It's a big world, but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to find and take advantage of the world's best resources for your homebased business. That's why we combed our collective knowledge of the homebased marketplace and asked several key homebased experts and entrepreneurs for their suggestions of their favorite resources. Of course, we recommend HomeOfficemag.com and the entire Entrepreneur.com website (shameless plug), but we know there are endless resources out there for all your home office needs. Here, we've combined our findings into what we judge to be the Top 40 Homebased Business Resources--the most essential e-business, marketing, online, startup, legal and tech tools around.
Top Homebased Business Resources
- Banding Together
- Cheap Labor
- e-Business Edge
- Legal Resources
- Marketing Magic
- Outside the Office
- Reading Room
- Shopping Smart
- Smarter Surfing
- Software Solutions & Tech Treats
- Startup Help
- Staying Healthy
The following individuals contributed their ideas and suggestions to this article: Janet Attard, Kim T. Gordon, Christopher Hansen, Jenny Hart, Lisa Kanarek, Annie Kime, Denise O'Berry and Jeff Zbar.
1. American Association of Home-Based Businesses: This association, led by industry expert Beverley Williams, supplies its members with information to help you deal with homebased issues like zoning, insurance and professional image, while keeping you up-to-date on the latest legislation affecting homebased businesses. And it just so happens to be free to join.
2. Entrepreneurial Parent: Like many entrepreneurs, you may have decided to work from home to spend more time with your kids. And like those same parents, you probably discovered the idea was easier said than done. Hop on over to this site for tons of advice on being an "EP" and creating your ideal balance between family and business.
3. Free Agent Nation: Part community, part activism and lots of cheerleading, this is the home of free agent guru Daniel Pink. Get advice, check out the latest news and find other free agents (a fancy word for folks who've ditched their corporate confines--you know, you) to chat, commiserate and network with.
4. Your local chamber of commerce: You're a homebased business owner? Then you need to network. That's all there is to it. Whether you're seeking clients, business services, a friendly ear or a bartering partner, you need to get out there and meet some other business owners. One of the first places you should look is your local chamber--and you can find yours here.
5. Barter: You can do this by networking either in your own burg or through an organization like the International Reciprocal Trade Association. Ask other business owners you meet if they have a need for your product or service--whether you provide public relations support or sell herbal soaps they can give to clients--and if they have anything they'd like to provide in return. When you can't afford to hire a designer to create a new marketing brochure, barter can come in handy.
6. College interns: These upstarts are fabulous for project-based work. You may not know the first thing about HTML or brochure design, but they just took classes. Plus, it's a symbiotic relationship: They're hungry for experience, and you're desperate for help. Call your local community college or university and ask to speak with the internship office, or visit monsterTRAK, a job site that caters to college students.
7. Family members: Come on, you know you kept them around for a reason. Whether you're doing a large mailing, have some routine filing to be done or need a babysitter while you work some extra hours, family is a natural resource for you to use. Be forewarned, however, that a new business can easily strain familial relationships, so you'll want to offer fair compensation, be a nice boss (explain tasks thoroughly with no patronizing or screaming) and expect mistakes. Also, make sure you're nice and legal by understanding the tax implications when you hire your children. Read this article to avoid future family frays: "Persuading Your Loved Ones to Pitch In."
Top Homebased Business Resources
8. Price-comparison sites: For cost-per-click prices averaging 10 cents to $1, you can not only show your wares side by side with the biggest merchants online, but you can out-price them, too. And because these sites operate on a cost-per-click basis, you only pay when someone clicks through to your site. Visit BizRate.com, DealTime.com, mySimon.com and PriceGrabber.com to find the best price-comparison site for your business.
9. Search Tools: Make it easy for your visitors to find the goods by providing a search engine. This site has not only an extensive list of tools, but also a guide for learning how to choose and use a search engine on your site, a free monthly newsletter, and search engine news.
10. SiteCritique.net: Everyone could use a little friendly advice, especially when it comes to web design. Sign up at this handy site for free, then submit your site for some constructive criticism by other users. Once you figure out what you want to fix, you can check out the other goodies they offer webmasters just starting out: a resource directory, a web design and usability magazine and Web design products and services. When you have a little spare time, boost your online karma by reviewing other users' sites.
11. Yahoo! Groups, Topica or SmallBizMailer: Collect the e-mail address of everyone you come in contact with, and ask them if they'd like a free newsletter. What better way to stay in contact, keep new and existing clients abreast of your latest offerings, and run specials and discounts? Yahoo! Groups and Topica's free services are fairly bare-bones and will display ads, so you'll want to consider how that might affect your image. Topica does have a professional (for-fee) service--or, send up to 5,000 messages a month for $12.95 through our own SmallBizMailer. You can even try the service out with 50 messages per month for free.
