Having your own business can not only be stressful, but can be expensive too. So, to help you navigate through the vast array of free resources that are out there to help small businesses, the CarolRoth.com contributor network of entrepreneurs and experts have shared their favorite free resources. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some of the same resources listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Become the Master Juggler
BusinessBalls.com is an incredible resource site with a plethora of topics and information for crazy busy small business owners and professionals. Whether you are seeking training information, human resource forms or just general business acumen, you can find it all at this site. Business today is about juggling all of those balls and when you can find one site to keep them from tumbling to the ground, then that is a good resource site.
2. I Love Social Search
Twitter's search platform is my best friend and most useful free business resource. I can search things like "near:"Bethlehem, PA" within:15mi" and I'll get a streaming list of all of the conversations within 15 miles of the city I live in, Bethlehem. That's open game for me to engage with locals, meet new clients, and spread awareness of my computer repair company.
3. Get a Mobile Website ASAP!
5.9 billion mobile devices will be activated by 2012.
Most of your competitors don't have a mobilized website - a website built for mobile devices, so jump on the opportunity now!
Mobile friendly websites are THE next marketing opportunity, so get mobilized and improve the traffic to your business.
The easy, free way is to set up a WordPress site and install a mobile plug-in = instant mobile site - but it lacks secondary domain and SEO opportunities.
4. Google Tools All the Way Baby
My favorite free business resource is the suite of free tools offered by Google including Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Mail. All of these free business tools work great and make it very easy to share docs and perform project management. It is cloud computing at its best. And if that was not great enough, these free tools can pretty much replace Microsoft Office, so you aren't shelling out big bucks to keep buying new versions of Microsoft Office and dealing with all of its bugs.
5. Convert PowerPoint to Flash
The coolest free program I've found is iSpring, a tool that converts your PowerPoint presentation to flash, so that you can quickly convert and load a video presentation to your website. Create your PowerPoint presentation, record the audio within PowerPoint, and then use iSpring to create the flash presentation.
Go to: http://www.ispringsolutions.com/download.html
Scroll down to iSpringFree and download.
6. A Free Headache
I start my day with a headache.
That's not a bad thing. Actually it hurts so good...
Every morning I read Seth Godin's blog.
He makes me think...or, better said, I choose to read his blog and meditate on his words. He pushes me to listen to how I do business in the current context...and ponder how I might do business better.
That gives me a headache...that hurts so good.
I read Seth and grow my business.
Growing pains are the best pains of all...
7. Can't Live Without it!
I know there are a ton of free programs, services, and products that enhance business, but let's get to the basics here: email. No matter what email host you choose, there are a variety of fabulous and free email systems that make communication easier, faster, and better, while allowing you to organize and manage life effectively with cloud-like storage that you don't have to pay for. Fabulous!
8. If it's FREE, it's ME
I spend lots of time online seeking free tools. The absolute best I've found is the Dempsey Marketing site.
Everyday, Robert teaches us how to do something better, learn about something that we didn't know existed or help us adjust our thinking to get further faster. He also offers free resources, podcasts and videos. I recommend him all of the time and everyone loves his stuff.
The best part is that he's a super nice guy and welcomes questions. http://dempseymarketing.com.
9. Do HARO
HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out. When you register for this site, you'll receive daily queries of stories that various news organizations are working on. Through HARO, I've gotten the message of patient advocacy out to various news outlets throughout the country.
10. Merchant Circle Rules!
In the past two years, I have identified 22 ways to do internet marketing for free, and my favorite is MerchantCircle.com. With your free account, you get a free profile page, free newsletters, free blogs, free coupons, and free network building nationwide. You get a monthly traffic update, and you can upload pictures and videos.
This one is a must! I recommend it to clients who are just starting out and don't even have a website yet, but everyone benefits from MC!
11. Get Free Images
When you write your blogs or online articles, make sure you always add an image to it. Having a great picture really adds value to your story and vastly increases your readership rate. Personally, I use Stock.Xchng (their website is http://www.sxc.hu) as it is free and they always have a great selection and variety of free images by different photographers.
12. Try a Marriage Coach Instead
I have gotten a number of good referrals and publicity hits by belonging to HARO (help a reporter out). It is a huge deal that reporters go to for interviews and information.
13. There is Gold in Linkedin!
One place that I find tons of business leads is on LINKEDIN. Specifically, I always check the questions that my group sends. I see that a person needs help on a certain topic, and I offer the HELP for free. I make no solicitation then. In many cases, the Linkedin person refers other business to me or invites me to bid on a specific project. It's all about offering to HELP first. No pitching biz on Linkedin.
