One of the keys to being a successful consultant is information -- having it at your fingertips the moment you need it.
While some sources might come and go depending upon the projects I'm working on or the hot topics of the day, there are a few that I keep bookmarked and ready, because I seem to need them on a regular basis.
My top 11 suggestions for online resources that cater to the needs of consultants are listed below. This is just a starter list -- add your own suggestions in the comments below.
1. You're the Boss: Because small business owners oftentimes get very little formal training, The New York Times has started a blog where you can read about what's keeping entrepreneurs up at night. The topics covered on the blog enhance the lessons you are already learning on the job. A couple of my favorite posts include "Inside a Family Business: Maybe This Isn't the Best Place for Everyone" and "It's the Economy, Mr. Bernanke".
2. Workshifting: Even solopreneurs need a place to turn and the Workshifting blog focuses on independent workers. Their mantra is about making work more productive so people can work from anywhere - home, an airport or your local coffee shop. I enjoyed reading "The Great Debate: Coffee Shop vs. Home Office" and "The Nature of Remoteness."
3. CNN Travel: I don't know a consultant out there who doesn't travel, whether it's to client sites or conferences. And trends in travel can impact business. CNN Travel does a good job of reporting tips and information on everything from baggage fees and security screenings to situations that might impact your travel plans. You can even access their information on the go via Twitter.
4. LinkedIn: We've talked about using it for recruiting, but you can also use LinkedIn as a marketing tool. Be sure to regularly change your status update and share with your connections those projects you're working on. Also get out there, join some groups, and answer questions.
5. MarketingProfs: Every business, regardless of size, needs to market itself. MarketingProfs offers resources in the areas of email marketing, branding, SEO, lead generation, and so on. They offer a free membership as well as a pro level with enhanced benefits. I find their data very useful. For some examples, take a look at "Consumers Want Print Magazines, but Also Relevance" and "Average Value of Facebook Fan $136.38."
6. Help a Reporter Out (HARO): Let's face it… we all want free PR. But we can't all afford a public relations firm. HARO connects reporters with sources. Sign up to get their regular queries - it's not only good from a response perspective, but it gives you some sense of what writers are researching and the hot topics. You can also follow HARO on Twitter for fast breaking stories that need experts.
7. USA.gov: The official website of the U.S. Government provides tons of resources for the self-employed. If you need information about starting a business, being self-employed, small business loans, or government contracts, it's all on the USA.gov site. You can also follow them on Twitter for regular updates.
8. IRS: Speaking of government, the Internal Revenue Service is another site with a seemingly endless amount of information. You can apply for your Employer Identification Number (EIN), download required tax forms, and check on the latest mileage rate. The IRS also has a Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center that includes news, events and videos to help you with your tax-related questions.
9. LegalZoom.com: Sometimes there are situations where you need an attorney, but for those times when you just need a form, this is a great option. There are other online legal document companies as well that offer trademark documentation, partnership agreements, and other business services. Of course, I don't need to remind everyone that you have to do your homework about when and how to use a site like this.
10. Evernote: Consultants are always working on multiple things - on one hand you're working with a client project and in the other you're running your business. Evernote is a web-based application that allows you to save your ideas and inspiration. You can record a message, write a note, clip an article or take a picture. I really like their blog because it profiles people and companies using Evernote. I've discovered many ways to make my work life easier. It integrates with the iPhone and Android, allowing you to capture your best thoughts on the go.
11. Google Docs: Speaking of ways to make life easier, Google docs and Wave are great collaborative tools as well. And Microsoft is offering free online storage and document sharing via Office Live.
As you can see, there is no shortage of places for consultants and the self-employed to get tips, tricks and resources that help with the everyday running of a business. What websites are on your "go-to" list? Tell us in the comments.
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