With so many resources out there to help small businesses- everything from apps and organizations to blogs- it can be overwhelming to find the right resources for your own business. So, in that spirit, we have asked our incredible CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to share their favorite small business resources. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas and resources listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Free Conference Calls by Email
You can schedule a conference call simply- and for free- through crafting a calendar invitation.
If you create an email or calendar invite, add your recipients (the same as always) and then, invite firstname.lastname@example.org too. After you send it, AnyMeeting sends you and all of your invitees everything needed to join the call.
It's a great resource, as anyone can use email@example.com at any time- even on the fly. You don't even need an AnyMeeting account.
2. Running My Business On-the-go!
As the president of a marketing consulting firm, my top three mobile apps would be Office 365, HootSuite and Maps.
My Office 365 suite allows me to access, link and manage my email, contacts and calendars. It also allows me to access and edit One Drive, Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.
HootSuite allows me to manage all of my social media profiles in a single location, and Maps ensures that I find my meeting locations and arrive on time.
While email is tops for me with people I don't know well, most of the alliances, networking, mastermind, support and social listening I do these days is on Skype. It is easy to monitor multiple chat rooms and switch from groups to individual conversations.
4. Build Your Business with $5
All it takes is $5 to get started. Fiverr.com is one of the best resources all around for small business owners. Whether you need graphics, techie stuff, marketing research, ghost writing or kick-butt sales copy, there's someone on Fiverr with those skills who's eager to get the "gig."
Now, for $5 you may think it's a gimmick or shoddy work. Not true! You'll receive high quality professional work.
Those little tasks on your "to-do" list can now get done for $5. Check it out.
5. Password Manager
With a password manager, you just have to remember one master password, and the password manager automatically creates and manages secure passwords for all of the sites you visit. Password managers allow your data to go wherever you go, making it simple to use multiple computers, laptops and mobile devices – all without having to re-enter your information and login credentials repeatedly.
6. Best Free App for Small Biz
It may not be unique, but it's free and useful. I use Evernote along with the GTD (Getting Things Done) business process by David Allen. Evernote is free and the audio books are $10.
The app + the process make my world much easier to manage.
7. Theory for Problem Solving
After graduation, most of us don't give business theory a second thought. There is an amazing website that helps professionals and students generate new ideas which can be used for problem solving with both people and process. 12manage.com is like Facebook for business theory. You sign up-free, join groups and get ideas by looking at content by topic or issue. The theory is explained simply and usually includes diagrams. You can connect at the bottom of the page with others!
8. Domain Names and Business
As a big believer in the opportunities presented by an ever changing Internet, I always try to stay current on the evolving role of technology in business. I have found the website Domaining.com to be an invaluable resource for streamlined information pertaining to technology, marketing, law, management, and other business disciplines. The website aggregates stories on the role that a domain name plays in building a business. It is truly a great resource!
9. An Unproductive Confession
One of our best ways that small companies can increase productivity and organize data is by investing in a good project manager.
When we first started, we were using spread sheets, word docs, etc., saving multiple files on a daily basis. I can't begin to tell you how many extra hours we spent at the firm manually entering the data that we managed to keep track of.
After 2 years, we said no more. We then started searching for the perfect project manager and found Podio. We never looked back.
10. Use What is FREE!
I use Twitter. It's free and I don't need to ask anyone why it works. It just does.
My success or failure depends on the message. Twitter delivers it to anyone who is listening.
11. Get Quality Twitter Followers
Twitter has over 300,000,000 users and with Facebook getting harder for marketers with reach way down, Twitter is a great opportunity.
SocialQuant increases the Size & Quality of your Twitter account rapidly using big data and analytics.
Bigger Audience + Quality Followers = More Engagement for your Business!
You choose around 20 Keywords of the types of people you want to connect with and SocialQuant does the rest. Then, you get the data back on what works and what doesn't.
12. Reaching Ideal Customers
If reaching ideal customers with a minimum of marketing resources and spend is important to you, then SEO is even more critical than usual.
And my favorite tool for SEO is WordPress SEO by Yoast.
