Starting and running a small business is not for the faint of heart. It requires long hours, lots of determination, and above all, passion. And things that can be difficult even during the best of times have been magnified exponentially during COVID-19. Businesses are forced to deal with a whole new set of challenges in a pandemic world.
As a small company that has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, FirstLantic has experienced the ups and downs firsthand. From that sense of accomplishment when your business succeeds to the pressure of growing and evolving, we can relate. We also realize how crucial it is for small businesses to access available resources. The problem is that many smaller enterprises don’t know where to begin. That’s why FirstLantic has put together this comprehensive list to get you started. We have you covered with everything from how to find legal documents to creative ways to secure financing. Many of these programs are free of charge, and others are priced moderately to make them accessible to smaller enterprises.
- Business Advice for Entrepreneurs
Sometimes you need expert advice, and other times, you may only need reassurance that you’re on the right path. The list below includes useful informational resources. Of course, there’s only so much time in the day when you’re an entrepreneur. So, pick a few that you find to be the most helpful and set aside 30 minutes a day to catch up on all things small business.
- Home Business Magazine: Online magazine with resourceful articles, podcasts, business spotlights, and guides
- My Own Business Institute: Programs, certifications, and course for the home-based business entrepreneur from Santa Clara University
- Power Home Biz: Website filled with resources, tools, tips, and advice for home business entrepreneurs
- Entrepreneur: Online and print magazine with insights from entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial experts around the world
- Fast Company: Online and print magazine focused on innovation in technology, leadership, creativity, and design
- : The “most trusted name in entrepreneurial journalism” guiding founders, innovators, and influencers to propel their businesses forward – online and print magazine
- Small Business Trends: Online and print magazine covering all aspects of small business ownership
- com: Online magazine that provides advice on best business practices, inspiration, and motivation
- TradePub: Find publications for your specific industry
- YFS Magazine: Online magazine providing insights, analysis, and opinions from global, high-performing entrepreneurs
- Legal Support
Once you reach a specific size, your business will most likely require assistance from a lawyer, but you can find some helpful free tools in the early stages. That said, don’t skimp on customized legal advice if you need it. It could save you time and money in the long run and help you avoid dealing with copycats, lawsuits, contract disputes, etc.
- Docracy is a free resource full of sample contracts and other legal document templates. While you will probably want to hire an attorney to review everything, it is the right starting place.
- Find Law: Search forms by category and access combo packages.
- com: Incorporate your business online and learn about your incorporation options
- LegalZoom: Legal advice, business services, trademarks & I.P.
- No: Connect with attorneys, find research with their legal encyclopedia, and download helpful software and resources.
- RocketLawyer: Search for documents and business legal advice and get advice from attorneys
- S. Legal Forms: Search forms by category to find what you need
- Email Tools
One of the most important things you can do as a business owner is to stay in touch with your customers and regularly reach out to prospects. The key is finding the right balance of both frequency and useful content. However, to reach them as efficiently as possible, you will probably need an email system, and there are free ones, depending on the size of your contact lists.
- Mailchimp has terrific free options for small businesses, letting you send up to 12,000 emails messages to 2,000 subscribers for free.
- HubSpot recently launched a free email marketing tool that can support small businesses’ transactional email needs, and it integrates with other HubSpot tools, such as the free-forever CRM.
- Sender lets you create well-designed newsletters without any HTML knowledge.
- Sendinblue is a communication platform that features email marketing tools and additional functions such as customer relationship management and landing page creation.
- Omnisend is an eCommerce marketing platform that integrates all your communication platforms in one place. Its free plan includes only email, but it’s more than enough to support small and medium businesses‘ email marketing efforts.
4. Federal and State Government Resources
Some of the best tools available for small businesses can be found on Federal and local government websites.
- US Small Business Administration (SBA) has tips, articles, studies, and even granting opportunities. The agency’s business plan worksheets are fantastic for those just starting up or those seeking another round of funding.
- Along with the SBA, your state government likely has many free resources for small business owners. Each state has a small business development center, sort of like a miniature SBA. The SBA has links to these agencies in every state.
- Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) is a database of federal government contracting opportunities.
- IRS Small Business Portal: Answers to small business tax questions, plus access to forms and publications, a video library, an event calendar, and other online tools and products
- Small Business Resource Directory provides easy access to information on programs that can provide financial assistance to small businesses and capital access and technical assistance sources for small and minority-owned firms.
- Covid-19 and Small Business – find financial resources available during COVID-19 and various regulations in effect by state.
- Women and Minority Associations and Small Business Websites
Associations advocate for small businesses, with many catering to minority or women-owned businesses or specific industries.
- Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA): Supports businesses in minority communities by providing grant and loan information, business opportunities, and business certification resources
- National Association for the Self-Employed: Nonprofit membership association representing the small business community in Washington, DC
- National Business Association: Nonprofit association that assists the self-employed and small business community in achieving their professional goals.
- National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB): Nonprofit association representing small and independent businesses
- National Women’s Business Council (NWBC): Provides independent advice and policy recommendations to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues important to female business owners.
- AllBusiness: Access resources, list your company in their small business directory
- Noobpreneur: “Helping small business owners grow their business by tapping into the small business trends and industry insights shared by fellow small business owners, experts, and professionals.”
- SmallBizDaily: “Ideas, Insights, Information, and Inspiration for Entrepreneurs”
- Small Biz Survival: “The small town and rural business resource.”
- Small Business Bonfire: “Social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs.”
- Small Business Today: “Your guide to ‘Big’ Business Achievement.”
- Smart Hustle: “Events and content to educate business owners on how to grow their businesses!”
- Startup Nation: “Everything you need to build your business.”
- The Self Employed: “Your Gig Just Got Easier.”
- Venturebeat: “Tech news that matters.”
- Women on business: “Award-winning online destination for the news and information women need to be successful in the business world.”
- Online Courses
It may seem crazy to suggest that a small business owner has enough hours in the day to take a course. However, it’s crucial to learn new business skills, whether effectively negotiating contracts, raising capital, or the latest marketing techniques.
- ALISON includes courses on everything from brushing up on I.T. skills or immersing yourself in the newest sales techniques.
- MIT Open Courseware helps you learn things like finance and managerial
- Coursera, Udacity, and edX offer thousands of business courses consisting of videos, lectures, and worksheets. Because of the digital classrooms’ online community aspect, you may also find yourself networking with other entrepreneurs worldwide.
- Linda.com every online course includes free video tutorials. However, membership gives you unlimited access to the subscription library as well as other benefits.
- Hubspot Academy provides free online sales and marketing courses, such as lead generation techniques, content marketing, and how to utilize other digital advertising mediums.
- Virtual Networking
Many small businesses get a good portion of their new customers through referrals or word of mouth, so ongoing networking is crucial. You never know when a new person may end up being your best customer or recommend you for an opportunity. With COVID-19, in-person events have pretty much stopped, but there are plenty of virtual ways to make contacts.
- Meetup–there is likely a whole group dedicated to entrepreneurship in your city. You can even set up your gatherings through their platform.
- Eventbrite has a wide variety of online events that you can attend.
- Facebook and Linkedin Groups – by joining groups of other like-minded professionals, you will get an opportunity to showcase your expertise as well as learn about new trends and opportunities.
- Trade shows – almost every industry has moved in-person tradeshows to a virtual format for the time being. That said, there are best practices specific to making online event works for you. Exhibitor online provides some best practices.
Many nonprofits offer online resources, but you can also connect with other business owners, some of whom act as mentors. Since they have already been through many of the issues you will face, they can act as a sounding board and give you the benefit of their first-hand knowledge.
- SCORE has many resources for small businesses across the country, from online workshops and podcasts to free mentorship opportunities.
- Local colleges can be an excellent source for finding entry-level job applicants, a conduit to finding interns, or a place to send workers to get training cost-effectively.
- Chamber of Commerce – while a fee may be involved for your local chamber, there is no better way to connect with other local business owners and get the benefit of their insight. You can also get free resources through their national website.
Unless you have the luxury of having your startup capital, you may need the help of a lender. Of course, you can go to a traditional bank, but there are other ways that you can get funds for your business as well.
- Crowdfunding: Many excellent crowdfunding sites have become very popular with inventors, entrepreneurs, and the general public in the past two years. Kickstarter is probably the most recognizable, but Indiegogo is gaining popularity, and RocketHub, Fundable, and Fundly.
- Angel investors usually invest in smaller enterprises and provide less capital than a venture capitalist. That said, they are always looking out for the next investment opportunity but will usually expect to take an equity stake in the company.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) The U.S. government has a vested interest in the small business sector’s continued growth and success. As a result, SBA offers many different types of loans to help entrepreneurs get started. If you are a nonprofit or educational institution, you should explore small business grants.
- The SBA’s microloans offer loans up to $50,000 to help small businesses and individual not-for-profit childcare centers start-up and expand. The average microloan is about $13,000. They usually are granted to individuals who would not typically qualify for a traditional bank loan.
So, while being an entrepreneur is by no means easy, you don’t have to go it alone. There are many sources for advice, free tools, and ideas for creative financing. And our country depends on them, with the number of small businesses reaching almost 32 million in 2020. Even with the unparalleled challenges they face during COVID-19, many will survive and will come out stronger as a result.