12. Business.gov: The tagline here is "Direct entry to information, forms, and assistance when you need it," and while that says a lot, their categories say even more. "Launching," "Managing," "Growing"--you don't get much clearer than that when you're dealing with the government.
13. Findforms.com: This legal portal offers a simple search tool, the results bringing up tons of free legal forms from all over the web. You can also find advice, links, books and more. One caveat: All this information is pulled from other sites, so check the sources carefully. And as always, double-check any legal actions with your attorney beforehand.
14. USPTO.gov: Not an inventor? You still need to know about the official site of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This is why: Homebased expert Jeff Zbar told us about his recent painless experience in getting a trademark: Instead of being mired in paperwork, he downloaded PDF forms from this site and paid online. If you're concerned about copyrights as well, head to http://www.copyright.gov.
Top Homebased Business Resources
15. AdBase.Net: Whether you're an online publisher looking for advertising or want to advertise your own business, you can take advantage of the search engine at AdBase.Net. As a publisher, you can get your site listed for free (upon approval). As an advertiser, you can search by a variety of media or by location. They've also got an extensive list of resources worth an examination for anyone new to advertising.
16. Common Errors in English and M-W.com: You think your customers won't notice a typo? I mean, hey, you didn't notice it, right? But they will. And if you're pitching magazines and newspapers your latest press release, there's no better way to offend editors than with spelling and punctuation errors. These are editors, for goodness' sake. Please proofread. These sites can help. (And don't rely on your word processor's spelling or grammar checker.)
17. Networking: We tend to hound this topic on our site and in our magazine, but with good reason: Word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to get your business' name out there. Not only is it great to have other business owners spreading your gospel, but those connections are essential for any number of other purposes. Barter with your new business buddies; partner up on marketing efforts; subcontract for larger businesses or find subcontractors for your own. You can network through industry or local business associations, or you can join a larger organization like Business Network International. (Disclosure: Founder Ivan Misner is one of our columnists.)
Outside the Office
18. Executive suites: Need to conduct meetings but don't want to invite business associates to your home or the local Starbucks? Plunk down a monthly fee for use of an executive suite; a receptionist will greet clients in style, and you can make use of the center's tech and office equipment resources. Visit the Office Business Center Association International for more information.
19. SmarterTravel.com: If you travel even just a bit, you'll find ways to save some cash at this compendium of special net fares, travel auctions, group deals and tons of info on everything travel-related. The real kicker, however, is the site's weekly e-mail newsletter. Pick a few departure airports, and they'll send you weekend specials for your last-minute plans. L.A. to Seattle for $139 round-trip? Just try to beat that.
20. WebFlyer: As if jetlag didn't cause a big enough headache, the sheer amount and complexity of frequent-flier programs can also make your head spin. Visit WebFlyer to sort out the mess. Here, you can register to earn bonus miles, learn tricks to earn and save extra miles, and enter to become eligible for the 500 miles awarded every week. Click on DealWatch for information on the latest airline, hotel and car deals; check out the blackout calendar for annual travel restrictions; or ask the site's travel guru your frequent-flier questions. Before you know it, you'll be racking up miles like a pro.
21. Wiredcommute: Don't leave for a client meeting without first logging on to Wiredcommute. Here, you can find out how clogged the local freeways are and even view the congestion via strategically placed webcams. Even more convenient, you can get driving directions to important meetings, check parking availability and make parking reservations. Reports are available for selected cities (including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York) nationwide.
Top Homebased Business Resources
22. The Home Office and Small Business Answer Book by Janet Attard: From what type of company to start to the "businessy" things you can't avoid like insurance and permits, Attard covers it all and then some. An essential resource for when you're just starting out.
23. Online Business Resources Made E-Z by Paul Galloway: We can only list 40 resources here, but for those of you who invest a great amount of time in your online business activities, Galloway has found 850 sites to help you with all facets of your e-business.
24. Safe @ Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security by Jeffery D. Zbar: Keeping your business safe is important to any entrepreneur, but when you and your family sleep 20 feet away from your headquarters, security--to get all "action movie" about it--gets personal. That's why Zbar's guide to home office security is a vital resource to have on hand. From your computer system to your alarm system, you'll learn how to keep what's most important to you under lock and key.
25. ConsumerReports.org: This site isn't free--it's $19 or $24 annually, depending on whether you're a print magazine subscriber or not, or $3.95 a month. But if you're making large amounts of purchases, you may find the knowledge--and the many avoided headaches from finding the best quality merchandise for your money--is worth the dough.
26. eBay: Here's a dual-purpose recommendation: Not only can you sell off your extra inventory for some quick cash on eBay or start a side business, but you can also find supplies for your home office, from computers to paperclips. Be sure to bid smart, however. Ignore that urge to bid, bid, bid for items you can probably get at your local office supply store for a cheaper price.
