Small business owners and entrepreneurs love to save money, but at some point we’ve all learned the hard way that “you get what you pay for." In a marketing-era where "free" offerings are the cornerstone of lead generation, we’ve also become wary of watered-down products that don’t add value unless we sign up for the paid version. In fact, free stuff can consume way too much time and even end up costing money.
But there are, indeed, good free resources. Here is a list of 10 resources and tools you'd be crazy not to use (in addition, of course, to OPENForum.com). For each, the free version is actually a good, productive, legitimate product or freely shared trove of valuable content for everyone to consume.
This powerful product ends the challenge of storing and syncing files and documents on different devices and computers. And, with the ability to share all of your important stuff with others, Dropbox is a cloud-based productivity tool that entrepreneurs love. The free offering comes with 2GB of space, with paid plans for a fee.
2. Google Apps
If you have a business, your e-mail address needs to end with @YOURDOMAIN.com. Using Gmail, yahoo, or other services can look unprofessional and hurt your credibility. Google Apps solves all of that for free (for up to 10 users), plus you will have access to familiar Google tools and applications and lots more from third-party developers to help you run your business from anywhere.
Several weeks ago I was the guest on a Tweetchat, an interview and interactive session conducted entirely on Twitter. This weekly show, known as #SmallBizChat, covers a variety of topics relevant to entrepreneurs every Wednesday night from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST. There is no paid version or subscription.
4. SCORE templates and tools
A nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and helping entrepreneurs with over 13,000 volunteers and 370 offices around the U.S., SCORE also has a section on its website with free templates and tools. This trove includes business plan forms, financial templates, contract samples/templates and more. You can even ask a question to a local, volunteer mentor right through the website.
5. Google Analytics
In a business environment that mandates a presence on the Web, Google Analytics helps you maximize your online efforts. This robust reporting tool can tell you almost everything you need to know about the visitors to your website, the content they consume and the efficacy of your digital programs.
6. Market research by Manta.com
If you sell to other businesses, Manta has information on over 24 million businesses in the U.S., which you can access for free. You can sort by social networking handles, revenues, start date, number of employees, geography and more. If you need to define the size of your market, this is the place to go…and you can get what you need without a paid subscription.
7. HR tools by Insperity
If you have employees, then you need to be thinking about HR from a compliance and a strategic perspective, all with a focus on maximizing your return on the cost of recruiting, training, managing and retaining employees. HR Tools by Insperity includes articles, tools, forms, checklists and so much more, covering every human resources topic imaginable. If you’re thinking about hiring a new employee, or doing performance reviews, or you want to know how to manage employees who telecommute, they have everything you’ll need to navigate the challenges associated with being an employer.
I am still surprised by how many people do not have a LinkedIn profile. If you want to be taken seriously in your business, you need to set one up. As you make connections, your network will help you find employees and business opportunities. And there is plenty of content on the Web to teach you how to maximize your efforts. The free version is likely all you’ll ever need.
You can access your desktop any time you need with the robust, free version of this remote desktop management tool. Perhaps the best thing about LogMeIn.com is the ability to quickly log in and use software on your desktop from anywhere, regardless of whether or not the device you are on has the same software.
A cloud-based task management system, Producteev is a great tool for keeping your inbox clean and your tasks organized based on a user-friendly workspace and tagging system. I’ve been especially pleased with how this product integrates with Google Apps.