14. Stop the Post it Avalanche
Does your desk look like a Post It Note bomb went off? Do you have lists and reminders everywhere, but then can't find the right list or reminder? Then, it is time to discover www.RememberTheMilk.com. This amazing online tool is a note taker, list maker and daily reminder all rolled into one. Since I started using it, I can find all of my lists and don't risk a post it avalanche when I use my desk.
15. FACE it!
I have managed the best overall success from...(Drum Roll, please) FACEBOOK! I advertise upcoming events, open positions, marketing campaigns and have connected with new business all through the Facebook Fan pages. There's not many out here that do not have a Facebook account, so I get to introduce our work to billions of people on a regular basis, all for FREE!
16. Nothing is Free
There are many free resources for businesses today, but my favorite and most beneficial to my business is Facebook. Although the resource itself is free, the use of it carries a price tag in the way of time. However, it opens up a way of marketing that cannot be found elsewhere unless you call over your customers to have a cup of coffee. The relationship factor with my prospective customers has allowed me to grow the business in a way no other medium has.
17. Free Resource Site for Women
The Work at Home Woman offers interviews, articles, tips and resources for women in business. Holly also provides work-at-home ideas and insights for women who are seeking to find an at-home income source.
18. From One to Many
An abundance of free tools and resources exist. One of my favorite resources which I have used consistently is the free bridge line at Free Conference Pro. This resource allows me to talk to one or 200 at one time. The best part is the recording availability. Client calls, along with teleseminars, are easily recorded with the touch of a button. The system is highly user friendly. Go to http://www.freeconferencepro.com/
19. Extra Extra Read All About it!
My one Favorite FREE resource in business is the monthly newsletter because of its many beneficial characteristics. First and foremost, it is FREE so it does not require anything "EXTRA" from your audience. It allows you to build your subscriber base and keeps you continuously connect to them. Monthly newsletters send a message that your followers really do matter and are very important to you. It keeps them updated in connection to the things that are happening in your business and with you.
20. No Cost, Huge Benefit
The best resources I know of for free - are other small business owners. I have made friends through other friends, networking, the Chamber, etc. and it's surprising how many will gladly help you through some of the bumps in the road that they have experienced.
21. Old School Freebie
For a great resource where you can also escape the phones and the endless stream of interruptions at the office, opt for the nearest library. It's free, packed with information, usually equipped with free Wi-Fi, totally quiet, and provides a complete escape.
Whether it's a public library or a university library, sometimes simply getting back to basics in a traditional setting can help spark the next "big idea"!
22. Free Marketing Data
Many local libraries subscribe to Reference USA, a data base containing 12 million companies with company SIC Codes and decision maker names, titles, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Utilizing this data base for cold calling and lead generation is a great free marketing resource.
23. Connect with the Reporter
My favorite free resource for business is ReporterConnection.com The requests are specifically for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Overall, I have found more opportunities responding to their requests than those found elsewhere. However, I subscribe to a few to make certain visibility of my services is always available. Contact the site to have the requests emailed three times per day. Good luck!
24. Google Alerts
My favorite free resource is Google Alerts because they keep me on top of what is going on in my clients' industries. This service is essentially a clipping service that sends out bots to find articles that contain the keywords you define (e.g. payment processing). I use a couple of clipping services, but Google Alerts is by far the best free one. A list of articles appears in your mail box. It's easy and free what is not to love? Thank you Google Gods!
25. Free PR - What's Not to Like!
One of the best and most amazing free business deals out there is HARO. Anyone can subscribe for free and three times a day they will send you PR requests from TV, radio, magazine, newspaper, book, and internet blog writers. If you see a query that fits what you do, you just e-mail to the provided address and if they are interested they will contact you. We have gotten extraordinary national PR including being written up in books. It's an amazing little service which can't be beat!
26. Never Forget with Evernote!
I LOVE Evernote! The free download allows me to keep all of my internet and computer information categorized and organized by keyword. Because I am a visual, I can capture a visual image of the screen and link it to my virtual 'binder" or "notebook" for future reference - just like I'd do if I could cut things out. Evernote saves paper, allows me to quickly find previously-referenced information, and makes my business life SO much easier!
27. Score with SCORE
Need business advice? Any kind of business advice? Contact your local Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and get free answers and advice for any business challenge you are facing.
