Running a small business is no easy task. In fact, there is no shortage of information available for starting and operating a small business, and that information can be overwhelming—at best. This article introduces 35 helpful, important small business resources in five categories:
- Starting a new business or growing an existing one
- Marketing and advertising
- Continuing education and professional development
- Day-to-day business management
- Accounting and tax preparation
Resources for starting and growing a small business
Each of the resources described in this section is designed to help small business owners start new businesses or achieve growth in existing businesses.
Small Business Administration
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is an independent agency of the U.S. government that specializes in starting, aiding, and growing small businesses around the country, along with aiding businesses after disasters. The SBA works to provide financial assistance, counseling and training, government contracting, and congressional advocacy. The SBA caters to businesses that are in the beginning stages of development, businesses that are about to launch, or small businesses that could use some help. With connections to many groups, lenders, federal contracts, and leadership opportunities, the SBA provides multiple avenues to help businesses grow.
A nonprofit organization, SCORE aims to create knowledgeable business owners through mentoring and education. Partially supported by the SBA, it is geared toward individuals who are planning to start a business but don’t know where to start. SCORE provides mentoring to help business owners know how to get started. In addition, SCORE facilitates webinars and courses on demand, hosts a library of online resources, and conducts local workshops that are usually free. SCORE is a terrific resource for business novices who don’t have much initial capital.
BusinessUSA is a one-stop-shop for opening a small business. It is a free resource directory that connects business owners to information about government benefits, grants, and loans; commercial grants and loans; financial counseling and mentoring services; benefits, grants, and loans for minority-owned and specialty businesses; insurance providers; and other financial options. In sum, BusinessUSA is described on the website as an “electronic gateway of financial resources and information.”
Entrepreneur.com is an informational site from the publishers of Entrepreneur magazine. Included on the site are free webinars, covering a range of topics from COVID-19 relief to business development tutorials, as well as videos from entrepreneurs and experts in their fields. The Start a Business section of the website features a variety of opportunities for those interested in buying a franchise. The subscription section includes premium content and a subscription to Entrepreneur magazine, and it’s affordable at a relatively low price. And, for small business owners looking to expand their knowledge, Entrepreneur Press is a great place to start—the books are grouped in easy-to-navigate, topical collections.
State-Specific Small Business Development Centers
The Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) partners with the SBA and local universities and colleges to help small businesses via a network including all states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories. Aiming to promote, counsel, train, and support first-time small business owners or expanding existing businesses, it is a free service that can focus on local communities. Using the SBDC’s local assistance feature, small business owners can find a development center in their area. For example in Georgia, there are 18 locations spread throughout the state. Most locations are in major cities but there are some in rural areas. If there is not a center nearby, the same services are available over the phone at 202-205-6766.
Chambers of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a lobbying organization developed to represent businesses of all sizes in government, advocating for business-friendly policy. The U.S. Chamber does provide online business education content. There are also thousands of local Chambers of Commerce across the United States, from state organizations to local community level chambers. Most Chambers of Commerce have an annual fee that usually isn’t too hefty. Benefits vary depending on each chamber, but most have common perks. For example, local governments will often come to Chamber of Commerce members first for any types of products or services needed. This aids in public relations and provides a more reliable stream of income for small business owners. Businesses are also entered into a local directory, which can help with exposure or help garner leads on what products or services other businesses in the community could use. CoCs usually offer networking opportunities such as locally sponsored events where members can gather and interact with each other.
Local Colleges and Universities
Getting support from a local college, university, trade school, or other educational institution is always a good way to launch or grow a small business. Most colleges and universities have community outreach programs and public relations departments, and some institutions even offer internship and externship programs through which small business owners can recruit and hire employees. In some cases, local colleges and universities may even allow small businesses to sponsor events, which is a good way to build brand awareness.
Resources for marketing and advertising a small business
Understanding how to reach new business is a vital part of making a business successful. Marketing and advertising is not as simple as it once was. There are many options to developing a business’s brand or bringing that brand into the public.
