One of the most challenging parts of starting a business is figuring out what business-to-business products and services are worth spending money on. Whether you have plenty of cash on hand when you open your doors or are starting up with just the money in your piggy bank, it’s tough to justify spending money on just about anything early in a business’ life.
Fortunately, there are quality, free services available that help with running and promoting a business, as well as places you can turn for guidance on what’s worth shelling out money for when cash flow is limited. The online apps and the services listed below are ones I use in operating Marino Communications, and I can vouch for their quality and value.
Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
No matter what kind of business you’re starting, there are Small Business Development Centers across the nation that can help you get the advice—and find the funding—you need. The program is operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration and has more than 1,000 local offices across the nation. Many locations are housed within local colleges, universities or chambers of commerce.
SBDCs offer confidential guidance on business planning, as well as advice on most any business topic by certified business advisers. SBDCs also help small businesses with applying for business loans and grants. According to the SBDC website, the organization helps about 1 million small business owners each year.
One-on-one business counseling with an SBDC adviser is free, and SBDCs also put on no cost or low-cost training programs.
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
Started in 1964, the program is partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and provides mentorship to small business owners by assigning them an adviser. The advisers are volunteers who have met SCORE’s criteria for business experience and will review your business plan and offer business advice free of charge.
Local SCORE offices do their best to match clients with mentors who have relevant experience and expertise for their needs. The counseling is done on a confidential basis, so entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about someone stealing their business idea.
While both SBDC and SCORE offer business counseling, it’s worth working with advisers from both organizations. SBDC advisers are certified in understanding business basics, are usually well-connected with local business resources and can help with seeking funding for business ventures. SCORE mentors provide a different perspective, as they are often have subject matter expertise with their clients’ specific line of business and can often offer pragmatic advice and wisdom based on their business experience.
A source of business advice outside of SBA programs is Entrepreneur magazine. The publication’s website is full of articles on almost any business topic. While any advice or knowledge you glean from Entrepreneur articles may not be tailored to your specific business, the wide range of topics covered in articles, videos and webinars—that are searchable and can be viewed on your schedule—make Entrepreneur a great place to start your search for business advice.
In addition to the free articles, there’s also the paid subscription to Entrepreneur magazine and some books, paid webinars and other items for sale on the site.
When I opened my business, I was convinced I’d have to pay to have good-quality accounting software. I was wrong. WaveApps is an easy-to-use, mostly-free online app that makes accounting for a small business a breeze. It will automatically download transactions from many banks, offers free basic accounting and bookkeeping functions like preparing and sending invoices, basic financial reports and an intuitive interface for tracking revenue and expenses.
There are small fees for using some of WaveApps services, such as receiving payments on invoices electronically via credit card or bank transfer and running payroll. However, it’s free basic functions and easy of use make it a great tool for doing your own accounting.
Google My Business
From maintaining your profile on the world’s most popular search engine and online mapping tool to tracking how often your business is getting “Googled,” Google My Business is a must-have in an entrepreneur’s online toolbox. The Google service allows users to maintain up-to-date information for customers to find on Google Search and Google Maps, as well as keep tabs on how the business’ website is doing with Google Search users.
It’s important to get the word out about what your business offers and keep current customers informed about your successes. MailChimp offers a great, easy-to-use electronic communication platform for small business owners. While MailChimp branding is visible in a campaign’s footer with the free version , it allows users to store up to 2,000 contacts in a database to send coupons, ads, company news letters or press releases to. Some other restrictions apply to the free version, and paid subscriptions are based on how many contacts a user has in their MailChimp database.
Be sure you understand the rules on email marketing (such as the CAN-SPAM Act) before you begin using MailChimp for advertising your business.