13 Free Resources to Make Running or Starting a Business Easier
The best things in life are free. Sunshine warming your skin. Midafternoon naps. Testing your dream of a career in woodworking at a community workshop that offers free equipment to tinker with.
Especially that last one. Who knows? Maybe you’re not cut out for woodworking, and it’s best to find out before you quit your job and buy all that gear.
Starting a business is expensive enough. But fret not, o brave entrepreneurs. Herein are business resources that won’t cost you a dime.
13 Small Business Resources That Are Completely Free
From subreddits to small business grants, you can turn to these resources at any stage in the life of your business.
Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi founded AngelList in 2010 as a way for businesses, investors and jobseekers to come together in one place. Over the years, the website has blossomed into a community that offers a load of resources — for small business owners especially.
For example, business owners can make free job listings targeted specifically to applicants who want to work in a startup culture. Also free? Crowdsourcing seed money from accredited angel investors. The site also posts helpful tidbits tailored to investors and entrepreneurs on its blog.
2. Department of Labor
The Department of Labor’s website can be a useful source of knowledge if you know where to look. It provides a 10,000-foot view of hiring regulations, industry updates and news in one place. It can be a lot to take in.
One way to cut through the noise is by subscribing to the DOL newsletter. Once you input your email address, you can select exactly what information you want delivered directly to your inbox.
3. Friends and Family
Whether you like it or not, your friends and family are a part of your foray into entrepreneurship.
Kathyrn Gratton is the former president of the Hagerstown, Maryland, chapter of Score, a national small-business resource network. She says having a brutally honest support system can help, especially if you’re still in the early stages of development and need advice.
“We all have that friend that will tell you you’ve gotten fat,” she says. “They are the best to run things by. You know they will tell you the truth.”
You may have heard of Google. You may have even used it to find this article. But there’s a lot more to it than the search engine. Here’s a primer on the many ways it can help your business.
Google Analytics helps you gain insights about traffic to your website. Use it to track how people are interacting with your site — where they came from, what pages they checked and how long they stuck around. If you’re putting any money into marketing efforts, Google Analytics can show if your investment is paying off.
G Suite includes Gmail, of course, but also other helpful apps like Drive, Docs, Calendar and Hangouts that are essential for online meetings, word processing and file storage.
Google My Business allows you to better connect with customers and manage how your business appears on Google searches and Google Maps. Use it to post and update location, operating hours, contact information and prices, as well as to share photos and respond to customer reviews.
Google Voice is an internet-based phone service provider. The phone number you choose can be synced to your cell phone and accessed from your computer. This service is especially useful if you want to route business calls to your cell phone without giving out your personal number.
5. Government Statistics
Before putting any money into market research — an essential step in starting a business — you can use government statistics to answer initial questions about the viability of your business idea. The government reports on several factors about U.S. consumers such as credit, demographics, income, location, spending habits and much more.
The Census Bureau tracks everything from general economic trends to characteristics of small business owners based on location. The Bureau of Labor Statistics drills down deep into wages, inflation, workforce trends and educational attainment. It even tracks how Americans spend their free time through the American Time Use Survey (ATUS).
Private and public organizations are both common sources of grant money — the ultimate business resource — and the beautiful thing about the cash is that it’s not coming from some lender who wants interest or an investor who wants control.
Startups are often eligible without the need for revenue statements and financial projections like most loans require. Sometimes, grants are awarded to people for simply trying to start a certain business.
The Penny Hoarder’s guide to grants for businesswomen lays out five sources of grant money for women, from $1,000 to $25,000.
The government aggregates available grant opportunities at Grants.gov. In addition to a searchable database for grants, the website includes tips and tricks about grant writing to increase your chances of funding.
Public libraries are no longer just places of dusty tomes and Dewey Decimal.
Need a lawn mower? Check it out at the library. A 360-degree video camera? Library. Fishing pole? Library.
Thanks to expanded intra-library loans, most public libraries offer a host of unexpected things — including yard tools, electronics and musical instruments. If your local library doesn’t have a specific item, they can request it from another one.
This system offers access to expensive equipment, which can help launch side gigs or businesses. All at the swipe of a library card.