Even those who know very little about SEO, or who are technically challenged, can easily get great results for their posts, and with a bit of study, for their whole site.
Yes, there is still a place for experienced SEO pros, but this tool is awesome!
13. Break Through the Noise
How can you capture your customers' attention and build credibility? Visit Statista (statista.com) and tap into beautifully designed, informative, and timely graphics along with much more.
Dare to gain a strategic view. Many of the statistics are easily downloadable with the creation of a free account. Statista also has subscriptions with greater reach across over 1 million statistics from 600+ areas on the portal.
Go ahead, break through the noise and reach your customers with facts.
14. Uber Amounts of Free Web Tools
For startups with little operating budgets, having to purchase business, web design, marketing, productivity, and learning tools can be expensive. Ali, who owns Growth Supply, compiles hundreds of free tools on his blog and shares them. Tons of value for young businesses. Check it out: http://growth.supply/free
Taner Kilicarslan of 74by2
15. Fastest Path to a Big Business
The Dan Pena website offers all kinds of free information - videos, audio, newsletter, podcasts, and he recommends getting his books for free on bit-torrent.
He has built public companies from scratch and has been teaching people how to do it for a couple decades.
16. Don't Slack on Communication
We jumped on the bandwagon in the last year and started using Slack for internal communication with our small team. It has allowed us to move away from email for internal communication and leave email for customer management and Zendesk for exclusive analytics of customer habits and customer service issues. We produce custom stickers, so we receive a lot of direct customer communication. Filtering internal communication from that has been instrumental in our growth.
17. How to Get Clarity?
The best resource for your small business is to take time for self-care and for yourself.
You can be present for others, if your cup is not full and your own needs are not met first.
Spend quiet time, whether it's meditation, a walk, or do something that supports you every week, so that you can have more clarity and energy for what truly matters in your business.
18. Write Better with Grammarly
Writing well is hard, and it’s harder when you’re not a good writer to start. Enter Grammarly. The writing-enhancement platform helps me write stronger, notifying me when I break grammar rules. Since it plugs in directly to Microsoft Word and Outlook, I can do a quick check on any blog post or email before I make it live or hit ‘send.’ Grammarly is helpful for small businesses or freelancers that cannot afford an editor, but have the desire to be a stronger writer.
19. Magic Jack and Me!
Because I travel a lot, I need a phone so I am available to clients and family 24/7. I have had a Magic Jack for 8 years that I use all over the world- Europe, the US, Caribbean, etc. I choose my area code and when I get a call, people assume I'm in my NY office. The bandwidth required is less than with Skype so the communications are crystal clear. Yes, I need an internet connection but in today's world--no problem. Highly recommend.
20. Sharpen Your Brain 4 Business
Weird but true- the best business resource: sharpen your brain for business success.
My mentors John Assaraf and Mark Waldman suggest frequent yawning and deep breathing breaks as brain refresher tool. Mark even teaches this to his MBA students at the Executive MBA program at Loyola University. This breathing and meditation could be the most efficient business activity. It is a very important activity (exercise) to sharpen your best business tool, namely your own brain/mind.
21. Brotherly Brilliance
Social media is a pivotal component for any business in today's world. The need to connect with your customers on an engaging level is paramount because of the opportunity for consequent heightened relationships. Marc Guberti is a 17 year old social media influencer, optimizer and, fortunately, my brother. His blog, marcguberti.com, is a vital resource for social media monetization as its resources and advice can be applied to any business to scale it online.
22. Cash is Oxygen. Learn to Sell
The ONE best resource is Chris Brogan's newsletter. That's right... I just said that his EMAILS are the #1 resource! But not necessarily for the content. If you're squirming just thinking about signing up for one more email list, let me explain. Brogan's newsletter is a clinic on selling. This guy can sell ANYTHING. He once sold $20 "tickets" for a 1.5 hr webinar in which he pitched his online course about creating your own online course. Nearly 200 people bit. You do the math. The list is gold.
23. Marvelous Mentors
I've read tons of business books, blogs and articles. Nothing beats advice from a mentor, someone who's been there, done that.
