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17 Essential Free Online Resources for Entrepreneurs

17 Essential Free Online Resources for Entrepreneurs

Starting and running a modern business can be challenging to say the least. There are so many things to juggle. So many tools and services. So many people to meet and contacts to make. Business plans, marketing– you name it.

As busy and as hectic as the world of business is, there is one huge benefit we can all make use of – free online resources aimed at helping small business owners and entrepreneurs. There’s a stack of great stuff out there; if you know where to look.

To help you, we’ve compiled a big list of all the best free resources (including guides, tutorials, articles, tools, & services) that will help you take another step towards success.

Business Ideas

Coming up with a viable business idea is not always that easy. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be a fun learning experience. SpringWise looks at innovation around the globe with a focus on high tech stuff that, unfortunately, tends to be out of the reach of a solopreneur type startup. Nevertheless, it’s still hugely valuable to keep tabs on what’s coming onto the market.

Springwise business ideas

    Not every idea you see on Springwise will be a viable startup option for you, so you might want to look at something like SME Pals’ Small Business Ideas resource page, which offers a huge, growing list of unusual, innovative, and quirky ideas with a focus on low startup costs and great online potential.

    Business Plans

    Whether you are looking for investors, approaching the bank for a loan, or simply doing extensive marketing research, a good business plan can give you the knowledge and industry insight needed to take advantage of new business opportunities.

    Bplans offers hundreds of freely available business plan templates on their Free Sample Business Plans resource page.

    Bplans sample business plans

      There are over 116 business plan outlines for retail and online startups alone, which makes an unbeatable business plan resource for home based or small business startups, that want to do everything from blogging to selling things online.

      Websites

      Every modern business needs a website. But not every modern entrepreneur should have to learn programming, HTML, CSS, MySQL, DNS, SSL and every other piece of technology that goes into making a website.

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      Free yourself from complicated and expensive custom Web design issues by following SME Pals’ How to make a website guide for complete beginners. See how easy, fast, and cheap it is to create a professional, cutting edge website for yourself.

      How to make a website

        What’s nice about this resource is that it is organized into sections that you can dip in and out of depending on where you are in the process of creating a website. Access everything from important concepts and basic definitions, to costs, guidance, and advice on domains, hosting, and step-by-step beginner guides to building a website on all the major Web platforms.

        Analytics

        Having a great website is only the first step. Next, it’s important to monitor Web traffic to understand where visitors come from, what they do while they’re browsing your site, and where they go afterwards.

        Analytics is a vital part of any good marketing, advertising, content, sales, and search optimization campaign. Google Analytics offers a complete (and completely free) way to work with your visitor data to better understand how your business is performing.

        Web analytics

          I find that the Audience Overview, Real Time, Acquisition Channels, and Behavior Events data reports are the most useful because that covers everything from who has visited my site, whos online right now, where they came from, and what they did.

          Marketing

          Marketing is a huge discipline making it difficult to cover every little aspect in one go. However, there are a few standout resources that I think are definitely worth mentioning.

          Inbound

          The particular demands of the Internet audience lead to an evolution in the way marketers approached their craft. Inbound marketing was born and espoused a shift in attitudes from telling consumers to buy your products, to engaging with them to build trust and authority. At the vanguard of this movement is Hubspot, and there is a lot of extremely valuable information on inbound marketing at their blog.

          Hubspot inbound marketing

            Blogging

            For me blogging just wouldn’t be the same without the longstanding service of Darren Rowse’ ProBlogger that offers a massive array of articles, guides, tips, eBooks, podcasts, and other resources on everything to do with creating content for blogs.

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            Blogging tips and advice

              While some of the resources on the site are paid, I highly recommend browsing their blog for more actionable advice and tips than you can shake a stick at.

              SEO

              Search engine optimization is the art and skill of ranking your website and webpages higher in Google (and other search engines) in order to generate as much valuable organic search traffic as possible. SEO is a huge discipline encompassing everything from content creation (blogging) to technical aspects such as server speed and performance.

              There’s no-one better in the industry to offer reliable free advice and insight then Brian Dean and BackLinko.

