Big Ass Fans sells its wares—from residential ceiling fans, including the stylish Haiku to behemoth industrial models—in more than 80 countries. One secret that's helped the Lexington, Ky.–based company keep costs lean since it started up in 1999 has been its use of free business tools to heighten efficiency with far-flung clients. To make sure it tackles paperwork for international shipments properly, the staff relies heavily on a free hotline on Export.gov, dialing the U.S. Commercial Service at 1-800-USA-TRADE for live help. And though the company's now 445-person team includes a number of folks who are bilingual, employees often rely on Google Translate to look up salutations in languages that employees don't speak, to build bridges with clients from other cultures. "It adds a little personalization," said Paul Lauritzen, vice president of international business. (As you might guess, the company tends to avoid translating its own name.)
If you work with clients overseas, you probably already know about tools like Skype for free international calling, Dropbox for easy file sharing, Google Hangouts for digital group conversations, and Google Voice to make sure that phone calls follow clients to whatever phone they're using. But there are plenty of other freebies to add to your international arsenal. Here are eight that are popular with the start-up crowd.
—By Elaine Pofeldt, Special to CNBC.com