28. New Wonder Wheel?
I was bummed when Google did away with the "Google Wonder Wheel" which was a resource for finding related search terms for your main keyword. Recently, I came across a Wikipedia resource called "Wiki Summarizer" which works similarly.
You type in your keyword and you get a list of related terms, plus info on your keyword to boot! Here is the link: http://www.wikisummarizer.com/Pages/Default.aspx
There is typically less competition when optimizing for related keywords vs. your main one.
29. Name that Brand
Personal Branding Magazine has a free sample download that provides a wealth of effective information and ideas on how to brand your product or service.
This issue is focused on how to innovate and disrupt your industry by Clayton Christensen, Professor at Harvard Business School and the New York Times bestselling author of "Innovators Dilemma."
Thanks to: Faithe Rogers.
30. Free Online Form Creator
If you own a web-based business or just use a website to promote your business, then the Zoho Creator is for you. It allows you to create an unlimited amount of online forms for zero cost. It is absolutely free. If you need to collect web visitor contact information, you need an online form creator and the Zoho Creator is the best available at no charge. It's great for small business owners on a tight budget.
31. Youtube, Youtube, Youtube!
Why did television become so popular? Because you could see and hear people like the movies. Well, Youtube offers the same amazing possibilities, and all for free. You can make a relatively high quality video using an inexpensive camcorder (mine cost $180) and upload your video in minutes. Using video, you can accelerate your sales process, build a community of evangelists, and use all the YouTube tools to market yourself for, well, free.
And videos get great search rankings!
32. Free B2B Company Information
Here's a free service to look into for researching B2B leads -
LeadFerret is world's largest free business-to-business database with complete information, including email addresses. Every record in LeadFerret is complete with company, name, title, address, phone number and most importantly, email address.
You don't have to upload any data, earn any points, or pay anything. Check it out at www.leadferret.com
33. Hootsuite is My Friend
Okay, yes, like most software packages out there, Hootsuite subscribes to the FREEMIUM model, but for SME type businesses, the FREE Hootsuite is phenomenal! www.hootsuite.com is a valuable resource to be able to track multiple threads simultaneously and push your content out to different social media outlets at the same time. It allows me to choose to update Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook or all 3 at the click of a button. Scheduling posts is quick and easy too. Yeah #hootsuite.
34. The Aggressive Guerrilla
My favorite free resource for business is the Guerrilla Marketing blog at http://blog.guerrillacomm.com/ It has short posts (generally not much more than a photo) of great guerrilla marketing ad campaigns, most of which cost little to no money to run. It really get the creative juices flowing when trying to figure out how to stand out from the crowd and create effective marketing that's affordable.
Mac Martine of Cycle7
35. Idea Incubator for Keeping Up
Change is not an occasional consideration. Customers want the most convenient, current, and relevant products and services, which often originate from unknown sources. Springwise.com aggregates ideas from all over the world which can be used or adapted to all businesses – B2B, B2C, non-profit, and institutional.
All you have to do is become aware, think about how to fit these ideas into your business, and adapt, don’t copy. Then test, test, test for results.
36. Free Business Tool
It might sound trite, but the best free business tool I know of is Google. You can research just about anything and it will lead you somewhere else, getting the most bang for your so called "free buck." There are other things around, but nothing is as good as that.
37. Mentors from Your Tax Dollars
My county's small business bureau has mentors who volunteer their time to meet with small business people. I clicked with my mentor and see her every 6 weeks. She helps with ideas and shares insights. It is great to have someone else to share successes and frustrations.
38. Free Teleseminar Bridge Line
I love FreeConferenceCalling.com - the dashboard is easy and clear, I get my audios within 10 minutes...they have too many goodies to mention here. It's a great service for people new to giving teleseminars, before they branch out to paid services like instanteleseminar.com or gotomeeting.com.
39. Great Copywriting Tool
Headline Analyzer - http://www.aminstitute.com/headline/
It's a great tool for anyone doing copywriting. “This free tool will analyze your headline to determine the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score. As you know, reaching your customers in a deep and emotional way is a key to successful copywriting.”
40. Monitor Your Brand for Free
Use free Google Alerts to monitor your brand. The alerts will provide you with notice when articles or blogs are referencing your brand, as well as with notice of possible trademark infringements. Free Google Alerts are a terrific way to stay on top of your brand.
41. No Review, No Clue of You
As a novelist and owner of an indie publishing company, one of the biggest challenges is getting exposure. With the ease of formatting an ebook and posting online, anyone can call themselves "author." To stand out, we rely on free book reviews, which not only give us needed exposure, a great review helps fire up the buzz for our books--especially if the reviewer writes a glowing review in a blog.