              Backlinko SEO advice and tips

                The best feature about Brian’s site is that he doesn’t produce tons of articles. You’re lucky if there’s a new one each fortnight. But, each article contains a wealth of really valuable insight and information. I’ve been in the biz for years and I still learn new stuff each time I pop in to read something.

                My favorite is his list of 201 powerful SEO tips, which contains enough actionable search optimization hints and tips to keep you busy for weeks at a time.

                Software

                There’s no one single piece of free software I could recommend since any type of business requires a whole array of software in order to function. That’s why this section is going to be a list of the most useful software packages available for download online. Enjoy.

                7-Zip

                7-Zip is a free (no payment or registration required) utility that can archive and compress files and folders as well as unzip them using a range of formats – like Windows’ .zip, and the superior .tar.gz, as well as its own high compression .7z format.

                7zip free zip utility

                  Skype

                  Skype provides free online conversations and instant messaging, file sharing, video sharing, conference calling, and VoIP to land-line calls.

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                  Skype free VoIP IM

                    Avast

                    Avast offers a free trial of their antivirus software for 30 days. After that time you can choose to extend your free usage period or upgrade to their full, paid protection plan. While there are a few annoying popups to deal with on occasion, overall, their free protection plan is excellent.

                    Avast free antivirus

                      Thunderbird

                      Mozilla’s Thunderbird is a modern, easy to use email client that will have you sending and receiving emails in no time on virtually any platform you can imagine – Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.

                      Thunderbird free email client

                        OpenOffice

                        Apache’s OpenOffice is open source’s answer to Microsoft Office, which used to be bundled free with Windows, but now costs a small fortune to install separately.

                        OpenOffice free office software

                          Adobe Reader

                          Adobe Acrobat Reader is an essential free utility for reading (but not creating) PDF documents. PDF is a widespread document format that is common online (if you do any work online, you’ll need a PDF reader).

                          Adobe free PDF reader

                            Dropbox

                            Dropbox is a free, cloud based application that allows you to store, share and synchronize files online.

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                            dropbox free cloud sharing and storage

                              Chrome

                              Google’s Chrome Web browser has risen to become the most dominant PC browser on the planet. It did this by being fast, and easy to use while rendering Webpages elegantly.

                              Chrome free Web browser

                                Q&A

                                Without a doubt, the best place to get surprisingly good, in-depth and knowledgeable online advice about virtually every aspect of starting, growing, and operating a successful business of pretty much any size in pretty much any industry is Quora.

                                Quora free expert answers

                                  A good way to find quality answers is to search for questions that have garnered a lot of views. Generally, popular questions attract better and better answers that go into more and more detail as they compete to be upvoted to the top of the answer results.

                                  Tax, Loans & Finance

                                  Government recognizes the importance of startups, innovation, and small businesses within the economy. Small businesses account for almost half the nation’s contribution to GDP and almost half of the overall employment. That’s huge.

                                  It’s no wonder that the SBA was created to help entrepreneurs and small business owners navigate the tangled Web of tax, legal, and finance laws, regulations and practices.

                                  Small Business Administration

                                    While there are plenty of local and regional resources available from the SBA, the two most important online ones are their Loans & Grants and Learning Center. The loans section, in particular, offers plenty of valuable advice and information on how to apply for loans, connect with lenders, and access other financing resources.

                                    So that’s the end of my list of free, online entrepreneur resources. Hopefully you’ll find plenty of valuable insight and information to help boost your own business and take you one step closer to success.

                                    Do you already use any of the resources mentioned here? Have they been of help to you and your business? What other free sites, articles, tools, and resources would you recommend?

                                    Share your thoughts in the comments.

                                    Featured photo credit: Jeff Sheldon via albumarium.com

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                                    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

                                    11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

                                    11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

                                    Are you looking to move up the career ladder? Or maybe you’re tired of having a “job” and want to start looking for a more permanent career?

                                    Whatever your motivation, you are going to have to learn some new and different hard skills to broaden your opportunities. After all, there’s a very famous quote that says:

                                    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

                                    While the insanity part doesn’t really fit here, the overall message is a good one. If you are looking for a different result (career advancement, more money or even a career instead of a job), it’s up to you to make it happen. This is both the good news and bad news!

