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As a business owner, you no doubt have to juggle many responsibilities. Beyond just getting your core work done, you may want to stay on the pulse of the latest internet marketing methods or if you're a start-up, try to wrap your head around taxes or efficient cost management. Engaging the services of tax or marketing specialists will no doubt cost you. The good news is that there are a number of free business resources, most of them online, assisting and educating entrepreneurs. Here's a look at some reliable sources of free help for your business.
1. Small Business Development Center
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) provide virtually the A-Z of help any business could possibly want. SBDCs were established to encourage and nurture local and regional economic development, and as such offer a number of services that enable businesses to get off their feet and thrive.
The SBDC network spans over 900 delivery centers across the country. Services are provided through professional business advisers and cover, among other things, business plan creation, procurement assistance, disaster recovery assistance, market research and financing assistance. Depending upon the communities where they're located, SBDCs may modify their services to suit the unique needs of the businesses in the particular community. For instance, the Pennsylvania SBDC offers such services as environment management, government marketing and targeted assistance around the Affordable Care Act and shale energy. New York SBDC offers assistance with international business development, business plan redesign and employee management, among others.
SCORE is a volunteer non-profit organization and a resource partner with the U.S Small Business Association (SBA). There are 364 local SCORE chapters and 13,000 volunteers nationwide. The association offers small business assistance in four ways:
- Volunteer mentors share their expertise and experience-driven insights with businesses. Volunteers encompass 62 different industries and all counseling sessions are delivered free of charge.
- Mentors also provide free, confidential one-on-one counseling in-person or via email.
- Local SCORE chapters organize workshops for free or a small nominal fee. 24/7 webinars are also offered.
- On the SCORE website, a host of business tools are available for download. These include templates and helpful information on a number of business areas and topics.
SCORE's local chapters offer free counseling services for the full life of your business or as long as required. They serve as a reliable, on-demand source of information and advice for start-ups and established businesses alike.
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SBA.gov offers free online courses covering the basics of starting, financing and managing a business. These include half hour sessions specifically for starting an encore business, and among them is one for women over 50. The SBA also conducts local workshops and technical classes at more than 1,800 locations throughout the United States.
4. Training from entrepreneurs
If you've just started a business, experienced entrepreneurs can help you learn the ropes. As they've been there and done that, they're more likely to go beyond the theoretical aspects of a business topic and provide actionable tips and advice. Of course, there is no dearth of private business counseling services but they don't come for free. Some entrepreneurs offering online business coaching services, however, offer free webinars and lessons from time to time. Websites such as Yudkin.com, Therisetothetop.com and Amyporterfield.com also provide access to useful blog posts (for free of course), from which you can glean key insights and apply to your business problems.
BUZgate.org is an education and resource community exclusively serving small and medium-sized businesses. The website is a directory helping entrepreneurs locate free business assistance programs and mentor services. You can download small business forms such as financial statements, profit/loss forecasting excel sheets and time-planning schedules for free. The site also offers free access to articles that cover the full spectrum of running a business. BUZgate.org is supported by a number of educational sponsors, including Intuit Quickbooks, RingCentral, IBM and International Finance Corporation.
6. Free online business courses
In an increasingly competitive and highly dynamic business landscape, you are always under pressure to take quick and smart decisions. Even if you have a degree in business management, there's always more to learn and apply. Free courses on entrepreneurship, marketing and business finance, among others can help you wear a lot of hats and steer your company confidently.
To make your website a traffic magnet and leverage the power of social media and search engine optimization, check out the Moz Academy that offers free guides as well as live and recorded webinars on internet marketing. HubSpot Academy's certification program is another option if you're looking to sharpen your online marketing skills.
It is important that entrepreneurs have their personal finances in order. LearnVest offers a mix of paid and free online classes that encompass both business and personal finance topics, helping you manage your personal finances as an entrepreneur more effectively.
The World Wide Web has emerged as the go-to destination for free business help. You can join relevant online forums and LinkedIn Groups to get introduced to both established and new business resources that offer assistance free of cost.
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