Running a small business can be rough, especially during the startup stage. You have to wear a lot of hats, and a lot of times, you don’t know how to perform in those roles. Even worse, a lot of those roles require tools that can be expensive. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
I’ve been wanting to compile a list of all the best free tools and resources available to small businesses for a while, and I finally got around to it. Below you will find educational resources, design tools, free advertising, and basically anything you need to run your small business better. Enjoy!
A lot of small businesses don’t have the resources to hire a professional design service, so they have to do it themselves. Here are five free design resources I’ve used and come to love:
This is a great website for 100% free vector graphics. A vector graphic is an image that will still look good when scaled up. These are great for infographics, websites, whatever.
Basically a list of sites to help you find good stock photos, that you can use for free. Just avoid using the pretty blonde girl with the headset, it’s overdone. I found the one used behind the header from one of these sites.
Adobe Photoshop is an amazing tool and an industry standard, but not everyone can afford it. GIMP is a free open source alternative that contains many of the same tools and it also has a great community supporting it.
Just like GIMP is an alternative for Photoshop, Inkscape is a great alternative for Illustrator. If you need to design a logo, icon, or sketch, Inkscape works great, and it’s absolutely free.
Where GIMP and Inkscape are a blank canvas that require some design background, Canva is an online tool, no installation required, that already has layouts and image sets that are designed for you. They offer thousands of free vector graphics and images that you can drop into your design, and also premium images for $11 each. A great tool that I used to create the head image for this post.
Blogs have been around for a while, but how well are you utilizing these great resources? Industry experts are sharing their secrets through these sites, and they’re a great source of ideas for your business. I’ve compiled some of the best small business blogs out there:
This isn’t actually a blog, but it’s a free tool to help you easily read and subscribe to them. You can categorize your subscriptions, easily share them to social media, and watch videos, all from in the app. I can never remember a site after I’ve visited, so without this, I would go crazy. Trust me, if you like reading blogs and news online, you’re going to want this. They have apps for Android, iOS, and the web.
Great marketing blog about being found online in the really crowded space that is e-commerce.
Martin Zwilling’s startup expertise really shines in this blog, it’s a must-read. He talks about everything from technology to marketing.
This one really doesn’t need much introduction, it’s some of the brightest minds out there blogging about business. Read it.
Everything you would want to know about starting and running a business can be found here. Awesome resource.
An expert on social media and online marketing, she gives super good advice on how to create content that converts. Highly recommended.
A great blog by about 20 different small business marketing experts. Some really deep insights and reports.
Well we wouldn’t be marketers if we didn’t toot our own horn a bit, would we? For real though, Lendio is the small business loan expert, and we like to share the expertise through our blog. Whatever it takes to prepare your business to get the best small business loan, we’ll write about it.
There’s a ton of great blogs out there, and here’s a few more I highly recommend:
Communicating with your customers can be kind of a hassle sometimes. A Lucky for you, a lot of businesses have put out free versions of their software to help you with this. Here’s my personal favorites for free communication software:
Almost everybody now has a gmail account, and there’s a reason for it. It’s fast, easy, reliable, and free. Once your business takes off, you can upgrade your gmail to have your company domain as your email addresses domain (like mine, erik.larso[email protected]).
Similar to Skype, Google Hangouts lets you make free video calls. The nice thing about Hangouts is you can quickly switch to screen sharing, or add multiple people to the call. I talk a little more Google Hangouts on Air in the public relations section. Great tool.
Need a phone number that’s not your personal one? Get a free one from Google Voice. You can also have the number forward to your phone. Good old Google, giving us all the free things.
More than 6 million people use MailChimp to send out email campaigns. Free up to 2000 subscribers, this is an awesome way to keep in touch with your customers and potentials.
Your office looking a little drab? Here’s 3 sites that could inspire your next office interior decoration project.
A site that features some the best office designs in the world. Use this to keep up with the current office design trends.
Ikea itself is a great resource, but sometimes, their furniture isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. That’s where Ikea Hackers come in. People post their Ikea Furniture modifications, some crazy, some practical, all cool.
Another site featuring beautiful office design. I could get lost in this site all day.
Public relations is great. Once you get your name and story in the right hands, you’ll see customers come in almost like magic. Not everyone can afford a PR firm, so as a small business, you have to know how to reach out yourself. Here’s 5 resources we’ve used here.
If you want to find the most popular bloggers in your niche, this is the place to find it. Seperated by hundreds of categories, you can find any kind of blogger you would ever need in this directory.
What Alltop is to bloggers, MuckRack is to journalists. You can separate them by focus, publication, and location, and then reach out to them through twitter. A great way to find the right people to tell your story.
You can set up Google Alert to email you whenever your brand, your competitors brand, or any other term is mentioned anywhere on the internet. Really great way to get involved in conversations.
Your Local Newspaper
Get to know your local journalists! If you’re a local business you have to be involved with the community, and a great way to to that is through your local paper. Let them know what your expertise is, and they might use you as an expert on a story.
This is just like Google Hangouts, except you can record your conversation straight to YouTube, and open it up for questions and answers. Great tool.
In today’s business environment, you have to have a website. If you’re not found on the web, you’re not going to be found. Here’s 4 resources that will help you get online.
