Running a small business of your own can be infinitely rewarding, from providing goods and services to friends, neighbors, and your local community – to being your own boss and realizing a lifelong entrepreneurial dream. Yet, as fulfilling as ownership may be, it may also seem daunting to upskill staff, shell out for unexpected expenses, and meet customers’ evolving needs, all while staying one step ahead of the competition.
Luckily, solopreneurs and growing operations can access plenty of free and affordable tools – if you know where to look and how to take advantage of them. Here are some of the most indispensable resources for small businesses, just a click away.
Resources for Starting a Small Business – and Growing It
If you’re in the planning stage of launching your business, countless government agencies and task-specific sites can help lay the groundwork, simplify the process, and teach you the nuts and bolts of your chosen specialty. They may also prove invaluable as you gain your footing and blossom into a thriving, independent venture. To name a few:
- The U.S. Census Bureau provides valuable details about a community’s demographics, which takes the guesswork out of whether a certain location is right for your brick-and-mortar startup.
- The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics has insights about the economy, inflation, wages, and employment projections, plus handy publications to keep up to date on labor trends.
- The IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center answers queries on topics like choosing a business structure, hiring, filing and paying taxes, and recordkeeping requirements. The site also offers myriad webinars, workshops, and other web-based learning programs that can boost your business knowledge.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a rich resource for new and seasoned small-business owners seeking financial or operational support. For example, the SBA offers free and low-cost local business counseling, pointers for applying for SBA-guaranteed business loans and disaster loans, instructions for contracting with the U.S. government, and more. Guidance includes how to write a business plan, establishing business credit, applying for licenses, managing staff, and growing your business. The SBA also features video courses designed for women entrepreneurs and military members transitioning to business.
- SCORE, or the Service Corps of Retired Executives, is a network of business mentors with years of expertise under their belts. In addition to helping you find a local business mentor, the association can help you start or grow your business with low or no-cost webinars, on-demand courses, and local workshops.
Tools and apps that you use in your everyday life can prove powerful in a business setting, especially those that help customers discover your company.
Local Networking Resources and Online Courses for Small Businesses
With so many hats to wear and details to keep track of, it’s easy to keep yourself siloed from other entrepreneurs. But if you want to uncover new opportunities, forge fruitful business relationships, and thrive as a member of your local community, it’s important to network and keep expanding your horizons. These sites may give you the push you need, not to mention moral support.
- Online resources like Meetup make networking a cinch with groups dedicated to special interests and gatherings scheduled in your home base area. You can even create your own events to help promote, grow, and scale your business – not only to advertise your offerings to prospective customers but to make industry connections.
- LinkedIn for Small Business lets you create a page to showcase your business, promote your brand, and find clients. You can also interact with professional networks through specific LinkedIn Groups and connect with other businesses and potential customers via livestream videos and virtual events.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business organization powerhouse with members including small businesses and chambers of commerce, has thousands of local chapters nationwide, providing opportunities to network with your community in person. You can also glean expertise from business leaders and government officials via its virtual platform, or soak up business best practices from articles contributed by industry leaders and knowledgeable small-business owners.
- “Massive Open Online Courses,” or MOOCs, are public educational courses with free video content. Subjects range from accounting, finance, business management, and entrepreneurship to computer programming, marketing, creative arts, and beyond – making them a great resource for any small business. MOOCs are offered by platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, edX, and Canvas Network, some of which partner with prestigious universities, such as Stanford and Harvard. While the courses are free (and may provide networking opportunities), certifications generally require a fee.
Maximizing Maps, Mail, and Social Sites for Small Businesses
Tools and apps that you use in your everyday life can prove powerful in a business setting, especially those that help customers discover your company. Map services, for example, are a fundamental resource for any brick-and-mortar small business; if you’re not on the map, you may as well be off the grid. The right business email account can also be an asset.
- A Google Business Profile allows you to add your small business to Google Search and Google Maps. The free service allows you to edit details like your location, phone number, and operating hours. You can also upload images to show off your storefront or service area, menus or merchandise, and thanks to features like Near Me and the AI-based Live View, customers can pinpoint exactly where you are in relation to other businesses in the neighborhood. A Google Business Profile can also give your business a leg up in SEO ranking.
- Similarly, Apple Business Register’s Places on Maps allows you to register and “claim” any business with a physical presence in over 1,600 business categories, from restaurants to repair shops, for free. The service lets you update key business info, such as your phone number, address, website, and business hours, which can be viewed and accessed by customers using Apple products.
- Yelp for Business is more than restaurant reviews. For local businesses, it’s yet another vehicle for discovery, allowing you to update your business details, interact with customer messages and reviews, and provide photos of your operation. Local companies can also use Yelp to showcase their work, communicate with potential customers, and respond to job requests.
- A Google Workspace account is also advantageous because it allows you to set up a professional business email address – a surefire way to help build trust with customers. The paid service has several plans to choose from and features a variety of tools to help streamline operations and securely collaborate with employees, including Google Drive, Docs, Meet, and Calendar.
Whether you’re creating your business plan, filing for permits prelaunch, or applying for a business loan to expand your services, it can be challenging – and costly – to run your own show. That’s why it’s wise to take advantage of the many small-business resources available to local companies. From government agencies that provide essential intel on area demographics, to maps and online courses, to social platforms that connect you to your customers, these resources support your ability to flourish as an entrepreneur.
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