Find someone you admire, who's accomplished some of the goals you wish to attain. Watch how they operate. Learn from their path. Ask questions. Most people are happy to tell you their story.
24. KnowEm Social Brand Search
http://KnowEm.com is the Social Media Search Engine for brands. One quick search can tell you instantly if that brand name you're considering for your new startup is available on over 500 social networks and over 150 domain extensions - and whether or not it's already been trademarked.
25. Every Leader Needs a Coach
24% of entrepreneurs say coaches make the single biggest difference in their careers. When entrepreneurs start out, there's so much they don't know about running a business. They're so excited about their new found freedom, they make the mistake of thinking they can go at it alone. Unfortunately, they soon realize how much they need someone to steer them in the right direction. Think about it this way: what do your favorite actors and athletes in the 1% have in common? Great coaches.
26. Good for More than Searches
For us, the single greatest tool by far would be have to be Google (this is all encompassing including Youtube). For our business, it has replaced many basic functions like word processing and slideshows, as well as data storage. Our online videos have also garnered hundreds of views that simply wouldn't be possible without Youtube's incredible reach. Nothing else has had as large an impact, at virtually no cost, to our company.
27. Small Business Lead Generation
We are a startup company that specializes in digital advertising, advertising engagement and the analytics behind such advertising. In our space, we have found LinkedIn to be an invaluable tool for creating contacts, developing leads and ultimately selling our product.
28. Monitor Credit Card Fees
Engage an independent merchant services auditor. There's no upfront cost. Monthly credit card processing fees are one of the greatest expenses for a small business. With an independent auditor, there’s no need to change your current merchant services provider. They’ll analyze the fee structure you’re being charged by your merchant services provider. By reviewing the monthly statements, an auditor can identify hidden surcharges, inflated fees and errors, saving you thousands annually.
29. Barking Up the Wrong Tree
The ONE best resource out there for small businesses is a newsletter by Eric Barker called Barking Up the Wrong Tree:
Barker delivers a weekly email on the science of everything: happiness, productivity, willpower, etc.
Small businesses are bound by time and money, but productivity is an x-factor. This newsletter has helped us become more innovative with our strategy and more disciplined in our approach.
30. DYI P.R. for Newbies
Access media contacts instantly at sites like Cision & MuckRack. Learn the trade by playing with these databases; then, read up on P.R. basics.
31. For a Life Saver, Try Fiverr
I am a Business Consultant & Online Marketing Specialist. I have a knack for creating innovative marketing strategies for my clients.
However, in the past, it has been difficult for me to bring these marketing campaigns to life. I have tried hiring expensive graphic artists, flyer designers, videographers & printers to create my vision, but I was never satisfied.
Then, I found http://Fiverr.com
Now, I can't live without it. Everything that I need for my business for just $5!
32. Must Read Blog for Businesses
If I have to just pick one resource for my business that I rely on, it will be the quicksprout blog. It has tons of great material on online marketing & SEO by Neil Patel. It has its own ‘university’ area with well-produced how-to videos, as well as ‘definitive guides’ for beginners and advanced level readers. I have benefited greatly in my business (especially in the early days when it was all DIY) with Neil’s great resource and would definitely recommend it to all business owners.
33. Virtual CFO Services
www.inDinero.com is by far the best resource for small businesses because it allows the business owner to focus on their core sales and marketing efforts by outsourcing the entire back office (accounting, taxes and payroll) to a team of virtual CFOs that charge based on the company’s revenue. Unlimited, flat-fee business services are the wave of the future and by outsourcing these roles, companies can hold off on hiring any accounting staff up to the 100 employee mark or 8 figures in revenue.
34. Best Business Resource
My one and only best business resource for us is SHOPIFY. I found this company back in the day introduced by a marketer, and since then, it's been the most cost effective, easy changeable software for our small fashion business.
35. Bplans: A Great Go-to for SMBs
Bplans.com: Best site for SMB owners/wannabe entrepreneurs. Free easy-to-digest content on how to start/grow a business. Move from working in your biz to on your biz. Learn about accounting, biz planning, funding, marketing + more. Free eBooks + 500 sample biz plans. Find a Proactive Accountant: Most biz owners can only afford to hire 1 pro, and it’s usually an accountant. Bplans has a directory for how to find an accountant who is a certified “Expert Advisor” to help you grow your biz.
