Face it: The Internet is mind candy for surfers who log countless hours doing online crossword puzzles and sneaking peeks at celebrity porn. But smart entrepreneurs know the Web is ALSO packed with time-saving, money-making pointers, tips and services-plus breaking business news-that can be used to maximize profits and expand the limits of your business.
Skeptical? With our help, you don't need to be. The bad news for us is that we logged countless hours eyeballing too many business sites that just don't cut it. But the good news for you is that by doing so, we've culled a list of 100 of the top Web sites for entrepreneurs.
At these sites, you won't find naughty pictures or brainless gossip, but you just may find financiers who will invest in your business, nifty ways to get the information you need fast, or know-how that will help you save money on things like wireless telephony. You'll find lots more, too, because the best thing about the Web is it's a tool that, when used properly, gives entrepreneurs a level playing field on which to compete with bigger businesses. If you use it shrewdly, the Web will help you be as savvy as the biggest businesses around. So bookmark these sites-and pay attention to them-then watch your business grow.
Information on the Internet multiplies like kudzu in a hot Carolina summer-and the engines that help you hack through millions of Web pages in search of what you want are essential tools. You probably have a favorite standard search engine-Excite (http://www.excite.com), Infoseek (http://www.infoseek.com) or perhaps Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com)-but sometimes specialty tools do the job better. Such as?
Ask Jeeves! (http://www.askjeeves.com) A brilliant engine, Jeeves accepts plain-language questions-"Where can I compare cell phones?"-then offers up its suggestions for the best Web sites.
Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com) A metasearch tool, Dogpile quickly sifts through most of the standard search engines plus a few esoteric ones. It's a good way to get a fast reading of what's on the Web.
Search-It-All (http://www.search-it-all.com) This is the place to hunt for e-mail addresses, phone numbers and street addresses.
Northern Light (http://www.northernlight.com) An agile search tool, Northern Light scours more than 120 million Web pages, including some premium content that's available only on a pay-per-view basis. Most results are free, but when there's a charge, you're told in advance (and prices are nominal). If standard Web searches produce only frustration, take a look here.
Electric Library (http://www.elibrary.com) The Library offers a vast collection of magazine and newspaper articles. Searching for the information you need is easy, and a free trial is available. Subscriptions cost $9.95 per month for unlimited research.
Deja News (http://www.dejanews.com) Before there was the Web, there were thousands of Internet discussion groups. Those groups are still active, and many focus on business topics. Search through what's being said with Deja News. Have people been talking about your business? Deja News knows.
Traditional travel agents face tough times, mainly because the Web is ideal for do-it-yourself travel planners who want to book their own trips online. So where can you buy those tickets to Texarkana...or Paris?
Biztravel (http://www.biztravel.com) This is the site for business travelers who want to book plane tickets and hotel rooms, as well as get information on destination cities.
Cheap Tickets (http://www.cheaptickets.com) Want a bargain flight? Cheap Tickets sells airlines' empty seats at huge discounts. And it now offers discounts on hotel rooms, too.
Quikbook (http://www.quikbook.com) You'll also find hotel-room bargains here. This site offers rooms at good hotels usually at up to 60 percent off the rack rates walk-ins get quoted.
Zip2 (http://www.zip2.com) Don't guess where you're going. Use these great tools to map your destination.
Expedia Travel (http://www.expedia.com) Created by Microsoft, this online travel agency ranks among the most popular sites for booking trips.
Who wants to buy paper and toner in person? Skip the trip and buy everything you need for running your office online-usually with free delivery. These three chain superstores offer similar merchandise (and prices) at their Web sites:
Office Depot (http://www.officedepot.com).
Computers can be cranky beasts, but help is only a few mouse clicks away. More high-tech companies are getting out of offering free telephone help; instead, 900 numbers are proliferating. But those same companies have typically set up Web sites that offer ample free help. So if your hardware or software is acting up, first pay a visit to the manufacturer's Web site. If you can't find the solution you need there, check out these all-purpose fix-it sites:
BugNet (http://www.bugnet.com) When software is angrily crashing, dash to for info on work-arounds and fixes. Although it's a subscription site, there are plenty of freebies available, too.
AntiVirus Research Center (http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/index.html) Maybe the most comprehensive information storehouse about computer viruses, AntiVirus is sponsored by Symantec, the maker of the Norton AntiVirus programs.
ZDNet (http://www.zdnet.com) From MacWorld to PC Computing, all the magazines from the biggest publisher of tech periodicals are online, with troubleshooting tips and more.
The List (http://www.thelist.com) Search for a new ISP here-almost all the possible choices are listed, and searches can be made specific to your locality.