                                    The good news is that because it’s up to you, you have complete control over it happening. The bad news is that change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, that’s why we develop routines, and anything that disrupts that routine causes us anxiety. And we will do almost anything to get rid of that anxiety. The overweight person will calm their anxiety by eating that doughnut, the smoker will light up a cigarette to avoid anxiety.

                                    What we want to do with this article is to give you the hard skills you’ll need to reduce that anxiety so you can move up that corporate ladder, make more money or have career instead of just a “job.”

                                    The following hard skills are essential to learn if you want to advance your career. They may not be easy to take up, but definitely worth your effort of learning:

                                    1. Cloud Computing

                                    “Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, intelligence and more—over the Internet “the cloud” to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.” Microsoft[1]

                                    There are many different jobs available in the cloud computing world today. They range from architects and developers to data scientists, security pros. Each job is its own specialty and requires a high level of specification for advancement.

                                    This is definitely a hard skill that requires education. But if the tech world and computers are your thing you can make cloud computing a lucrative career.

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                                    2. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis

                                    Again, these are highly specialized fields. Data mining is defined as using large sets of data to look for anomalies and other patterns that can be used to predict future behavior.

                                    Amazon is probably the best known company to use data mining. Have you ever noticed that when you buy something at Amazon, you’ll see a little ad at the bottom that says “customers who bought this also bought…”and it lists 2-3 other items? All of that information comes from data mining, by examining the millions of sales amazon makes they can predict that if you buy item #1 there is a high likelihood that you will buy one of the other items too. T

                                    his not only increases sales for Amazon, but it also serves as a reminder for you that you may need these additional items for your project. This is very valuable information and has a wide range of uses. Although it has a bad reputation and evil sounding name, it is a very useful tool for maximizing productivity and sales.

                                    3. Data Management

                                    All companies today deal with a ton of data! Being able to manage that data in an efficient manor is not only highly prized, but a necessity.

                                    We all have these things on our desks called computers. Unless there is a need for a paper copy, almost all of our data is computerized. Meaning that, in theory it is all at our fingertips. Being able to organize that data so that it’s easily and quickly retrievable is why computers are replacing filing cabinets!

                                    However, just like the old fashion filing cabinet, data management on a computer is only good if it’s well organized. You want to make sure that you are keeping your data well organized so that it’s easy to find when needed. This is a skill that comes easily to some people (are you a person that makes lists? Good!) but with others it will be a skill that needs to be practices. Make sure that this is a discipline you master.

                                    4. Scheduling

                                    Being able to make and keep to a schedule is a very useful tool in both business and life. Effective scheduling means that you can prioritize projects, understand the tools needed to get the job done on time and that you are organized enough to lead people.

                                    An important point here is to write things down! Whether it’s in an old fashion daily or weekly organizer or in a PDA. Have a copy of your schedule available at your fingertips at all times.

                                    5. Financial Skills

                                    These are especially important when looking for that promotion. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you’ll have to deal with things like accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management.

                                    While you may not need to be an expert at all of these, you should have a good grasp of all of them. This is where taking a few night classes at your local community college is a good idea. You don’t need to become an expert, but brushing up on these skills will help you tremendously.

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                                    6. Research Skills

                                    These are important in all aspects of life, but especially in your work-life.

                                    Are you looking for that first job out of school? Nothing impresses a boss or hiring manager more than someone who has researched the company. Trust me, they deal with people walking in off the street everyday looking for a job, but managers and owners need to see the value in hiring (or promoting) you.

                                    So do your research and have some company specific questions ready to ask. Show that you are interested in working for that company or that position and not just “a” job or the “promotion” because you have seniority or need the money.

                                    If it’s a promotion that you are after, never bad mouth the previous occupant. Instead pick out an example that he/she was good at and explain how you would like to use or expand that policy and how it would enhance the policy changes you’d like to make.

                                    If it’s a new job you’re going for, then make sure to have some company specific questions ready to show that you have done your homework for the new position.

                                    7. Marketing Skills

                                    While marketing a companies products or services has always been a highly sought after skill. In today’s world, it can take on several different forms.

                                    Some of the marketing skills that are highly sought after today include, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, SEM, Search Engine Marketing and marketing campaign management. Familiarity with Google Analytics as well as Word Press are also valuable.