42. My Best Resource: Hoovers.com
When checking out businesses, my first stop is Hoovers.com. While much of the site requires a paid subscription, the free site is great. You get names, corporate affiliations, a corporate summary, main (and sometimes others) addresses, phone numbers, top 3 executives and titles, plus sales, net income, and number of employees for publicly held companies.
It is a great time saver when you don't know where to start.
43. Making Business Websites More
SocialFloat is a tool that regular businesses can use to make their web pages just as "sharable" as WordPress blogs are... http://www.seo-writer.com/tools/socialfloat-signup.php
. The sharing bar "floats" on the side of your web page, so that users can share on FaceBook, Twitter, Google and StumbleUpon whenever they decide they like what your page says.
44. AMEX OPEN App
I will have to say my AMEX OPEN app. I go through the helpful articles daily and watch the videos on the go. I have improved my business immensely from insights gleaned from those articles.
45. Favorite Free Resource
The New York Enterprise Report is a free magazine with amazing content rich articles.
46. Endless Work & Services
Cities, states & our federal government all advertise for an extremely wide variety of services & products. It's easy to contact all of the different municipalities to get the listing of their various agencies. Each agency will give you info to get on their bidder's list for your particular service or product.
There is are endless needs to be filled for our city, state & federal government. You never have to worry about getting paid. I have been doing this off & on for my entire life.
47. On the Move
Looking for a resource designed with movers and shakers in mind? Start with the Business Journal’s new automated ‘People On the Move’ system. Whether it is for you or those on your team, it remains free, plus it allows for these announcements: new hires, promotions, recognition, and Board of Directors. Additional benefits: when sharing the good news on-line, it could be added to print versions and potentially improve search engine optimization to a referenced website.
Need a mentor? Google S.C.O.R.E....it is a society of retired executives across a broad range of diverse businesses. This free national resource aligns you with a retired exec in your field who can help you with your business plan, direction, vision, etc. You can work one on one in person or via phone, email, Skype, carrier pigeon, etc. They were helpful to me when I set up my own private practice. I highly recommend SCORE.
49. Free Publicity
If you are an expert in any field and you're looking for publicity, it's hard to beat Bill and Steve Harrison's 'Reporter Connection'. This resource has free listings of reporters looking for guests of all sorts, sorted into easily browse-able expertise categories. Adding your name to the list gets you instant access to TV, magazine, blog, newspaper, and book publicity. The web address is: http://www.reporterconnection.com
50. All the Data You'll Ever Need!
My favorite FREE resource is ReferenceUSA. It's a business database by the people who have InfoUSA; it's like Dun and Bradstreet or Hoover's. It's FREE through most library systems in the US. Just find a library near you that has it. Get a library card and PIN, and you've got access to all of the prospecting data you'd ever want. There are some slight limitations, but it's a fair trade for FREE. I've used it for over a decade.
51. SCORE an Excellent Resource
I highly recommend Score.org. It is a nonprofit dedicated at helping business owners. They offer low cost seminars in many cities, free templates and tools for all kinds of businesses right on their website, and you can get unlimited free business advice from a SCORE business counselor. We've taken several of the tax planning related seminars and it's great to have SCORE counselors available for any business development issues that arise in any stage of business development.
52. The Best Business Resource
The best business resource for free is www.About.com. It serves the purpose of inspirational and updated information on a weekly basis. I look forward to the emails concerning business in advertising, marketing, budgeting, taxes, employees and much more.
SCORE - it's a fantastic Free resource that I'm amazed more people are not aware of. Conveniently, I was there today to meet with a rep and he gave me a book that he thought I would enjoy - The Entrepreneur Equation... by none other than Carol Roth!
54. Reliable and Free Lead-gen DB
One of the most useful free resources for Entrepreneurs is a reliable and free Lead generation database.
Not many people know about ZoomInfo.com. And even fewer people know about their Community Edition.
When you subscribe to ZoomInfo CE, it gets linked to your MS Outlook. You get access to all of their contacts/company databases which are pretty good and validated. And in return, ZoomInfo makes use of contacts from your Outlook.
55. Yo! Free Business Seminars!
In many states, you'll find a network of Small Business Centers associated with community colleges and/or universities. These offer free business seminars on everything from financial planning to marketing/social media.
I present in these SBCs, but I'm also a PRODUCT of them. Much of my success comes from attending these seminars for the past 15 years! They're supported by government funds, so every time you attend, you are getting a "tax rebate." Do some research and use this super resource!