Steve Kropla's Help For World Travelers (http://www.kropla.com) This site is a required stop for travelers wrestling with difficulties getting online. Best advice: Check it before you head out of town with your laptop to get the scoop on staying connected in hotels around the globe.
Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com) The world's dominant software company serves up bug fixes (patches), templates and plenty more free stuff. Anybody running Windows needs to stop by here at least a few times a year.
Whether you're shipping a package, sending a letter or signing up for a cell phone, you'll find guidance-and tips on how to save money-on the Web. And don't forget that the Net can be the smartest way to send and get faxes, too.
Wireless Dimension (http://www.wirelessdimension.com) This site offers tools that provide instant comparisons of cell phone deals.
SmartShip (http://www.smartship.com) This site lets you compare the costs of shipping a package via FedEx, UPS, Airborne Express and the U.S. Postal Service. And, once the package is shipped, SmartShip lets you track it. A handy ZIP code finder is also featured.
TeleWorth (http://www.teleworth.com) Here you'll find a swift way to compare long-distance telephone providers. Are you getting the best deal? Check this site, and you'll know. Inputting the required data can be cumbersome (have a recent phone bill handy), but the money-saving comparisons ought to justify your efforts.
JFAX (http://www.jfax.net) You can get a second phone number-for faxes, voice messages or both-for $12.50 per month plus a one-time $15 setup fee. JFAX also provides discount Internet faxing services.
MySoftware's Mail Tips (http://www.mysoftware.com/mailtips/index1.htm) Its goal is to save you money and time when you send "snail mail," especially bulk mailings.
The Internet is emerging as the shopping mall of the future. There are already great computer shops online, and other vendors-of products ranging from books to cars-are beginning to make their presence felt. Some of the best places to shop include:
CompareNet (http://www.comparenet.com) Here's the place to compare cell phones, computer gear and personal electronics gadgets to scope out which ones will serve you best. This isn't so much a shopping site as an electronic Consumer Reports, with a format that makes product comparisons easy.
Bottom Dollar (http://www.bottomdollar.com) This site sets the pace for "shopping bots," Web robots that, at your command, scour the Net and report back on the prices charged by e-commerce sites for specified products. It doesn't get any easier to find the best buys.
JemComputers (http://www.jemcomputers.com) This is the place to find deeply discounted prices on refurbished and discontinued computer gear. Name brands abound, and savings can be jaw-dropping.
CDW Computers Center (http://www.cdw.com) A broad selection of well-priced products-everything from desktop computers to printers and scanners-can be found here.
Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com) This bookseller may be the Web's best e-commerce site. Even if you don't want to buy a book, check out Amazon.com to see brilliant e-commerce in action. While you're at it, look into Amazon.com's "associates" program (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/subst/partners/associates/associates.html), which pays commissions on any books you sell from your Web site.
Edmunds (http://www.edmunds.com) You can't buy or lease a car here, but you'll find all the information (dealer price, rebates and so on) you need to cut a good deal wherever you decide to shop.
The U.S. government wants to help you succeed-and it provides some dandy Web sites that can help put you on the fast track.
U.S. Small Business Administration (http://www.sbaonline.sba.gov) Find tips on financing, SBA services and more. This site is a must-bookmark for any entrepreneur.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (http://www.uspto.gov) Want to file for a patent or trademark? Find general information as well as rules and regulations; download the necessary forms; plus get guidance on the how-tos of filing.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (http://www.eeoc.gov/small/index.html) Federal laws protect employees from age, sex and race discrimination; sexual harassment; and much more. You need to know the facts, and this EEOC page-tailored for small businesses-provides the scoop.
Fed World (http://www.fedworld.gov) This site is an intelligent gateway that helps users gain better access to the tons of stats and information compiled each year by the U.S. government.
EDGAR Online (http://www.edgar-online.com) Retrieve all government filings (10ks, 10qs and more) made by public companies and general SEC information at no cost.
IRS (http://www.irs.ustreas.gov) Get obscure tax forms and even tips on taxes and small business at this (perhaps surprisingly) smart and fast-paced site.
StatlUSA Internet (http://www.stat-usa.gov) This site offers a treasure trove of federal government statistics and reports. The good stuff isn't free, but charges are minimal.
The Federal Marketplace (http://www.fedmarket.com) Want to do business with the federal government? This site tells you how.
Doing Business Online
What do you need to know and do to produce a sparkling Web site that garners hits-and customers? Find out by checking out these resources:
Electronic Commerce guide (http://e-comm.internet.com) Here's a sprawling resource with plenty of e-commerce information for both beginners and experts.
Sell It On The Web (http://www.sellitontheweb.com) Get more tips for effective e-commerce here.
