Running a business can take a lot of time and energy—and, let's face it, lots of money. While some expenses are worthwhile investments, finding free solutions to help your business can be just the edge you need. Check out the following sites and tools designed for small businesses and see how you can make your life just a little bit easier.
Creating a Web Presence
Almost every business today needs a web presence—a business without a website may appear to be out of touch with modern consumers. Setting up a website can sound intimidating, but there are services out there that make the job easy with software that does the coding for you.
Some services, like Yola, provide free hosting and creation of a basic website. There are limitations to what you get with a free service. Some services offer more functionality for a low fee or the privilege of displaying ads on your site. One service, called Wix, offers an easy to way to make a cool website (with flash!) for free. The catch is that Wix throws in its own advertising on the free sites, but a simple account upgrade removes them (ad-free plans currently start at around $6/month).
Another option is with Microsoft Small Business, which offers free web hosting and online business applications. The free accounts include some Microsoft advertising, but premium options without advertising are available.
Balancing the Books
You can't run a business if you're not getting paid, but invoicing and billing can take valuable time away from other important tasks. CurdBee can help you streamline your billing. This website provides free basic billing and invoicing services for businesses, and the Pro service, which offers expanded features like recurring billing, runs about $5/month.
If you're looking for a way to manage your overall budget and spending, take a look at Mint. Another free web-based service, Mint tracks your expenses and provides charts and graphs to help you stay on top of your budget.
Managing Relationships and Projects
Knowing your customers is a must, and if you want to upgrade your strategy, look into setting up a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. CRMs allow you to track your business's interactions with a customer throughout the business relationship and organize customer information for targeted marketing. A free service that also happens to be quite extensive is FreeCRM. Once you're set up, you and your employees can track sales leads, support tickets, customer interactions, and more.
If you work with many different people and need a comprehensive project management solution, Projity's OpenProj might be for you. This free, open-source software positions itself as an alternative to Microsoft Project and allows a way to manage team projects.
Maximize your communication with employees, vendors and clients with Google Apps. Google provides a range of products for small business owners, and incorporating Google Docs into your project workflow can be a great way to stay connected with your team and help synergize your business. Learn more about what Google Apps has to offer: Big Business Efficiency for Small Businesses: Google Apps.
Fixing Tech Issues
Finally, every business owner has had to deal with a technical error or problem at some point. If you're not sure what to do in a sticky computer-related situation or can't afford to call someone for tech help, take a look at Tech Support Guy. The site brings together frustrated computer users and tech-savvy volunteers who work together to find solutions—all for free.
On your search for solutions to your small business's problems, don't forget the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA offers extensive resources on starting and managing a business, along with information on local agencies that handle specific issues (such as worker's compensation insurance). Additionally, the SBA offers free online, self-paced courses for business owners. Course topics range from the basics of starting a business to federal tax training to building an e-commerce website.
For cases when free tools just won't do the job, check out the LegalZoom Business Resource Network. Get free trials and discounts on business services from trusted LegalZoom partners.