free-web-sources.jpgSince I started this feature on the Daily Dose, I've begun hearing from a lot of companies that would love their online tools to be mentioned in this space. But their tools cost money! I'm sticking to my philosophy that all my Wednesday Web resources should be free, free, free.

Here's this week's crop of free tools to help you avoid bad customers, cut your costs, promote your business locally, or start a new Web-based business.

Wondering whether you should let that new customer pay on credit? You might want to check with BadCustomer.com first. This free site is compiling a vast database of information on customers who've done chargebacks in the past--disputed charges on their card and gotten them removed. If you see a pattern there, you might want to ask the customer to pay cash. 

The site provides merchants with information to put on their Web site about their use of BadCustomer as a possible deterrent to anyone who has a habit of trying to get their charges reversed. Will that really stop the problem? Not sure, but in any case, you'll know more about the prospective customer's credit-card history this way. Interestingly, the site appears to make its money on the other side of the coin, doing dispute resolution for consumers.

Avoiding bad customers should save you some money and aggravation. If you'd like to save more, there's BillShrink for Business. The BillShrink site, which launched last month, has a business module where you can compare rates on nearly 50 different credit cards to make sure you get the best deal. The site also appears to be readying comparison engines for savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs), as well as wireless service. 

Consumer savings on the site have averaged about $1,000 a year, BillShrink says. Given the larger charging volume a business can have, the savings could potentially be much greater. Given what a hot topic rising charge-card fees are these days, this could be a valuable tool.

Everyone's been trying to figure out how to use the vast, global internet to get more customers to walk into their local store in Butte, Mont. or wherever. One site that seems to be getting some traction is MerchantCircle, which offers free localized promotion and the ability to co-promote with other local merchants. The site hit its 1 millionth business in January. While joining MerchantCircle is free, note that they do offer some low-cost services as well, including designing online ads and website creation.

If you want a free website complete with hosting, though, you might try Yola. Formerly SynthaSite, Yola offers basic free templates and hosting. Buy a cheap URL on one of the big sites, and you're in business. 

Not sure how they make that work financially...they even offer online support. They do seem to sell a lot of Yola-branded gear in their store, so maybe that's the model. Oh wait -- they do have a premium level that's $50 a year, that offers more storage volume and better styles to choose from. Still a bargain price. Still not sure how they do it...interested business owners might want to sign on now, in case prices go up.