27. Warehouse stores: You didn't want to fork out the cash for membership fees before, but now that you're buying reams of office paper, you'll find their cavernous choices and deluge of deals are worth the money. If you're not sure you really need a 100-pack of Post-Its, team up with other business owners to split the savings. But just like eBay, make sure you spend smart. If you can't use 999 pens or don't have room to store your items, then you may be better off purchasing normal quantities of supplies. Some warehouse stores to check out: BJ's Wholesale, Costco and Sam's Club.
Top Homebased Business Resources
28. CEOExpress.com: One look at the resources on this site, and you'll be hard-pressed not to feel overwhelmed. But the joy of CEOExpress.com is the logical, easy-to-use layout. Surf through the site, find new favorites--and then when you go back, you'll easily find them again and again. (A similar site for more general resources: Refdesk.com.)
29. FirstGov.com: Check it out--there's a pig flying over a newly frozen-over hell. Yes, the government has made it positively easy to find tons of vital business information. By arranging links by subject (e.g., employer ID number and subcontracting opportunities) rather than agency, this site makes it simple even for business newbies to find the info they need to comply with--or even work with--Uncle Sam.
30. Google: Whatever you happen to be looking for, you can pretty much guarantee that if you start here, you'll find something interesting. Start your market research here; check out your competitor's sites; find suppliers. If you use Microsoft Internet Explore 5 or higher, download the Google toolbar so you can search directly from your browser.
Software Solutions & Tech Treats
31. ACT!: We grant that your brain has a lot of room in it, but the first time you miss an important client meeting, you'll be the first to admit you can't keep all your info in your noggin. That's why contact management software is a must, and many business folks swear by the easy-to-use ACT! With a calendar, notes, contact info and other functions, ACT! will help you track your ongoing sales processes--and pretty much everything else in your life.
32. Broadband Reports.com: When you find yourself filing your nails while waiting for a website to come up, you know it's time for faster internet service. But with companies bellying up left and right and customer service horror stories blanketing the net, broadband can be an understandably frightening prospect. Visit this site not only to find out what's available in your ZIP code, but also to read what folks just like you have to say about these companies. Just one of many bonus services found on this site: Go here to test the speed of your connection to make sure you're getting what you're paying for.
33. Download.com: It's easy to feel like a kid in a candy store when you start browsing CNET's Download.com. With software choices in every conceivable category (including--shhh!--games), this site helps you easily find the software you're looking for, often for free or in a shareware version with abbreviated features. And you'll definitely find a bunch of stuff you never knew you needed, but want nonetheless.
34. Microsoft FrontPage: If you don't have constant access to a webmaster, FrontPage can help you get your site updates done in a snap. You don't need to know HTML to use it, but you will have to invest some time in learning the software, and you will want a designer on board if you're just starting your site. Plus, if your site is really robust, you may need a deeper solution. But for the average homebased business owner, FrontPage can do it for you.
35. QuickBooks: Ignoring your numbers and leaving your accounting tasks on the back burner is one sure way to fail. If you'd prefer to succeed, grab a copy of the accounting software many homebased professionals swear by: QuickBooks. An examination of Intuit's QuickBooks site, conversations with fellow business owners and a call to your accountant should help you determine which level of QuickBooks you need.
Top Homebased Business Resources
36. DistributorMatch.com: If we had a nickel for every reader who's asked us where to find this or that product to distribute, well, we'd be on a very nice vacation. DistributorMatch.com is one very important stop on this quest--its goal is to be a matchmaker between manufacturers and distributors, and with more than 3,000 companies from 99 countries, they're doing pretty darn well. You can search their worldwide database for free or add your own listing. If you can't find exactly what you're looking for, you can also use the company's more extensive for-pay search services.
37. The SBA (and SBDCs): The SBA is the Mecca for small-business government resources, despite the ongoing arguments about whether the SBA is receiving enough federal funding and is doing all it can for you. For more localized, personalized business counseling, drop in at your local Small Business Development Center office.
38. SCORE: A partner resource of the SBA, this nonprofit organization exists to transfer knowledge from retired executives' heads to your own entrepreneurial brain via counseling and mentoring services. Visit their site to peruse resources, ask a question or find a location near you for a face-to-face session or low-cost workshops.
39. myGoals.com: It's much more natural to think about your bottom line than the size of your bottom when starting a home office. But a few months down the road, you'll realize that staying glued to your office chair with brief respites only to visit the fridge is not a good game plan for you or your scale. Use this site to get your exercise and nutrition plans underway. You can customize your own goal plan or use myGoals.com's pre-existing plans, and then receive e-mail task reminders. Check out the "Entrepreneurship" subsection in the "Careers" area to share your newly goal-oriented self with your business, too.
40. HealthyComputing.com: Is your work slowly crippling you? If you spend all or even some of your day in front of your computer, it probably is. Check out this site to learn how to set up your office for max ergonomics, exercises to stretch your weary muscles, and why your parts might be hurting and how you can adjust your habits to ease the pain.