                                    While traditional marketing and branding were focused on advertising and selling. Almost all marketing efforts now a days are focused on the internet.

                                    8. Network Security Specialist

                                    Again, this is a highly skilled position that requires specialized training. But the amount of data that all companies store is significant, and if that data is leaked or stolen, it can costs them millions of dollars in both lost revenue and lawsuits.

                                    So, if you have an interest in network security you will find the field both lucrative and stable.

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                                    9. Communication Skills

                                    At first glance, communication skills may not look like it fits into the category of “Hard Skills” that can help you succeed. But in this ever shrinking world where companies can do business from almost anywhere, communication is more and more important.

                                    Are you bilingual? It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s a company out there looking for someone who speaks that language.

                                    10. Computer Programming

                                    I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that computers are going to be around for a while! As both the hardware and software get more advanced, the need for computer programming is only going to increase.

                                    11. Graphic Design

                                    As of 2018, there were 4.37 million new websites launched.[2] A good number of them will fail because they just aren’t interesting enough visually. The use of templates and replicated websites is only making the problem worse.

                                    Part of the way Google ranks sites is through originality, this almost ensures that replicated sites will never get ranked through Google. So the more original your site is, the more likely people will visit and actually spend time there.

                                    That is what a good graphic designer does. Takes your basic idea and turns it into a website that people actually want to visit.

                                    Embrace the Anxiety That Comes with Change

                                    You know it’s going to be there, you know that you’ll want to give up as you’re learning these new skills but, you’ll also know that the end result is worth the journey.

                                    Here’s a little trick when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

                                    Have you ever met an ex-smoker who was sorry they quit? An ex-drinker or drug user that said life was much better before they quit? These people have gone through some of the most difficult challenges humans can go through including weeks, if not, months of intense physical withdrawal symptoms. They did it because they knew that the pain and anxiety they would experience would ultimately get them to a much better life.

                                    Now what was that complaint you had about attending night-school?

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                                    This is the part everyone hates, everyone thinks night-school, adult education and just generally giving up family and/or spare time. While those are certainly possible ways to develop the necessary skills, they aren’t the only way.

                                    You’ll want to check with your human resources department because depending on the company, a certain degree maybe required in order to even be considered for a position. In those cases, night-school, on-line or some other form of adult education maybe your best route.

                                    But as long as a degree isn’t required, then your options are wide open.

                                    Let’s just say that you’re a sales person interested in becoming the sales manager but, the territory you’ve been given will never produce the sales figures that would make you stand out as a good candidate for sales manager. So how about you start your own side business (don’t compete with your company), but let’s say you enjoy golf.

                                    In this day and age, there are plenty of places that will teach you how to sell products on-line and even set you up with your own website. So you start a site selling golf equipment and accessories (don’t worry, you won’t even have to carry inventory or worry about shipping).

                                    Now, when that sales manager spot opens up, you can explain that even though other salespeople had better numbers than you, it had nothing to do with your sales ability, it was more of a consequence of the territory your were given.

                                    And to prove it, you brought in some information about a side business, you started showing that you’re on target for a sales growth rate of 30% this year. And because you had to do all of the marketing for the business, you came up with some marketing strategies that you can bring to the new job (built-in experience).

                                    The Bottom Line

                                    We’ve put together these 11 hard skills as a way to give yourself a “leg up” on the competition. We’ve tried to make this a mixture of both skills that require a great deal of training, and also ones that you can work on and develop by yourself.

                                    We know that not everyone is cut out to be a cloud computing expert, but we also know that working on and having good scheduling skills will make you a much more desirable candidate for the position!

                                    We also don’t want you to discount the idea of a “side hustle“. Especially for people new to the workforce, having a business that you have started and run successfully shows potential employers that you have initiative, scheduling skills and ambition which can put you well ahead of your competition!

                                    As usual, we hope you found this article both enjoyable and informative. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your family and friends through social media. It really does help us and is greatly appreciated!

                                    More Skill to Help Advance Your Career

                                    Featured photo credit: Kyle Sterk via unsplash.com

                                    Reference

                                    [1] Microsoft Azure: Cloud Computing
                                    [2] Netcraft: December 2018 Web Server Survey

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