E-Commerce Research Room (http://www.webcommercetoday.com/research) This site offers more than 1,500 reports and resources focused on e-commerce.
Emarketer (http://www.emarketer.com/welcome.html) Emarketer provides lots of stats, facts and tips about selling online.
E-commerce News (http://www.internetnews.com/ec-news) The site delivers on its name-if it's news about selling online, it shows up here.
Builder.com (http://www.builder.com) From CNET (http://www.cnet.com), the vast computer information site, Builder.com is one-stop shopping for advice and the tools you need for creating Web sites.
InterNIC (http://www.internic.net) This is the place to check on the availability of domain names and, likewise, the place to register the name you want for your Web site.
News & Information
As the Web revolutionizes business, more news organizations are rushing to polish their Web sites. If you need to know something-anything, really-you'll likely find the answer fastest by looking to these "best of breed" news and information sites, including:
CNN (http://www.cnn.com) If it's news-national, international, business or state-you'll probably find it at this well-organized site.
Money Net (http://www.moneynet.com/home/MONEYNET/homepage/homepage.asp) This site is crammed with breaking financial news provided by Reuters news agency.
Quicken.com/Small Business (http://www.quicken.com/small_business) Get the scoop on taxes, borrowing and most things financial at this rich site.
Quote.com (http://www.quote.com) Track stock movements here.
The Motley Fool (http://www.fool.com) Still irreverent about investments, the Fools still have one of the Net's best and most popular sites.
The Weather Channel (http://www.weather.com/twc/homepage.twc) Get speedy weather reports about your own area, travel destinations or pretty much any place you request.
My Netscape (http://www.mynetscape.com) Create a Web start page using Netscape's tools. Tech news, business news, even a personalized horoscope are yours with just a little effort.
Get the goods on your competitors, partners, vendors-whoever crosses your radar screen-by employing the many research tools now on the Web. Some sites charge fees, but a few good ones are still free. Either way, information is still power and it's yours to grab online.
Hoover's Online (http://www.hoovers.com) Research the competition at this site. Some reports have price tags, but most of what you'll need you can find for free.
Company Lookup (http://www.companylink.com/companylookup.cfm) News, research and contacts for 100,000 companies are what you'll find here.
Companies Online (http://www.companiesonline.com) From Dun & Bradstreet, this site offers information on just about every public and sizable private business on the Web.
BBB Online (http://www.bbbonline.org) Find information on customers and vendors quickly.
Company Sleuth (http://www.companysleuth.com) An absolutely terrific deal-it's free. Give Company Sleuth the names of up to 10 public companies, and it'll track news, stock prices, analyst reports and much more. You'll also get e-mail alerts when big news about the companies breaks.
KnowX.com (http://www.knowx.com) This site is the place to search through public records-bankruptcies, lawsuits, judgments and others-and it offers a fast way to do your due diligence on prospective partners and big customers. Searches aren't free and neither is reading the detailed results they turn up, but between $3.95 and $15 will get you the scoop on just about anybody or any business.
CreditFYI (http://www.creditfyi.com) You can find full reports on how even small companies handle their debts, and much of the info derives from Experian (nee TRW Credit). The cost per report: $14.95.
Post want ads, even read resumes of job seekers at the big help-wanted online emporia. Tip: Want-ads can also provide you with just the info you need to set salaries for positions in your business, so check all these main sites:
Short on capital for growing your business? The Web may have solutions:
MoneyHunter (http://www.moneyhunter.com) The online kin of the TV series MoneyHunt TV, this is a good place to start your search for financing.
Bankrate.com (http://www.bankrate.com) Compare credit card deals with a few mouse clicks.
Garage.com (http://www.garage.com) Hunt for venture capital and angel financing here.
Lending Tree (http://www.lendingtree.com) Shop online for credit cards, even car loans, by filling out an application at this site. The app gets forwarded to participating banks, which get back to you with an approval and terms. It's a simple way to comparison shop for borrowed cash.
Vfinance.com (http://www.vfinance.com) Here's a rich venture capital library, with plenty of links to venture capitalists with cash to invest.
GE Small Business Finance (http://www.ge.com/capital/smallbiz/index.htm) General Electric lends millions yearly to entrepreneurs. Find out how to get your share.
Who needs expensive, bulky encyclopedias and specialty dictionaries? The Web provides it all for free:
OneLook Dictionaries (http://www.onelook.com) Some 75 dictionaries-from slang to physics and accounting-are online and searchable.
Funk and Wagnalls (http://www.funkandwagnalls.com) Log on to this dandy multimedia encyclopedia.
