As a small business guy myself, I get why so many people have trouble getting their businesses off the ground. You can have an outstanding idea, and a sterling business plan, but it’s so easy to get hung up on small details. Those details could include missing just one or two pieces to the puzzle, such as a critical document, a logo, or even a relatively simple application. So in an attempt to help, here are seven resources for the newly self-employed.
More than anything, this is an attempt to show you that whatever resources you need are available, and are usually much more accessible than you think – and for a lot less money than you think.
When you start a business, your primary emphasis needs to be on creating a cash flow. During my years of public accounting, I saw would-be entrepreneurs spend many thousands of dollars renting office space, purchasing office furniture, setting up complex legal structures, and even buying inventory – before even earning their first dollar.
That largely explains why so many new businesses fail within the first year of operation. Before you start spending any serious amount of money, you first need to be sure that your business model works, that your marketing works, that there is a viable client base, and that you can use it to create a steady cash flow. Until you establish all of that, you should spend as little as possible on upstart expenses.
1. GIMP – The Free Small Business Alternative to Photoshop
If you’re in business today, a tool like Photoshop is invaluable. The problem is that it costs hundreds of dollars. Now if that tool is critical to the actual products and services that you will provide, you’ll have to break the bank and purchase the software. But if it is only something that you will need to support your business, such as designing marketing material, you would be best to delay that purchase until you?re better established.
In the meantime, you can use a free software that does essentially the same work. GIMP is such an application. It stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It enables you to do photo retouching, image composition and image authoring, and it’s absolutely free.
2. Custom Product Labels
If you are looking to start a product based business, there’s an outstanding chance that you are going to need labels. You probably can’t get them for free anywhere, but you can get them at a very low price. iCustomLabel can be a good source for inexpensive, custom-designed labels.
3. Music and Sound Effects
My most recent business venture has been to start a video business with three other partners. We are making marketing videos for small businesses. As you might imagine, getting into that kind of business requires taking care of dozens of small details. One of them finding a free source of non-copyrighted music that we can use in those videos.
That?s a bigger problem than it seems. Sure, there’s YouTube, but that music comes with copyrights. Not only will you generally have to get copyright permission for the music, but it can take weeks or months just to get the paperwork completed to make it happen. And then there might be a fee to pay.
Instead, we’re using FirstCom Music. It’s a virtual library of non copyrighted music, that works perfectly to provide the background sounds that we need.
You may not be involved in preparing videos, but you might want that kind of access to usable music for your website or for other purposes.
4. Legal Stuff
Filing legal paperwork is one of the first obstacles for new businesses. Depending upon what state you live in, you could spend many thousands of dollars having that kind of paperwork prepared by an attorney. Not only is that a big upfront cost, but it also doesn’t put any money in your pocket. It’s strictly about legal compliance.
When you’re just starting out, and both capital and cash flow are in short supply, you may be better off going the do-it-yourself route. You can do that for a small fee at LegalZoom. Once on the site, you complete a brief questionnaire, and LegalZoom will not only prepare the documents on state-specific forms, but they will also file them with the appropriate offices. Simple, and low-cost ? and that’s exactly what you need when you’re starting out.
5. Creating a Website
Every year people and small businesses create hundreds of thousands of websites. And every year, hundreds of thousands of websites go dormant for lack of interest. With business websites, it usually happens because the business is abandoned or folded due to lack of revenue.
While it’s nice to think that you need a world-class website in order to get your business off the ground, it’s probably not true in most cases. You can spend many thousands of dollars on a custom-designed website that doesn’t work.
As a new business, instead check out WordPress. It’s a free service that will allow you to design your own website using generic templates. They have hundreds of templates, many of them free of charge. You can start your website using one of those templates, mimicking the websites of your competitors, and making modifications and improvements as you go along.
Bloggers use WordPress all the time, and it’s an excellent way to design a website when cash to build a customized website is not available. And for what it?s worth, it?s the template for the site you?re looking at right now.
6. Creating Images and Logos
DoDepict is an online tool that was created by a long time web buddy of mine, Arvid Linde. The site is based in the UK, and it allows you to create images and logos in just minutes, by dragging and dropping images onto the “canvas”, then customizing them to fit your needs. You can choose existing images from the site, or you can upload your own, and customize them as needed.
This is an excellent tool to use if you plan to be active in marketing your business on the social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. Adding images to social media messages will draw more attention to them, and get more people coming to your website or contacting your business.
7. Free Stock Photos
Unless you’re a photographer, you can find it surprisingly expensive to get photos that you need to market your business or to include on your website. Traditional stock photography sites have tremendous volumes of top quality photos, but they’re expensive, particularly if you don’t use them on a regular basis, or are unable to directly monetize the images that you are purchasing.
Instead, you can get a fairly good supply of free stock photos from Flickr Creative Commons. It’s a good source of images for bloggers ? not only are the photos free to use, but all you need to do is to provide attribution (a mention or a link connection) back to the provider of the photos.
How to Find ANYTHING You Need on the Web
If nothing else, I hope that this list is giving you the general idea of the kinds of resources that are available on the Internet to help you in starting your business. This is just a small sampling of the service sources that are out there, that you can use either for free or for a very small fee.
Whatever your need is, just do a general search on the web, using words such as “where do I find free XXXXX”. Check out the sites that come up, if you find one looks good, do more investigating. You can check them out with the Better Business Bureau, with other business people who may have used or at least heard of them, or you can check out forums related to that product or service.
When you are starting a new business, make it a point of not getting hung up on details. Quickly find the answer to your problem, then move on to the next phase of your business start up. Always make sure that you spend as little money as possible getting whatever it is you need ? and free is even better.
Can you suggest other free or low cost sources of tools that a new business might need?