From Legal to Marketing: Free Resources for Startups

Use these essential—and mostly free–resources to launch and grow your business.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
March 18, 2013

When it comes to startups, it seems that tech companies get all the love—and support. But startups not in the tech sector don't have to feel left out. Here's a list of the best possible resources to help non-tech startups launch and grow their businesses.

Office Space and Mailing Address Resources

I don’t know about you, but it freaks me out to use my home address as my business address. Did you know that through a simple public records search, anyone can pull up your Articles of Organization and find the address you used? If you run a home-based business, there are two keys resources you can use to keep your home address out of view: coworking spaces and mailbox services. Do this before you file your business formation paperwork in your state. If you need to update your address to a non-home address, just file an amendment or change of address.

  • Do a Web search for “mailbox services [your city]” or “mailbox services [your zip code].”
  • Research the coworking spaces in your city and see which ones offer mail services. Some will have a nominal, additional fee.

Legal Resources

Every business, no matter what it is, needs some legal advice. Services in your community will range from free to a few hundred dollars. Whatever you end up spending, it’s worth it to make sure you’re protecting your personal assets, your business assets and your customers' best interests. Documents you should have a legal professional draft and review are contracts, independent contractor agreements, noncompete agreements and any other documents you'll need to share with customers who hire you.

  • Check out the local law schools in your area to see if they have public legal clinics. A fully licensed attorney will always supervise the students, and costs at such clinics range from free to low cost.
  • Save costs by starting with publicly available templates. However, never rely on these fully without having an attorney in your state ensure that they comply with local laws.

RELATED: 10 Things to Do Before You Form a Partnership

Funding Resources

There are numerous ways for non-tech startups to find the cash they need to get off the ground. The Small Business Association is the nationwide go-to for small-business loans. It’s a rigorous application process, so be prepared for a wait. If you go the SBA route, see if your local bank has an in-house SBA specialist. If not, contact your local Chamber of Commerce for recommendations.

If you’re looking for something outside of an SBA loan, you might want to try alternative funding sources. Lendio is a powerful online tool that helps you choose the best loan for your business. You might also want to check out LendingClub. They offer personal loans for business funded by private investors.

Some general tips when it comes to borrowing money: 

  • Be sure to understand the loan terms. Read everything, and remember, you’re never desperate enough to take terms that make loan sharks look like nice folks.
  • Information is key. The more information you can provide, from business plans to existing investors and bank balances, the better your chance is for obtaining loans at favorable rates.
  • SBA specialists can be helpful, as they know what makes for more successful applications. Don’t be afraid to ask for help that will boost your application’s chances of being approved.

Internet Marketing Resources

Even non-tech businesses need a Web presence, and it’s not uncommon to look at the world of online marketing and think, “I have no idea where to begin.” Don’t fret—there are multiple sites out there with powerful (and free) resources designed to help you get up to speed on Internet marketing techniques. Some of these sites have paid courses as well. But free or paid, they’re all designed to get your business off the ground and have your marketing messages heard by the people who matter most.

ThinkTraffic: Download this Free Traffic Toolkit. You won’t regret it. It’s a multiple-video collection with an e-book designed to launch your online marketing in the right direction. If your company wants to start blogging and you don’t know where to begin, check out the Building a Blog That Matters course. It costs $100 and can help get your blogging efforts pointed in the right direction—and fast.

Copyblogger: If you subscribe to one blog that will boost your online marketing savvy, make it this one. For nearly seven years, the team here has created a treasure trove of resources for non-tech startups and small-business owners. Be sure to check out their free resources for content marketing, email marketing and Internet marketing.

HubSpot: Visit this online marketing resource library. It’s full of free downloads for webinars, whitepapers, presentations and reports—and it’ll only cost you an email address. I could list everything I love here, but give it a click on your own for a bucket load of free, downloadable resources. It has new content that comes out almost weekly, and it’ll email you updates so you can be the first to know.

Marketo: This company gets how to connect companies with customers through online and marketing. Some resources you don’t want to miss from their free library of tools for marketers and business owners: Social Media Tactical Plan, Creating Content that Sells, and a great collection of online marketing “cheat sheets.”

Community Resources

You’re a locally owned small business. Shouldn’t that be a point of pride instead of a business challenge? Here are six ideas to help launch and grow your business right in your own backyard.

Entrepreneurial Groups: Does your community have a Startup Weekend or Startup Week? Get in there! Meetup.com is also a powerful place to find groups of small-business owners and entrepreneurs that you can collaborate with and learn from.

Business Schools: If you live in an area with universities, odds are, they have a business school. Be sure to check out if they have public events. They’re always great places to gain insight and connect with other business people in your community.

Business Owner Groups: Many cities and towns have groups ranging from chambers of commerce to local merchant groups. If you have these resources, get involved. There’s no better way to grow your business than to support other already successful businesses. And if there isn’t one of these organizations in your area, why not be the person who starts one?

RELATED: The Power of Small-Town Branding

Sponsorships:
While money can be tight as you’re getting off the ground, you should always keep an eye out for sponsorship opportunities. Reach out to coworking spaces in your area. Many are developing killer events to benefit the business community. Check out local chapters of industry-related organizations too. Sponsorships don’t always have to be cash. Maybe you can make your services available to event participants at no charge during the event in exchange for the marketing exposure.

Hire Local: Need a website, photography, copywriting, video production or a publicity team? Explore hiring local. Why? Because when the people you hire talk to people they know about who you are and what you do, it’s pretty cool to have them say, “Well, they’re here in town. I’d love to introduce you!”

Get Out of the House: Small-business owners and startups need humans. It’s cool if you want to run your business from home, but explore in-public work environments like coworking spaces and local coffee shops. They both have coffee, WiFi and people from the community you can connect with. You can’t build anything awesome in a vacuum. Coworking spaces are especially great for creating relationships with people who are interested in building a business—just like you are.

For more tips on growing a business, check out these Business Growth articles.

Photos: Thinkstock