36. Google - The Resource Catchall
The best resource for small businesses is...Google.
That sounds kind of simplistic, but in reality, Google is crucial to all business at this point for everything from advertising to branding to finding all of the other resources needed for being a successful company in general.
37. The IRS Can Help Your Business
One of the most powerful, and underutilized, resources for business owners is the main IRS website, WWW.IRS.GOV. The IRS site has a tremendous amount of valuable information available to businesses of all sizes and across all industries. Business owners who familiarize themselves with the site will not only gain valuable knowledge that will benefit their business, but will also provide them with a huge leg up on the competition.
38. Entrepreneurs Love Google Docs
I just completed a study of more than 800 entrepreneurs and the top-named online resource for small business was Google Drive/Google Docs. The cloud file-sharing and collaboration system allows up to 15 GB of free storage and is available online, in a desktop application, and through a smartphone app.
Even though I was a late adopter from the Microsoft Office suite (and still use it as well), Google Drive is a new tool in my arsenal I use every day.
39. Government a Great Resource?
People typically don't go to government resources for business help. However, as a small business owner that advises start-ups and similar-sized businesses, the Small Business Administration website has been invaluable (www.sba.gov). Their easy to follow guides range from forming a legal entity, to diverse methods for financing, to how to craft the perfect business plan. They even offer local face-to-face assistance.
40. Knock Out To-do Lists
The one business tool any business owner should use is Asana (Asana.com). It helps you manage not only your own projects, but you can also work with a team to set dates, find out statuses, and update files, etc. The extra beautiful part is you can do everything right within the application, eliminating the need for emails going back and forth!
41. Connectivity = Happy Customers
They say the best things in life are free. This rarely is applicable in the business world. However, the best tool for small businesses that we have come across is Google Analytics. This free tool has given us a wealth of insight into consumer activity on site, referral sources and campaign performance. We use everything from in-page analytics to bounce rate numbers to understand what users are engaging with onsite. It is the single tool we rely on most when making decisions.
42. A Must Read
Ken Blanchard’s book “Raving Fans” is required reading for all of my consulting clients. It is a short but powerful read and the whole concept of teaching them that it is not enough to have a satisfied customer because a satisfied customer will leave you for a quarter, while a raving fan would rather take a beating then leave you.
43. Get in Front of Buyers
My best marketing tool to promote your small business and compete with the big guys is Google Adwords, Analytics & Webmaster tools. Google offers these paid and free services with free classes for you to get the best value for your marketing dollars. These services will also give you insights as to the people who are looking at your ads and clicking through to your website. There is such a plethora of data that you can truly pinpoint your niche market and market directly to buyers.
44. The New Best Productivity Tool
The best business resources for startups (especially tech startups) are mostly on Quora (quora.com). You can search for any topic related to your business and you can follow topics, such as: business plan, pitch, investing, angels, startups, tools, etc. There are a lot of lists of tools for better productivity, like the one on the link: http://www.quora.com/What-are-key-strategies-to-acquire-first-100K-users-with-zero-marketing-budget/answer/Sangeet-Paul-Choudary?srid=OGce&share=1
45. Online Collaboration Livesaver
The one business resource that I can’t live without is Google Docs. With the advancement of technology and the ability for people to work remotely, having a centralized document hub is key. Google Docs give you the ability to track version control, so you can easy collaborate with your staff on important documents, spreadsheets and presentations. It also eliminates the potential of a hard drive going down and losing your work since all information is stored online.
46. Small Business 101
Small Business 101 by ShopKeep is the ultimate resource for aspiring small business owners, introducing them to the fundamentals of local business and providing the essential tools and resources they need to succeed. Choose a section and start your small business journey!
We recommend reading "Choosing a POS System Guide" first. The right point of sale system will change your business.
