If there’s one ceaseless challenge that I always hear from entrepreneurs in Canada, it’s that they must always do more with less.
There always seems to be a greater rush to keep up with the competition, more pressure to deal with regulatory demands, and an unyielding demand to keep customers happy. Small business operators often quickly become the jack of all trades to try and achieve these things without breaking the bank. But taking on too much of this can quickly get an entrepreneur lost in the minutiae of running a business, leaving less time to execute on the more critical business functions.
If you find yourself bootstrapping your business, here’s some online services that can help. The best part is, they’re either free or have a small nominal cost and they’ll help you grow your business.
1. Yahoo! Small Business
For businesses looking for an all-in-one solution for getting online and selling products there effectively, Yahoo offers one of the most well-rounded options out there.
You can have your Web site registered and hosted, set up a catalogue for your products and sell them using Yahoo’s payment processing service, and do online marketing for your business, all in one dashboard. Yahoo also offers related content with articles that may be useful for some of the things you’re trying to do with the site.
Right now Yahoo is running a promotion on its Merchant Starter Plan, priced at $29.96 per month for the first three months and $39.95 each month after that. There’s a 1.5 per cent transaction fee. If you were to buy each of these services on a piecemeal basis, you could easily be paying hundreds of dollars a month.
Losing your business’ data could be disastrous, especially if it involves customer records. Don’t risk a hard disk failure becoming a damaging event to your business, and back up your data with this cloud storage service.
MozyPro lets you schedule automatic backups or manage complex, multi-user environments from a single dashboard. The bonus is that your files can now be accessed over the Web through a secure login and also via a mobile app. Online storage pricing begins at $3.95 per desktop plus 50 cents per month.
Mozy also offers a DropBox alternative called Stash, which will sync your files between multiple computers and devices as well as online. Like DropBox, it comes with 2 GB of free storage when you sign up for a MozyHome account.
Big corporations spend lots of money on collaboration software, but small businesses can have it all for free with Vyew. This ad-supported service allows you to share documents, have videoconferences, and do screen sharing for up to 10 users free of charge.
Vyew offers an intuitive Web interface and takes just a few minutes to register an account.
This site might not be pretty to look at, but it offers an extensive set of tools useful for conducting all sorts of business-based research free of charge. You could avoid paying information services some hefty fees merely by trying this site first. If you're based in Canada, be sure to go to the Canadian version.
Got an employee lined up for hire but don’t have an H.R. department to do a background check? Use this site to do a criminal background check. Want to see if an idea you’re working on has been patented by someone else? Do a search, and if not, then file a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office or the Canadian Office of Intellectual Property.
Some of the government services this site leads you to will cost money, but finding them is free.
Not every business will need this Web-based tool to design and share electronic schematics, but the ones that do will save a pile of cash on the expensive software normally used for the same purpose. Plus, it’s a Toronto-based startup (just like Wave Accounting).
Create an account for free to work on open source projects that will be visible to the entire community, or nab a paid account to save some private projects for yourself. Then start working on an HTML5 canvas and start dropping your wire lines, resistors, and capacitors.
The best part is you get to tap into a shared space for a parts library, and learn from the schematics uploaded by other users. The site is growing fast and looking to become the Wikipedia of electronics design.
Brian Jackson is an associate editor at ITBusiness.ca. Currently, Brian leads the editorial direction of ITBusiness.ca, whcih serves Canada's small business community with technology news, insight, and advice. Brian volunteered as a print and photo-journalist in Rwanda's capital city Kigali. While there, he traveled to every corner of the country, visiting the world's only natural habitat for mountain gorillas, border-region refugree camps, and the national university campus.