Information Please (http://www.infoplease.com) Once a staple in every business library, this information resource (on current events, trends, government offices and much more) is now presented at no charge on the Web.
Roget's Thesaurus (http://www.thesaurus.com) Need a better word to complete a thought or letter? Get it here.
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (http://www.columbia.edu/acis/bartleby/bartlett) Find out who said what, where and when.
AltaVista (http://www.altavista.com) Stumped by a foreign word? A great-fast and free-translation service hides on the home page of this popular search engine.
Big dollars are made in export and import. Here are some links that will get you started and help you do it better:
Trade Information Center (http://infoserv2.ita.doc.gov/tic.nsf) This site from the U.S. Department of Commerce brims with links, tips, how-tos and details on federal help for exporters.
International Business Forum (http://www.ibf.com) Here you'll find extensive information on opportunities in foreign markets.
Expanding Internationally, American Express's Small Business Exchange (http://www6.americanexpress.com/smallbusiness/segments/expand_intl.asp?aexp) This site is a resource specifically aimed at importers and exporters.
ExporTutor (http://web.miep.org/tutor) From Michigan State University's International Business Center, this tutorial brings you up to speed on how to be a fast-paced exporter.
International Business Kiosk (http://www.webcom.com/one/world) This site offers detailed information on everything from visa requirements to exchange rates.
Need a lawyer? An accountant? Other professionals to help you with your business needs? The Web will take you to them.
CPA Finder (http://www.cpafinder.com) Indicate the type of accountant you want and where you are, and this engine will point you to local CPAs.
Attorney Find (http://www.attorney-find.net) Sort possible lawyers by location and specialty, then get links to their Web sites so you can check them out before calling.
Lawyers.com (http://www.lawyers.com) Here you'll find information on just about every lawyer in private practice in the United States, from Martindale-Hubbell, publisher of a premier legal directory.
Business Law Lounge (http://www.lectlaw.com/bus.html) From The 'Lectric Law Library, this is the place to do your own research.
SCORE Counselors to America's Small Business (http://www.score.org) Get free business mentoring from someone with real-world experience at the SBA's Service Corps of Retired Executives' site.
SHRM Online (http://www.shrm.org) Learn about the laws and policies that impact your business-and find links to consultants who can offer timely counsel at the Society for Human Resource Management Web site.
Strictly Small Business
As the importance of small business in the economy grows, more sites are tailored to the specific needs of entrepreneurs. Places to begin include:
Entrepreneur.com (http://www.entrepreneur.com) Well where'd you think we'd start? We offer news, tips, and everything else you need to start, run and grow a business. Check out articles from our full archive of Entrepreneur magazines back to 1991, network with other entrepreneurs in our chat community, post questions and information to our forum, and access our comprehensive small-business search engine, Smallbizsearch.com (http://www.smallbizsearch.com)
Hewlett-Packard Small-Medium Business (http://www.hp.com/cgi-bin/sbso/home.pl) Discover how to make technology work for your business.
Intel Small Business Computing (http://www.intel.com/businesscomputing/small/?iid=) Here's a terrific site with information on Internet business, business technology and other small-business topics from the mammoth chip maker.
Office Depot's In Business (http://www.officedepot.com/inbusiness/index.asp) You'll find tips and templates (balance sheets, collection letters, harassment policies, etc.) at this handy site.
Visa Small Business Site (http://www.visa.com/cgi-bin/vee/fb/smbiz/main.html) Visa offers resources, links and special promotions for card holders.
Guerrilla Marketing Online (http://www.gmarketing.com) From pointers to consultants, plenty of useful stuff is at your fingertips here.
Business Owner's Toolkit (http://www.toolkit.cch.com) From business, legal and tax information publisher and software provider CCH Inc., this is an essential bookmark for entrepreneurs. Get templates, advice, business credit reports and more.
The Web is loaded with freebies-and many of them are incredibly valuable tools and services. Among the cream of the crop:
eOrganizer (http://www.eorganizer.com) Keep online to-do lists, appointment schedules, birthday lists, etc.-and get e-mail reminders when the dates near.
LinkExchange (http://www.linkexchange.com) Get your ads on the Internet free of charge via this reliable program from MSN Microsoft.
Angelfire (http://www.angelfire.com) Free space for Web pages is yours at this Lycos Network site.
Shareware.com (http://www.shareware.com) For both Macs and PCs, this is the place to find "try before you buy" software.
Free Forum (http://www.freeforum.com) Get free books, magazines, catalogs and an astonishing array of other goodies at this site.
AmExMail (http://www.amexmail.com) Free, Web-based e-mail providers are ubiquitous, but this service from American Express offers powerful tools (mail rerouting, vacation replies) not widely available elsewhere.