47. JUST for Women Entrepreneurs
As a solopreneur, my favorite source for what I need to operate and optimize my business is www.ChicCeo.com. Geared to women entrepreneurs, almost everything on the site is FREE. It is especially fabulous for start-ups and wanna-be start-ups. But once you get going, there is support and vital, timely information that keeps me moving toward my goals.
48. Business Credit Score?
Creditera is the only site giving business owners free access to their personal and business credit reports, along with tools to help them build business credit and a marketplace to access financing. In addition, the platform dramatically simplifies the process of getting the financing or terms small businesses need to grow their business.
49. Want Biz Success? Phone it in
The best business resource for small business is the phone. Here's why- in a study released by Psychological Science, it was found that test subjects who presented spoken pitches to a panel of evaluators were seen as more intelligent, thoughtful and competent than those whose pitches were presented via email. Why? Because unlike text, our voices give insight into our thinking process as it happens. So, the next time you want to close a deal? Pick up the phone. You'll be amazed at the results.
50. Stay Curious and Keep Learning
"Rookie Smarts" by Liz Wiseman is the one best resource for small businesses because at the heart of every small business is passion, determination and the will to grow through learning. In an ever-changing world, experience can cause your business to stagnate and prevent you from achieving your goals. Maintaining your sense of curiosity while reminding yourself that there is always more to learn will ensure that your small business will stay successful.
51. Simplify Life in One Action
Instead of treating your brain as an information dump-site, opt for total 'mind virginity' instead! One practical application is to regularly close your tabs or use Evernote Clearly to move highlighted content into a 'references' folder instantly. In a second process, delete, read or store those items. Also, speed reading is easy if you change the fonts and colors. After trying this, my clients cut their workflow by half and found most of their internet browsing had been a distraction from tasks.
52. The Gary Halbert Letter
I think copywriting is one of the most important skills that any business owner can learn. It's really the perfect combination of sales and psychology. And for most people, just knowing the basics instantly gives you a huge advantage. So, why not learn from one of the best? For Free! The Gary Halbert Letter archive is full of invaluable insights. Plus, it's entertaining. Just reading through some of his old letters has definitely gotten the creative juices flowing for me on more than on occasion.
53. Craigslist for Market Research
Employees are the greatest asset to any business and finding the right ones is vital to success. So, Craigslist is a resource I can’t live without. Looking at ads posted by competitors lets you take the temperature of the hiring market, learn about the quality of the available hiring pool and gain information to make your business stand out as a better place to work than competitors. Businesses are made up of people and getting the best people makes for the best business. Craigslist is key.
54. Highrise: Connecting Made Easy
One of our top tools is Highrise. It's a CRM tool for small and medium sized businesses that we use to track all of our PR correspondence. It's a lifesaver for us, making it much easier to stay on top of conversations, to-dos, pitches, giveaways and reviews. Without it, we would have to cobble together a series of tools such as email, spreadsheets and word processing. Even then, I'm not sure we could replicate Highrise's simplicity and usefulness.
55. You Can't Do it By Yourself!
All startups need assistance. My recommendation is to join a program that helps entrepreneurs link with mentors and resources to get their business off the ground. CONNECT has lots of information about next steps to take as a startup, as well as the best ways to establish a valuation. There are offices around the US to walk into and apply with as well. Visit www.connect.org for more info.
56. Best Business Resource
I always refer my clients to the online education platform for entrepreneurs, Thrive15.com, that teaches business skills in twenty different areas in 15-minute entertaining videos taught by world-class mentors. Thrive15.com offers practical training taught by mentors who have been successful in that area and costs less than your monthly Starbucks bill at $49/month and free for U.S. military. Most business owners do not have time or money to go to business school.
57. A Good Tax Pro is Priceless!
If you are self-employed and are running your own business, you need to know the best business structure for your situation. Any taxpayer receiving a 1099 for payment of services should seek the advice of a tax professional. A tax professional can advise you on the business entity selection that can minimize your filing requirements and the amount of taxes that you have to pay.
58. Every Business Needs Everypost
The best resource I have found for our company has been the social media app Everypost. It allows a business to send a single post, image or link across all of its social media accounts. Its main function lets you put forth a single branded message, which is then shared across everything you are connected to. With the constant need to engage with customers in a multitude of areas, Everypost makes it easier and more manageable. I equate it to hiring a full-time social media manager, for free.