Google My Business
Google is the biggest and most widely used search engine in the world. Due to the high traffic, adding a business to its engine is a must. Google’s free My Business tool (with a free app) allows businesses to set up a profile to promote the business and connect to customers. Google adds a registered business to its search engine and maps. When customers search for products or services, relevant businesses with a profile show up in the search. Potential customers can learn where a business is located, what is being sold, and any other information needed, including a link to the business’s website. The more traffic you receive, the higher your business will appear in search results. Registering your business is free and only requires a Google account to do so. My Business users can also pay a monthly fee to have their business appear higher in search results.
A graphic design and printing company, Canva can be used to create graphics for social media, presentations, posters, documents, and many other things. There is a free version available, which is rated very highly, and Canva does offer a pro version, which varies in price depending on the number of people who will require access to the account. Developing a graphic set can help establish a brand identity and a real media presence, and its integrated printing service can save a small business owner the challenge of having to shop around for that service. Canva also integrates with many popular apps, including Instagram, YouTube, Duotone, Slice, Pinterest, PowerPoint, Slack, and Giphy.
Mailchimp is a marketing and website hosting company that businesses can use to reach a multitude of audiences. There are many plans you can choose from, ranging in price from free to $299. Its most basic option includes email marketing, social media advertising and posting, creative brand guides, websites and domains, and customer relationship management (CRM). Mailchimp’s CRM software allows users to see how effective their marketing campaigns and website are to understand where to push more heavily or try new avenues. Each plan comes with a variety of features that can be personalized for each user. Mailchimp offers guides, tutorials, and tips to maximize a business’s products and grow their online presence. This platform is already used by companies like Vimeo, TED, and over 10,000 small businesses.
YouTube’s video-sharing platform is the largest on the internet. Any type of business can benefit from the free service; however, businesses can pay to have their ads play on videos. Cost depends upon the level of advertising desired. YouTube is used by over 35 million people and can be linked to personal websites to showcase a new product or business. As YouTube notes, “the only limit is what you can create.” Hiring a professional videographer or video editor might be a smart investment as YouTube’s algorithm boosts popular videos, and higher quality videos tend to get more viewers, meaning those videos can reach more potential customers; however, personal video production tools are now quite cost-effective, so tech-savvy small business owners might consider producing their own video content.
Hootsuite is a social media management tool; its dashboard provides one location from which to monitor all of a business’s social media accounts. Free or paid packages can be purchased monthly or yearly. From the Hootsuite dashboard, users can schedule posts and see the amount of traction they get. Hootsuite also allows business owners to pay to promote certain posts to reach a wider audience. Some plans even include integrated paid advertising on social media platforms.
One of the easiest to learn website development platforms is Wix. Whether you’re using their pre-designed website layouts or building one from scratch, Wix is a helpful tool for any business owner. Creating an account is free, and so is creating a simple website. Users must pay a fee to get a unique domain name or to hire a professional design consultant. Using “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) methodology, the simple “drag and drop” tool allows you to place your own company logo and/or fonts anywhere as well as pictures and descriptions.
Social Media Platforms
Social media platforms each have their own way of attracting potential business. Some of the simplest and most popular are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Understanding what each platform can offer will help a small business owner understand how to utilize it. Facebook allows direct contact with community members through a business’s dedicated page or group. Instead of friending, customers can follow a business’s page to get updates such as sales and hours of operation, or even share pleasant experiences with the business. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is designed for more visual elements than text, but it’s great for building a brand identity and followers. Instagram posts can help showcase a business’s achievements, new hires, or anything else. Twitter also allows users to follow a page and receive updates on anything the business might share. It can easily be used to start a conversation around an issue that’s trending in or affects your specific industry. Each platform allows other users to communicate directly with the business through comments, direct messaging, or even through live video feeds. All three platforms also allow advertisers to pay to promote their product or service within the app to further reach out to potential customers.
Resources for continuing education/professional development
There are many options for small business owners to get more education, certificates, and even diplomas that don’t require rigorous coursework or even money. The following resources help make education access easier than ever.
A free education tool, Alison strives to bring academic and professional education to everybody. Alison offers courses for specific jobs, the sciences, business, languages, broad skills such as customer service, and many more. There are over 2,000 courses that can be accessed, all of which are made for the working adult, and you can learn on your own schedule. The recently launched free app for smartphones means you can learn wherever you have internet access.