A makerspace is a community workshop where you can make things. Hand-crafted things. Digital things. 3D-printed things.
The concept is simple: Walk into a local makerspace, which could have high-tech gadgets, computers with audio and video-editing software or machinery like table saws and sanders.
You can use the equipment on your own time — typically with some guidance from trained staff — or join a group workshop.
In this sense, makerspaces provide a crucial method to test the waters of a moneymaking project without having to shell out hundreds of dollars for machinery or tools.
Our guide to makerspaces walks you through everything else you need to know to start making.
We’re deep in the Golden Era of podcasts. Many function as valuable business resources and they’re the perfect match for the entrepreneurial-minded because they can play in the background of just about any task.
Here are a few suited for the suits.
Building a StoryBrand
New businesses often struggle in connecting with their customers. With Building a StoryBrand, author and podcast host Donald Miller helps businesses overcome that issue by sharing marketing techniques to keep your message succinct.
How I Built This
Hosted by Guy Raz and provided by NPR, How I Built This is an award-winning podcast that’s built on a simple premise: interview the most successful business owners and entrepreneurs of the day and dive into exactly how they achieved success. New episodes every Monday.
An independent podcast hosted by Andrew Warner, it focuses on emerging entrepreneurs who are in the thick of things. Each episode of Mixergy illustrates an issue that plagues most businesses and offers a solution to help weather the storm.
An aptly named weekly podcast that documents new businesses, it’s hosted by Gimlet Media’s CEO Alex Blumberg. StartUp has won several awards and even spawned a spinoff sitcom on ABC called “Alex, Inc.”
Side Hustle School
This podcast is all about breaking out of the 9-to-5 and setting up an income stream that helps you meet your goals. The podcast is hosted by best-selling author Chris Guillebeau. The Penny Hoarder interviewed Guillebeau ahead of the release of his recent book “100 Side Hustles,” which is largely based on Side Hustle School.
Secrets of Wealthy Women
As its title suggests, this podcast seeks to empower businesswomen through interviews and discussions with “women executives, workplace pioneers, self-made entrepreneurs, industry trendsetters and money-savvy experts.” Secrets of Wealthy Women is hosted by Veronica Dagher, released every Wednesday and produced by the Wall Street Journal.
The website, which dubs itself the “front page of the internet,” functions essentially like a content aggregator and forum for just about any topic you can think of.
Anyone can “lurk” (read content without signing up), but you’ll need to register a free account to talk with other users.
There are thriving communities for entrepreneurs, where current and prospective business owners can share ideas and advice.
Here are a few communities, aka subreddits, tailored to entrepreneurs and business owners:
Since its founding in 1964, Score has become a crucial resource for small business owners. The nonprofit has local chapters in every state — more than 250 total. Each chapter hosts its own events, workshops, conferences and mentoring programs while the national website offers tons of free or low-cost webinars and e-courses.
Available advice includes business ideation, incorporation, marketing strategies, taxes and more.
12. Small Business Administration
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a government agency whose sole purpose is to assist small businesses in the U.S., and it does that through special small-business loans, free counseling, e-courses, open data and several other services.
The SBA partners with Score and the Small Business Development Center to ensure that access to guidance and mentoring is available nationwide.
If you aren’t already overwhelmed by the amount of emails the DOL sends, the SBA has its own newsletter.
13. The Penny Hoarder Archives
The Penny Hoarder talks to business experts and agencies to provide plainspoken advice. Here’s a quick list of our most helpful articles for budding businesses.
- Turn Your Brilliant Idea Into a Business With This 10-Step Guide.
- Need Help Thinking of Business Ideas? Use These Examples to Get Started.
- 16 Tools to Help Your Small Business Run More Smoothly.
- 11 Tips to Finance Your Small Business.
- Social Media Best Practices to Grow Your Business.
- A Good Business Pitch Is Everything, Say These ‘Shark Tank’ Entrepreneurs.
This collection barely scratches the surface. Once you’ve finished those six articles, stay up-to-date by visiting our Start a Business section. We’re always sharing new strategies and advice to help make your business a success
Adam Hardy is a former staff writer and contributor to The Penny Hoarder.