59. It Gave Me Half My Week Back
Rescue Time has been my best productivity tool!
It has improved my productivity and given me an extra 40-50 hours a week of my time.
It's so easy to waste time on the computer, but when you receive an end of the week accounting of all you've done, including a clear list of all the places you've wasted time, you can't be in denial. When I started, I was working 70-80 hours a week and only half of that time was productive. Now, I work 30-40 hours a week at an almost 90% productivity.
60. Amazing Free Tool!
In my opinion, the best resource I use is a simple one. It’s called HandBrake. It’s a free program that converts any video into a mobile responsive format and compresses it into an easily uploadable file. So, you can take any video you shoot, no matter how long it is, and in a matter of minutes, you have a video that anyone can watch on any mobile device. It is a HUGE lifesaver...
61. Fast Track for Success
The best thing I ever did for boosting my biz was to hire a coach. Finding the right coach who inspires and resonates with you makes all the difference in the world. It's easy to fall into overwhelm and to over-think everything.
There's no blueprints or formulas that work for everyone. Find a coach that kicks your butt in gear and keeps you on the right track for you!
62. Contact SCORE and You Will!
SCORE is a non-profit organization run by volunteers who are willing to mentor small business owners. One can get FREE help, which is fantastic, in all disciplines including marketing, funding, sales, etc. It's so important to get an objective opinion. Asking our friends or family for advice is great, but their input may be muddied by emotion. SCORE mentors don't have any sort of emotional stake in your business. They just want to see you succeed. It's really a great organization.
63. Size Up Your Competition
The best small business resource out there is at www.sba.gov/tools/sizeup. It's a great tool that gives you the ability to benchmark your company against your competition. Competitive analysis is one of the key ingredients that goes into any solid business strategy. It is a must for any entrepreneur looking to succeed and grow their business.
I use the Netvibes dashboard for real-time social media monitoring on the industries and news topics I am interested in. This helps me keep current on industry trends and news. It includes many widgets and apps including analytics, social sharing, and email so that I can view all of my important accounts and data in one dashboard. Even the basic free version is robust enough to help most small businesses with reducing all of the online clutter into one simple dashboard.
Shai Atanelov of Fundz
65. Use the Power of Social Media
Tapping into the global talent of popular YouTubers is bigger business than Hollywood. Millennials spend nearly 21 hours a week watching digital content and spend far more $ and engage more readily with social media stars. This generation of consumers illustrates that digital stars will have more relevance than traditional stars in the very near future. Retailers need to understand what makes the next generation of shoppers click on buy and focus their sales & marketing efforts accordingly.
66. Other Executive's Knowledge
My go to business resource is CEB Marketing Leadership Council (ExecutiveBoard.com). The CEB enables executives to leverage peer perspectives and tap into breakthrough innovations and optimization opportunities. They determine best practices through both quantitative and qualitative research and equip execs and their teams with proven solutions and tools. The member network includes more than 20,000 executives spanning many of the top companies in the world.
67. Quick Books: A Lifesaver
Quick Books is such a wonderful resource for small businesses, as it is user-friendly and has a simple design. This allows us to keep our focus on the business, not on how the software works.
68. Top Web-Hosting Services
I’m very happy with my Drupal websites, Bluehost hosting, and Aweber email marketing service; I find them to be more user-friendly and robust than the alternatives I have explored.
69. Personalized Automation
Intercom.io is the cornerstone of the customer on-boarding process for us. It brings together analytics, CRM, triggers and communication.
I monitor my registered customers, see how many times they've been to the site, what price plan they're on and add our own custom variables. Based on customer actions, I can trigger targeted messages. For example, I message users on trial who haven't uploaded contacts that we'll help them get their contacts uploaded. It's automated, targeted, yet personal!
70. That Smile
Employ the friendliest staff that you can find. They must greet all your customers with a "Good Morning, Good Afternoon and Good Evening", followed by an eye catching friendly smile.
Jacob Singer of Regnis
Do you know a great small 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!