If you have a domain, a server, but no website, WordPress is one of the best ways to build a website these days. There are themes that match almost any business, and updating the content on your site is easy. Not only that, there is an enormous group of people dedicating to help other people how to learn how to use this tool. Oh and it’s absolutely free. You can’t go wrong with using WordPress.
Every marketer and small business owner knows how important it is to understand your customer base. Google Analytics is a free software that can tell you who’s coming to your site, where they’re coming from, and what they do when they get there. It’s relatively easy to install, just follow the tutorial.
If you want to know how your site is performing in the Google search results, use webmaster tools. It’ll tell you what page is ranking for which keyword. Really important tool to have.
A free open source website plugin that allows you to sell your wares online. Strong community backing it.
Today, it’s a necessity to have your business on social media. Here’s a couple tools and a listing of the most important networks to be on.
Buffer is great, because it let’s you post on a schedule. Come across an interesting article? Had a profound thought? Just throw them in your buffer, and it’ll slowly release them across your social media.
HootSuite acts a social media dashboard, allowing you to post, track, and analyze stuff on your social media sites. The free plan will work for you when you’re business is starting, and they offer upgrades with more features.
Obviously money is a very important thing for your business and it’s constantly on your mind. So of course I included some resources for organizing your money, getting more money, and learning about money.
I’ve been using Mint for 3 years now, and they keep adding tools that make it better and better. Mint tracks your financials and puts all of your accounts, bills, and budgets in a dashboard. It won’t replace Quickbooks, but it’ll keep your personal financials in order, giving you more time to focus on your business.
Lendio is a great tool for finding small business loans. It’s free, fast, and secure. Basically, you give some basic information, and we find you your best loan options. Great for small businesses who are tired of going from bank to bank.
The Small Business Administrations site, with tons of resources for small businesses. SBA Loans are also a low cost loan that if you can get it, is great for your business.
Running a small business can be tough, and we all could use some advice. Here’s a couple resources that will make you a better business owner.
A collective of small business owners asking questions and offering advice. If you have a problem with your business, there’s probably a solution here.
TED talks have taken the world by storm, and for good reason. These talks promote the best ideas out there today, and TED.com has them all available for free. Great place to get inspired.
If you’re a local business, you have to advertise to the locals. A lot of the time, this can get expensive. Lucky for you, I’ve compiled some free forms of advertising which should help you get those customers in the door.
Much to the chagrin of local newspapers everywhere, some guy named Craig created a service that essentially is a free online local classified. Use this to find customers and employees.
If you want people to be able to find you when they’re searching on Google, you have to sign up for this free service, and trust me, you want people to find you on Google, especially if you’re a local business.
Most people use this for restaurants, but essentially, this is a review site for any local business. Get your business on there, and make sure you ask your loyal customers for reviews.
Urbanspoon is like Yelp, but just for restaurants. This is another important one to be on if you’re a restaurant.
There’s a lot of planning and strategizing to do while running a business, but sometimes, you just need to get some things done. These products below help you get things done, whether it be creating a how to list for everything in your life, to working on that critical presentation.
Basically a free alternative to Microsoft Office. Bit of a hassle to set up, but it’s amazing once you do.
A free to use service that allows you to capture notes, pictures, and information and organize them into online notebooks. It’s extremely versatile, allowing you to use it however best fits you.
This is basically a how-to manual for combining David Allen’s Getting Things Done system and Evernote. I use this as my to-do list, and trust me, it’s a life changer.
An online storage solution, along with document and spreadsheet editing. I use this one all the time, it’s got some great collaboration tools.
Do you like flowcharts? This guy does. This is a freemium online software that lets you create flowcharts easy and fast.
Podcasts are great. They’re essentially radio talk shows that you can listen to whenever. I usually have one playing in my car as I drive, so I can be learning while driving.
If you want to listen to and subscribe to podcasts, you need a good app to do it. Stitcher is that app. What I like about Stitcher is you can listen to radio streams and podcasts. I highly recommend it.
Here’s four podcasts I listen to on the regular, all of them are extremely valuable resources for your business:
Entrepreneur Magazine’s Podcast
You’ve got files, and it can be frustrating to transfer them everywhere. That’s what the cloud is for, here’s 3 free choices.
Dropbox is a great way to share files between computers and devices. Just think about it as a folder that’s on all your devices, and all your devices can see whatever is dropped in there. 5gb for free.
Just like dropbox, but offers more storage for free. Just as easy to use.
Same as the above, offers cloud space.
We all need a break sometimes, here’s some great sites for relaxation.
Everybody needs something to listen to at work. Pandora let’s you create radio stations based on certain songs, letting you fine tune your listening experience. Also, if you have customers coming in, they have a subscription service where you get the licences to play songs in your commercial space.
I’m not condoning distraction or procrastination, but sometimes, you need to take your mind off your work. StumbleUpon is basically a Pandora for websites, you put your interests in, and then everytime you click stumble, it brings you to a site it thinks you’ll like. You can then vote on each site with a thumbs up or a thumbs down, fine tuning the StumbleUpon experience around your tastes.
I’m from Oregon, so I love the rain. It’s also been shown, that white noise similar to rain has a calming effect. This site is simply rain noises, with a window pane getting hit by the rain. Simple quick relaxation.
Alright, that’s the list. If you have anything else you think belongs on here, leave it below in the comments. And if you really liked it, feel free to share it and link to it from your site.
Lendio’s mission is to fuel your American Dream by making small business loans simple though options, speed, and trust.