don't manage your business's finances through QuickBooks, then you can't use this feature. [Read related article: Which Version of QuickBooks is Right for Your Business?]

Microsoft 365's Business Admin Center makes easy to manage a business's interactions with all these apps. It includes a mobile device management arm as well.

Miradore is a mobile device management program that allows you to wipe lost or stolen devices, password-protect company information and manage company devices all for free. It works on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows desktops or laptops. Miradore also offers device encryption and reporting as well as email support for free accounts.

Microsoft's Admin Dashboard comes with other built-in features, like toggling an employee or group of employee permissions across devices, that aren't included in the free version of Miradore. You can always upgrade to a Miradore Business account for 50 cents per device per month.

With Listings, small businesses can improve their discoverability. It can help update your company name, address, phone number, hours, and more across Facebook, Google, Yelp and Bing.

The best way to save money and still manage business information across multiple websites is to adjust them manually. This can be time-consuming, but if your business's location, logo, hours, website or contact information isn't changing any time soon, it may be worth it to buckle down and adjust your information on a few sites that drive customers toward your business.

Microsoft Listings offers listing management across four top websites: Google, Facebook, Bing and Yelp. If you are really concerned with saving money but want to make sure your online business information is correct, it could be worth it to start by adjusting your information on those sites.

The free versions of these programs can help your business, but if you're already a Microsoft subscriber, you should consider changing your subscription or adding an individual app at an extra charge so you can keep all the services relevant to your business in one place.

If you've considered this option and decided that you and your business are better off not using Microsoft's programs, these free versions are great alternatives. When deciding what to do, keep in mind that you can also test-drive some of these apps or programs before you scale them up for companywide implementation.

Matt D'Angelo

Matt D'Angelo is a B2B Tech Staff Writer based in New York City. After graduating from James Madison University with a degree in Journalism, Matt gained experience as a copy editor and writer for newspapers and various online publications. Matt joined the Purch team in 2017 and covers technology for Business.com and Business News Daily. Follow him on Twitter or email him.