Work & Purpose

The Best Free Stuff for Small Business Owners

Lower your costs dramatically by taking advantage of these free products and services

When you’re running a small business, the onslaught of expenses can seem endless. You have to spend money on equipment and website management and office supplies and insurance and on and on. But I’m happy to tell you that there are actually quite a few ways small business owners can get free products and services. Here are my favorites, in nine areas:
Business Consulting
Hiring a consultant for advice about marketing and managing your business can cost hundreds of dollars an hour. Then there’s SCORE an organization supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration. With more than 13,000 mentors in 364 chapters across the United States, SCORE’s experienced business pros share their expertise — free of charge — to help entrepreneurs shorten the learning curve and avoid mistakes.

Next Avenue has many practical articles from SCORE, such as "How to Get the Business Loan You Want," in the Work & Purpose area of our site.

For free advice on developing a business plan, you also might try your local SBA Small Business Development Center. And the website Bplans offers more than 500 free business plan templates online.
Web Design and Hosting
Banish steep fees for website design and monthly hosting with Google Sites, which lets you create a simple site using one of its predesigned templates, entirely free. Another alternative is Intuit, which offers a free site-building tool and free website hosting for a year. 
Market Research and Statistics
Get to know your customers and market opportunities better without shelling out big bucks for a specialized research firm. Economy.com's Free Lunch.com site provides free data on current consumer and labor markets, as well as five-year forecasts for 387 metropolitan areas. Biz Stats lets you see benchmarks such as average annual sales and financial ratios for a wide variety of industries.

If you want to conduct free polls to gather opinions from customers and prospects, try Survey Monkey.

Web Analytics
With Web analytics, you can find out who’s visiting your website, which search terms they used to find it, and where they spend time on the site once they get there. You can gather this kind of valuable information from the free version of Google Analytics, which presents the numbers in vivid charts and graphs.
Conference Calling
Don’t pay for another conference call when you can ring up one of these four free conferencing services: Freeconferencecall.com and GroupMe.com (a division of Skype), for mobile phones; Wiggio.com, for online virtual meetings; and Fring, for video chats on mobile phones and tablets.
Office Furniture
Instead of spending a bundle on fancy office furniture, check out Freecycle. This site lists giveaways from local people who are trying to get rid of items including office furniture. The Craigslist and Listia sites are also good places to search for desks, chairs and other office pieces. All three tend to be hit-or-miss, but the time you spend on them could pay off.
Need a distinctive logo for your business, but don’t have the cash to hire a designer? LogoMaker, LogoSnap, and AllFreeLogos can help you create professional logos at no cost.
Shipping Supplies
If your business involves shipping products, get a free Priority Mail shipping kit, complete with four boxes and an envelope, from the United States Postal Service.
Tax Help
Although Tax Day for your 2011 return has passed, it’s not too early to start thinking about your 2012 return. A CPA might charge you hundreds of dollars, but the Internal Revenue Service will give you free assistance for your return, if you qualify.

Its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program helps people who make less than $50,000, and its Tax Counseling for the Elderly program offers advice, particularly about pension and retirement issues, to taxpayers 60 or older.

Your Favorite Freebies

Do you have your own favorite small-business freebies? Let me know what they are by emailing me at [email protected]. Then I can share them in a future Next Avenue blog post. Thanks!

Gwen Moran
By Gwen Moran
Gwen Moran is a small business authority and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans. She has been running her own businesses since 1992 and was a national finalist in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards competition.@gwenmoran

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