56. Free Help is the Best Help
I have used the Indiana Small Business Development Center, where grants are funded by the SBA. They give much free information and resources where to find information. I also use the library very much for both books and free online databases for business information.
57. Get Out
Mind Clearing, blood pressure lowering, and a good stretch of both mind and body happens when getting up and walking outside. Seven minutes is enough time to change your inner screen saver and give a new perspective.
58. It's Not Just for Books!
The public library is often an unknown and underutilized resource. Researching a company for a job interview? They can help. Need some market data for a business plan? Call them! They are not only free, but they have access to databases more powerful than Google for specialized information. Best yet - many times you can get access to resources like Consumer Reports and Hoovers for free with just your library card and the library website!
59. I'm Floating on a Cloud
Cloud computing is the way to go! I use Soonr Desktop. It automatically backs up any folder I choose. I can share documents, allow downloading, and allow cloud editing. I can password encrypt a document, send a link to a document to a client and set it to expire after a time. I can access it from any computer or smart phone. For me, the best part is that it backs up my work folders w/o me having to do anything and without having to have a special folder. Take the work out of your work!
60. Think Like an Owl
You need to be active in social media as a business owner. Hootsuite is a great tool to get the word out on many social media sites such as twitter, Linked In, Facebook, etc. You can also schedule tips which increases your efficiency! You can add pictures and links, too. No more excuses why you can't do social media!
61. FREE Solution to Unemployment
WebToTheRescue.com is a FREE online resource to help users launch and grow a business or non-profit venture. It's a topic by topic roadmap to help you through every stage of your business - from learning about entrepreneurship to helping you achieve the next stage of growth and everything in between. You won't need to create a user profile, choose a user id and password, or even provide your email address. All of the resources have been carefully selected and are free or very low cost.
Admittedly, my favorite free resource is the media itself. Why is that? It is vast, has multiple mediums, reaches larger, captive audiences, and costs no money. If you get interviewed for a newspaper or television show or radio show, that's free publicity, but it's not like an ad where someone wants to skip over it. The audience is fans of the show, and therefore are far more attentive to your presentation. This is one of the best ways to build awareness.
63. At Your Fingertips
"Epocrates" is my favorite free resource for my business. For any medical professional, the drug monographs and formulary information is invaluable. This program is easily downloaded and accessed instantaneously on your smartphone. They additionally provide "DocAlerts" which are brief articles on topical issues in healthcare, as well as specific drug information and they provide links for further information. It is a resource that improves efficiency and accuracy in the healthcare business.
64. Woo Hoo for WuFoo!
Nothing is more important than having an engaged & responsive audience. And when you need to gather some feedback, an easy, professional, customizable way to send out a survey or post a form on your site is with WuFoo.com. Their completely free service allows you to create up to 3 forms & you can filter the data into 3 different reports. It’s a quick, easy, no-cost way to stay in touch with your peeps.
65. The Power of LinkedIn Groups
The free resource every service based independent professional should use is LinkedIn groups. Here's how to use it:
Find a group that has members who mirror your ideal client. Join the group, follow discussions, and comment to add value (not sales messages) to help people resolve challenges.
Connect with people who you resonate with. Set up times to speak with them either by phone or in-person. Make the online connection live and turn strangers into friends who can become clients.
66. Free Resources for the Budget
I utilize a lot of free event listing sites such as Upcoming Yahoo and eventfinder. Search free community newspapers in your area, as well as local TV and radio stations. They all have community calendars. I use them all to list my events. Facebook is a really great vehicle for free event listing. Other free sites for listing events are Craigslist, LinkedIn and Evite.com.
67. Aim, Shoot, SCORE
Running a business is quite exciting.
Getting us off to an informed start over 23 years ago was SCORE. http://www.score.org/
As an ad/PR agency, we already had experience with the creative side, so we went to a mentor for the business side. Our SCORE executive discussed business plans, specifically on the financial side. He helped us aim, shoot and score with business focus and success.
68. Online Marketing Done Properly
Businesses understand it’s now essential to market themselves on the internet, as many traditional forms of marketing just don't get results anymore. Plenty of companies provide online marketing services, but often businesses are blinded by jargon, so they don't know what they're buying and who to trust. Register at www.marketingyourcompany.net to get a FREE Webcast for business owners on everything required to completely dominate their industry online and gain huge growth.
Do you know another great free business resource that wasn’t included? If you do, please share it below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!