MIT Open Courseware
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the only prestigious universities to publish almost all of its course material online for free. The Open Courseware program is a donation-funded educational tool through which adults can learn from MIT professors individually at their own pace. This is an independent learning tool: free users cannot access assignments or tests, but the program posts most readings and lectures for an entire semester’s worth of content. You can also download readings onto your device or computer for offline learning, but most lectures do have to be streamed with internet access.
Teachable features courses created by users. You can find just about anything from making sourdough bread to email marketing here. Users do have to pay for courses, which vary in price depending on the creator. A free trial grants basic access to users for up to three courses. Any person can create a Teachable course, so users should research the course teacher’s qualifications before purchasing. Once a student pays for a course, he or she can download the content for offline viewing at any time.
Collaborating with over 200 universities and companies, Coursera offers free and paid courses for adults. There are many topics to choose from, such as business, computer science, and language learning. Most courses can be accessed without payment, but paid courses will provide access to Coursera’s certification program and course assignments. Coursera is an internet-based learning platform, so internet access is required, but a smartphone app provides access to most materials.
Linkedin Learning is a subscription-based learning service. When users buy a monthly or yearly subscription, they get unlimited access to the entire library. A 30-day free trial allows potential customers to decide if the service is right for them. All courses are taught by industry or subject matter experts. Linkedin Learning tends to focus on business-related courses, such as marketing or communications, but users can also find software-based courses for tools like Adobe or QuickBooks. The more you use the service, the more it will learn about your habits, which, in turn, means it can offer you more relevant courses. All courses, materials, and quizzes can be accessed through an internet connection on your computer or smartphone.
Exploring a creative spark has never been easier than signing up for Skillshare. This is a predominantly artistic learning program, featuring help for learning skills like architecture, graphic design, or growing an artistic-based business. Skillshare is a subscription service that begins with a 14-day free trial. After the trial, access can be purchased monthly or yearly, with the yearly option providing a discount. Creators on Skillshare range from industry-leading experts to self-taught individuals. Skillshare also offers a mobile app that makes it convenient to learn from anywhere at any time.
Resources for day-to-day business management tasks
Managing a business requires work every single day. Making sure a team knows exactly what their responsibilities are and when to do assigned tasks helps a business run smoother and more efficiently. The following software and programs allow businesses to organize, track, and grow every project into something more.
Today, business is done everywhere, and no two businesses are alike. Zoho One is an all in one operating system that tracks every aspect of a business. With an online dashboard and complimentary smartphone applications, Zoho One allows businesses to keep track of almost everything. Designed to be used for multiple departments, it allows HR, sales, marketing, accounting, and many more to keep all their information in one convenient place. Zoho One helps users keep track of leads, set tasks, send personalized emails, automatically create quotes and invoices, and accept online payments through a bank or third party payment gateway, such as PayPal. Users can choose a plan to pay per employee who needs access or pay a flat rate to allow unlimited users. Depending on the business’s size and needs, the cheaper plan might be the best option as Zoho One is an administrative tool, so not all employees will need access.
A completely tailored way to keep a business running, HubSpot has many tools and options for any small business. HubSpot has a free offering that includes quite a few features, such as contact management, email marketing, a reporting dashboard, unlimited form generation, and ad management. Advanced paid plans grant access to their ad retargeting, team email, website to mobile optimization, and many more features. HubSpot’s specialized hubs include Content Management, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service. Each comes with an expansion of tools and features at an elevated cost. HubSpot sells a bundled version of its hubs packaged into the “Starter Growth Suite,” which is currently priced at a rate that’s reasonable for most small business owners. Plus, HubSpot offers tons of educational resources to help you get up and running quickly.
Asana connects a team and helps to maintain project tasks and due dates. Whether through its list, board, timeline, or calendar view, Asana breaks down a project so that every team member knows exactly what their assignments are and when they are due. Asana’s Basic plan is free and includes tools such as unlimited projects, up to 15 teammates, iOS and Android mobile apps, and time tracking with integrations to apps such as Everhour, HourStack, and Harvest. Asana’s Premium plan includes an admin console, advanced searching and reporting, private teams, and unlimited free guests. Business and Enterprise plans, as well, and Asana offers a 30-day free trial for Premium and Business, which should be enough time to determine if the platform is right for you.
