Occasionally, small businesses believe they don’t have access to the same types of business resources larger, more corporate organizations have. Although that may be true for certain premium products, there are a plethora of small business resources available to entrepreneurs at any level.
In this post, we’ll share some of the best resources for small business owners, from free local mentors and expertise to the best creative tools your business can use to garner the attention you’re seeking.
General Resources for Small Businesses
Some small business tools and resources are either too big to fit into one category or so malleable that it’s up to each business owner how they best fit into their plans. The following resources and tools are exactly that—so good that we can’t pigeonhole them into a single vertical. So we made one just for them.
Your Local Chamber of Commerce
Though they serve many purposes, chambers of commerce only have one goal—to help local businesses grow. Being involved with a chamber of commerce means that you are connected to some of the most active entrepreneurs in your community, some who, most likely, have been doing business in the area for decades.
Getting together with your peers through the chamber of commerce allows you to get a sense of what they perceive to be the biggest threats and opportunities in the community and how they plan to respond, accordingly. This type of on-the-ground insight is invaluable and can certainly bring tremendous value to your business. You can find your local chamber here.
While your local chamber of commerce can connect you to business owners who have successfully operated in your area for decades, SCORE can pair you with a mentor who’s best suited for your organization’s needs. With over 300 chapters across the country, SCORE (which initially stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives in its founding in 1964) provides a full range of counseling services and workshops operated by volunteers with significant experience and expertise in a variety of disciplines.
The Small Business Administration might best be known for the SBA loans they guarantee, but their contributions to American small business owners certainly go much further than that. The SBA’s website is full of tools and resources that can help entrepreneurs establish their business plan, register its doing business as name and even learn how to expand your business. Beyond the business basics, you can find information on the best ways to protect your company from cybersecurity threats and where to find local business development centers.
Business Startup Planner
While each of the three resources we’ve shared can provide tons of value to any business, if you’re just beginning your organization’s journey, having a worksheet like the Business Startup Planner from Navarro College can be quite useful. This worksheet keeps every question you’re bound to be asked about your prospective business all in one place. If some of the questions challenge you, that’s a good thing – they’re areas you need to focus on and perhaps come back to once you’ve given it the time it deserves.
Much like your local chamber of commerce, becoming involved as an active member of an industry association can help you advance your business forward. The advantage of connecting with peers in your sector is that you’re able to learn about how they’re adapting to certain industry trends and even plan future collaborations.
Going back to school can be a good thing, though that doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for classes. Just as we’ve learned with the resources above, it’s likely that your local community college offers resources for small business owners. Even though you’re likely not a student of theirs, feel free to ask a business professor about questions you may have, regardless of category. Professors are often happy to help and can even use the real world situations you pose to them as case studies in their curriculum.
Marketing Resources for Small Businesses
Promoting a business requires a good deal of time and attention. To make sure that you’re maximizing the time you are devoting to your marketing and advertising initiatives, we’ve gathered a list of resources that can help you to create, measure and distribute your business’s messaging.
As business becomes more and more digital, being able to track how effective your website is in supporting your business strategy requires a specialized tracking tool. To solve this need, Google launched Google Analytics in 2005 to help small businesses collect and quantify their data. It’s now one of the most commonly used website tools in the world and is free to install on any website.
While scheduling and monitoring social media posts is a full-time job in some businesses, it’s likely that social media is only a portion of your (or an employee’s) time. Using a tool like Buffer allows small businesses to schedule all of their posts for the day, week or even month across Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram. Buffer’s plans are quite affordable, as well, with the highest plan at $199/month and starter plans beginning at absolutely nothing.
Canva is one of the best design tools non-designers could ever know about. With tens of thousands of templates, fonts and images preloaded into this browser-based tool, small business owners can create striking, well-composed graphics that are perfect for email templates, Instagram posts or event flyers. The possibilities are infinite on this platform and even premium features only cost one dollar. This is definitely a site to bookmark.
Although Canva is a lifesaver for owners without artistic training, it doesn’t have the same augmentation capabilities as Photoshop. While Photoshop is unparalleled, it is an expensive program. Pixlr is a browser-based tool that offers nearly every Photoshop feature that a business could want, including the ability to isolate, recolor and blend. It’s an excellent solution for one-off projects without adding additional costs to your business.
How often do you find yourself asking, “What do our customers really want?”, or, “How do they feel about this?” Instead of continuing to wonder, SurveyMonkey allows you to ask your customers directly with easy-to-use surveys that give customers a private voice and help you get the information you’re after.
Email marketing is one of the simplest and most effective marketing channels any business can leverage. Some mail systems might make sending emails more difficult than they need to be, but tools like MailChimp are small business-centric and provide resources beyond their core products. Their basic email plan is free with their Pro package starting at $199/month.
Modern businesses, no matter their size, have a ton of data at their disposal. Managing and using this data can be a challenge for some, though it’s much easier to utilize through a customer relationship management platform, better known as a CRM. Hubspot is one of the world’s best when it comes to helping small businesses organize their data to make smarter decisions. Their systems are available for free but, naturally, don’t provide as much as the Starter package for $50/month.
Human Resources for Small Businesses
People are the most important asset any business has. From the business owner to the most junior employee or subcontractor, no one can run their business alone—even a sole proprietor likely isn’t a one-man-band. While people are essential to running your business, there are things owners need to keep everything straight about their personnel.
Keeping employee data safe and requests organized can be quite a task for entrepreneurs. Fortunately, BambooHR is a tool that keeps both the business and employees in the know. The platform allows everyone to remain up to date on company onboarding materials, benefits, time off-requests and even payroll. Another major plus BambooHR offers is a mobile app which allows administrators and employees to check in on whatever information is most important to them.
Trying to find the right person for a job in your business can be strenuous, considering the number of applications you may receive for a given position. ZipRecruiter helps businesses sift through resumes and applicants to find the candidate that best fits your needs. With more than 500 million applicants, job seekers look to ZipRecruiter for the latest postings, meaning that your efforts will be directed on the best site for hiring.
Everyone wants to get paid on time and in the right amount. Depending on how you operate your business, tracking payroll can be a job in and of itself. Tools like Gusto simplify the payroll process, making life easier for entrepreneurs to add employees and contractors to their team.
Red e App
For businesses that are spread out across a region or in different locations without a centralized email system with employees working away from a desk, Red e App is a service that enables uniform communications through a mobile application. This is a great solution for franchises, part-time employees and other businesses operating primarily in the field.
Recapping the Best Small Business Tools and Resources
As we’ve seen, there are a slew of tools and resources available at any entrepreneur’s disposal. Whether you own the corner shop on Main Street or you run an Etsy shop out of your home, there are plenty of options available, no matter what you need.
Beyond the 17 resources and tools we’ve shared above, there are hundreds of others we haven’t listed. As business evolves and needs change, we’ll be sure to update this list to reflect the best of the best. Have any suggestions that could help fellow business owners? Let us know by tweeting @FastCapital360 and adding your recommendations.