10 Unique Free Tools and Resources for Entrepreneurs You Probably Don't Know About
One-size-fits-all advice only takes a business so far, but there are plenty of ways to get a leg up with personalized direction -- without hiring a consultant or subscribing to an expensive program.
A number of free online tools and resources are designed to help entrepreneurs and their teams not only know what moves to make next, but also to fill gaps in knowledge or skills without spending big. From social media shortcuts to hubs that present highly targeted feedback to companies at various stages, in various industries, there’s a wealth of information and assistance out there -- and much of it is totally free.
Click through the slides to learn about some of these resources -- including some that do the work and find tools for you.
Related video: The 3 Tools Every Expert Needs to Become a Thought Leader
Take a survey to learn how fundable your business is.
Think it’s time you started booking meetings with potential investors? Or do you just want concrete advice for growth? Early-stage American companies with less than $10 million in annual revenue, can take the the "Most Fundable Companies Qualifier Survey."
The survey, developed by The Venture Alliance in partnership with Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, is part of a long-term research project designed to identify the steps new companies can take to set themselves up for success. Each year, a group of finalists, selected from thousands that take the survey, will be eligible for a Most Fundable Companies List if they take the quiz by May 15.
Entrepreneurs who take the survey receive free, automatically generated customized feedback on business structure, pitching and more based on their responses. The system will also compare each company to an industry competitor and will also address market opportunity, founder commitment and other success indicators.
“There’s a reason certain companies are attractive to investors,” says Craig Everett, an assistant professor of finance at the Graziadio School who is working on the project. “Those type of companies are going to have high growth.”
Let Google train your IT staff.
Google has partnered with online course provider Coursera to offer access to its IT training program, which was previously only available internally.
While Google is looking to fill a talent gap and perhaps eventually hire some of those that complete the certificate, it’s open to anyone who wants to learn IT basics such as troubleshooting, customer service, networking, operating systems, system administration, automation and security.
The company will subsidize the course for 10,000 U.S. residents who apply by Feb. 20. For everyone else, it costs $49 a month, and it takes about eight months if students devote eight to 10 hours per week to it (though the program allows students to pace themselves).
Connect with Alice.
Personalized advice can take your business to new heights. Alice is an online tool that factors in details such as growth stage, industry and geographical location to curate appropriate resources to help businesses grow efficiently.
The types of resources Alice pairs companies with include online communities, experts and mentors, local events and targeted advice. This information is available to entrepreneurs if they register for an account and share information about their company with Alice, though a sampling is available on the Alice website and blog.
Entrepreneurs consult Alice for specific advice, or they can browse for inspiration on where to take their business next. Once users view one tool or resource, Alice surfaces other potentially relevant content and opportunities to keep the momentum going.
Create visual content for social media quickly.
The brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, so it’s important to present eye-catching images among your social content. However, a scrappy team might not have a large photography budget, Photoshop know-how or an abundance of time to fine-tune visuals for social media posts.
That’s where Pablo comes in. It’s a free web-based editing tool, created by social media management platform Buffer, that offers more than 600,000 stock images (and the ability to upload your own) and settings to overlay text. Pablo does the work of optimization and sizing for various social media channels -- all users have to do is write their own copy, adjust sizing and photo filter settings and, if they wish, add their logo.
Keep track of what you’re posting on Instagram.
Creating content for social media is one thing, but to execute a sustainable strategy, you don’t have to use a spreadsheet. Instagram marketing platform Later simplifies planning (with calendar view) as well as scheduling.
The desktop and mobile app allows teams to upload and store media, as well as label and organize it, including those items that you want to save for later, as inspiration or future posts.
Later also enables users to search for content on Instagram by hashtags or likes and re-post when they find something relevant.
You can even see a preview of what your feed will look like once a series of future posts is live, and drag and drop the squares to change their order and perfect your grid’s aesthetic in advance.
Make podcasts entirely on mobile.
Thinking about experimenting with podcasting but don’t want to sink a bunch of time and money into the project? Anchor is a mobile app (iOS and Android) that helps you record and publish podcasts using only your phone.
You don’t even need a microphone, much less audio editing software or a desktop computer. Users can record themselves speaking (including via phone call) directly within the app. They can then clip the recording, as well as integrate other sound snippets such as music (including from Apple Music and Spotify) or select from a library.
Anchor itself has stations where app users can discover content, but it will also distribute content directly to Apple Podcasts and Google Play -- freeing up creators to create.
Get a handle on bookkeeping.
Small operations -- sole proprietors, freelancers and even small teams -- have a lot on their plates. If you’re part of this group, you likely wear multiple hats and juggle various pressures, from hitting the pavement to find clients or customers to securing funding.
For help with accounting, Wave is a reliable, intuitive and, best of all, free solution. Manage invoices and expenses, with the option to connect to your bank account and download transactions, upload information from spreadsheets and more. The status of everything from account balances to overdue bills is presented front and center for users, keeping them organized and prompting and streamlining action when needed. It’s highly customizable and sortable.
The only aspects of Wave that aren’t free are payments and payroll -- those come with a monthly fee.
Don’t want to pay for project management software but still want to get organized and help your small team collaborate more effectively? The free version of Wirke might be the answer.
It allows access by up to five users, but there’s no limit to the number of collaborators those users can connect with via the platform. The difference is that users can create and edit tasks, while collaborators can merely view and discuss progress. One perk of the free version is that it does not limit the number of tasks a group of users can create.
Wirke users can drag and rank tasks by priority, share documents and other files (up to 2GB -- though cloud storage integration, such as with Google Drive, is included), monitor group activity and more, via desktop or mobile app. A paid version allows multiple subfolders, dashboards, filtering and more.
Scan documents with your phone.
The last time you needed to scan a bunch of receipts, did you tape them to paper, photocopy them and then scan those photo copies? Or do you have a bunch of random photos of conference badges and business cards in your camera roll? To save time and stay organized, an app from Evernote can help.
It’s called Scannable, and it allows users to capture and organize hard-copies of documents via smartphone camera. It automatically crops the images and uploads each as an individual file, and users can divide them up from there, send them to a cloud storage service and/or share them with others.
Another perk is LinkedIn integration. Scannable reads business card info, then finds the contact’s LinkedIn profile and adds details (including a photo) in your contact list.
Bring the coffee shop to your home or office.
What is it about ambient conversation, dish clinking and chair scooting that makes us focus? A 2012 study from the University of Chicago found that "A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition."
If you work best to the soundtrack of a coffee shop or other communal space, head to Coffitivity.com. There, you can sample “Morning murmur,” “Lunchtime Lounge,” “University Undertones” and other alliterative sound clips.the vibe,” as the creators say, and you want to go premium, unlimited access to the service is $9. (A lot cheaper than a month’s worth of $5 lattes.)