With its trusted document signing, template, storage, and team management software, HelloSign keeps all important documents and projects in one place. Its newest feature—audit trail—keeps non-editable documents organized, time-stamped, and available at any time after administrative signing. This feature provides proof of document access, review, and signature. Administrators can allow access to documents while keeping track of team usage in a centralized dashboard, keeping everything organized and secure. HelloSign offers a range of plans, with the more advanced plans providing access for more administrators and to more features.
Connecting with over 2,200 applications, Slack helps get teams organized. Bringing a team together is much easier using Slack’s channel and private messaging chats. Share files, connect through audio or video calls, and collaborate with an entire team through their personalizable dashboard. Over 750,000 companies including Fox, Time, and Target use Slack to get projects assigned and completed in a timely manner. Its Standard Plan is only $8 per user, per month and gives users access to an unlimited message archive, unlimited app integration, and group calls with screen sharing. Plan pricing is based on the number of users.
Google Workspace (it’s G Suite rebranded with some changes as of October 2020) is an affordable way to keep important documents and information in one place. The platform includes integration of all of Google’s apps including Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet, Sites, Chat, Currents, and more. Workspace also secures these documents and a company’s devices through administrative controls, Google’s Endpoint app, and an online archived vault. Advanced plans add more storage and enhanced support, as well as tighter security protocols.
One of the biggest video conferencing software products available now, Zoom connects all team members, wherever or whenever, with each other and even facilitates business-to-client communication, especially now. With integrations into other apps, including Slack, Google, and even personal websites, Zoom makes connecting easier. The free option allows for up to 100 participants, 40-minute group meetings, and unlimited one-on-one meetings. Its advanced plans increase the number of participants allowed, extends meeting limits, and adds other significant features with increasing pricing.
Resources for accounting and tax preparation tasks
Keeping the books and planning for taxes are unfortunately a part of everyday life for the small business owner. Taxes can be especially difficult when opening a new business. Yet tracking and reporting every dollar is important to keep a business going. There are many options to make sure a business is tracking financials and reporting and calculating taxes correctly. The options described here are just a few of the best.
A free web-based accounting service, Wave is designed for small businesses. Connecting bank accounts, syncing expenses, balancing books, and tracking everything for tax time, Wave is one of the best accounting software products for new business owners. All information is easily accessible with Wave’s dashboard tracking sales, purchases, invoices, and reports. Plus, Wave provides control over all of the information by allowing the administrator to set account privileges so everything is secure and synchronized. And, if a small business outgrows Wave’s feature set, switching to another accounting platform is easy with Wave’s step-by-step guides.
One of the largest and most popular accounting software options available, Quickbooks Online can serve the needs of businesses of any size, big or small. QuickBooks Online offers a range of features from invoicing and payments to time and mileage tracking. All plans include receipt capture and storage, support, multi-app integration, and access to the mobile app. The Simple Start plan is the cheapest and includes contractor management, invoicing, cash flow tracking, basic reporting, and much more. The Essentials plan costs more but includes up to three users, detailed reporting, maximized tax deductions, and an estimate to invoice workflow. QuickBooks Online’s Plus plan provides access to up to five users, more detailed reporting, project profitability, and budgeting. All plans include the option to add payroll tracking for a small monthly fee, and for companies that need more help with bookkeeping, QuickBooks Live is available for a monthly fee.
Designed for self-employed professionals, freelancers, and businesses with employees or contractors, FreshBooks allows finances to be easily organized. From professionals with basic needs to growing businesses that need to automate and gain insight, FreshBooks can track unlimited expenses, bank transfers, and credit card payments, provide access anywhere through its app, and even generate reports. Its Lite plan includes all the basic features and five billable clients. Its Plus plan allows for 50 billable clients per month and includes unlimited proposals, recurring billing, business health reports, and automatically tracked expenses.
IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center
Filing taxes can be a tedious and difficult process for the small business owner. The IRS has created an online resource center to help make filing just a bit easier. The IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center is designed for taxpayers who typically file a Form 1040 with Schedules C, E, or F or Form 2106, as well as any small business with assets under $10 million. These forms are stored online at the IRS Small Business and Tax Center, along with instructions on how to file them, contractor information, and what to expect when tax season comes around. There are categories that span a number of topics, including stages of owning a business, recordkeeping, employment taxes, Employer ID Numbers, and changes due to coronavirus.
H&R Block is one of the largest professional tax organizations in the world. Founded in 1955, H&R Block guarantees 100% accuracy in tax preparation, provides bookkeeping and payroll services, and reimburses clients for any penalties and interest incurred if H&R Block makes an error. With many offices currently closed to in-person filing, H&R Block has instituted phone, text messaging, and video conferencing to make filing from home even easier. Tax preparation fees are based on individual taxpayer needs, but H&R Block will typically provide a quote over the phone, so you have an idea what to expect.
Part of the Intuit family which includes QuickBooks, TurboTax helps small business owners to file both business and individual income tax returns. With a step-by-step, question and answer based method, TurboTax makes completing tax returns quite easy, and if guidance is needed, TurboTax offers unlimited tax advice from a live expert. TurboTax also offers full-service tax preparation done by a professional. In some cases, users may be able to eFile using TurboTax without incurring a fee, but qualifications are limited. If the filer has itemized deductions, is filing Schedule C, D, or E, or has a 1099-Misc, sold investments, is self-employed, or is filing a business return, there is a filing fee. Using TurboTax’s experts also incurs a fee.
“Taxesfaction” is what eFile.com guarantees when you use its tax preparation platform. eFile.com promises to be the lowest-priced tax return software with the same level of quality as other options. Using eFile.com’s guides, self-filed taxes are easier to understand and are more accurate. There are three basic plans, all of which include a flat rate for state returns. The plans also include free eFile and printing services, free tax amendments, refile, and premium support from a tax professional. The Basic plan is fairly cheap and can be used by those with income below $100,000, who are single or married filing jointly and have W-2 income only. The Deluxe plan is more, but still very cost-effective, and includes itemized deductions, dependents, and 1099 income. The Premium plan, which is what most small business owners filing a Form 1040 would require, includes all forms and schedules and is still quite a bit less expensive than most of eFile.com’s competitors.
I want to open my own business, but I don’t know where to start. It all seems overwhelming. What do you suggest?
The Small Business Administration has a comprehensive business guide with in-depth topics on planning, launching, managing, and growing a business. This resource provides a good overview of the process, plus the SBA provides counseling, guaranteed loans, disaster loans, and information about federal government contracts. The SBA is the best place to start, and a good site to bookmark for ongoing reference.
What can a Chamber of Commerce do for me?
There are many Chamber of Commerce formats, from national to regional to city to community chambers. A Chamber of Commerce is essentially a business network. Local chambers work closely with local governments to promote small business interests. Joining a Chamber of Commerce typically leads to free marketing as people often turn to the local chapter to find services and products. Being a member can also enhance the credibility of a new business owner.
Why do I need to continue my education or engage in professional development?
Technology develops, and new ways of thinking evolve quickly in our modern era. We have to keep up to stay relevant in the business world. Learning to use new technology or methods can be invaluable to one’s success. Depending upon the business, customers and clients may want to see current credentials and ongoing training, as well.
How can I find the best accounting software for my business?
This one is easy! Check out our accounting software guides on the best accounting solutions for every sized business.
According to Business Insider, the U.S. is home to 28 million small businesses, so it’s no surprise that there are a lot of resources out there devoted to small businesses. As the list here indicates, that information is often just a few clicks away. Whether someone is looking to start or grow a business, hone skills as an entrepreneur, manage a business, or prepare taxes, there’s information on the web that can help, and much of it is free.
- Resources for starting and growing a small business
- Resources for marketing and advertising a small business
- Resources for continuing education/professional development
- Resources for day-to-day business management tasks
- Resources for accounting and tax preparation tasks
- I want to open my own business, but I don’t know where to start. It all seems overwhelming. What do you suggest?
- What can a Chamber of Commerce do for me?
- Why do I need to continue my education or engage in professional development?
- How can I find the best accounting software for my business?