15 Free Resources Every Entrepreneur Should Know About

by Ryan Gunderson (22 March 2021)

You are passionate about helping people. You are intent on making a positive difference. The world needs more people like you. People like us.

People like us also need to run our organizations profitably, even if money is not what drives us. Why? Because unless we convert our “change the world” ideas into solutions that are successfully scaled, our impact will remain limited. My first startup, providing in-home care to the elderly, positively impacted clients, employees, and their families. But the reality is that I paid money for the privilege of serving and employing them, because our organization’s cash outflows exceeded our cash inflows. My first startup was an unintentional “non-profit” that was not financially sustainable, so I sold the business at a loss.

Thankfully, as long as we learn from our mistakes, no experience is wasted. By iterating my approach based on learnings from my first startup and an additional decade of working, living, and reading, my second startup became profitable three weeks into its existence.

How did I do it? Mainly by bootstrapping the second venture, keeping things lean and agile. This post suggests practical, tactical ways to improve your organization’s profitability by saving thousands — maybe even tens of thousands — of dollars in startup costs and annual operating expenses. The 15 vendors highlighted below each offer free services that address common challenges faced by many entrepreneurs, small businesses, and social enterprises.

  1. Lean Stack (Business Planning)

Before you spend too much time or money on your new idea, Lean Canvas can help you flesh out a one-page business plan that brings clarity and focus to your idea. For additional guidance on how to turn your vision into reality, consider reading or listening to The Lean Startup, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, and Atomic Habits. Libby might even be able to help you borrow them electronically from your library for free.

  1. SBA (Compliance)

Complying with all federal, state, and local regulations can take significant effort. If you currently have an income, it would be wise to complete all initial compliance steps before you quit your job to pursue your entrepreneurial dream. To further reduce risk, you might even keep your day job until you’ve proven that the new gig is as viable in practice as it is in your dreams. Among other requirements, you’ll need to

  • register your business with your secretary of state;

  • receive an employer identification number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service;

  • get a state tax ID;

  • obtain any business licenses or permits specific to your industry or location;

  • sign up for workers' compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and potentially other types of insurance;

  • use government forms such as W-4, I-9, W-9, W-2, 1099, 1040;

  • follow numerous employment laws;

  • pay federal, state, and local taxes;

  • file periodic reports with your secretary of state to maintain your certificate of good standing.

The compliance bullets above are neither comprehensive nor detailed, but the US Small Business Administration (SBA) is a great resource to help you educate yourself on such matters. To ensure that efforts aren't duplicated and nothing falls through the cracks, discuss with your accountant and lawyer which of these requirements they will complete on your behalf (at what price) and which you will complete yourself.

  1. EngageBay (Sales CRM)

The harsh reality is that the vast majority of businesses fail. Why? Because they are unsuccessful at generating sales that exceed expenses. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software can help you track and plan your interactions with contacts who might award or refer business to you. EngageBay offers a compelling free Sales CRM, edging out a few other great free options for inclusion in this list. You can find other alternatives in a table at the end of this post.

  1. Airtable (Project Management, Workflow Automation)

Airtable is a flexible platform to help you manage your projects, organize your broad range of responsibilities, or even create a custom app.

Whatever you use it for, Airtable includes a prominent automations menu that provides suggestions on how to improve your processes and streamline your workflows. Workflow automation can help you to focus your time and energy on activities that will add value to your customers rather than on mundane repetitive tasks.

  1. Upwork (Freelance Platform)

Upwork can help you to control personnel costs. For example, rather than hiring a full-time employee for tens of thousands of dollars per year before your business can actually afford it, you could pay between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars to freelancers as needed, plus a 3% fee to Upwork.

Depending on your business and skillsets, Upwork may also help you to earn profitable business. It costs nothing to view or bid on projects, and when you complete a contract awarded through its platform, Upwork takes a 5-20% cut of the revenue it helped you to generate.

  1. NOLO (Legal)

The legal documents and forms that you need to create and file for your new business will vary depending on your state and the type of legal entity you choose. Depending on your industry, you may also need service agreements, confidential disclosure agreements, or other legal agreements to support the ongoing operation of your business. NOLO offers many free templates that may be a good starting point for some of your needs. But don’t feel ashamed if you decide to speak with an attorney rather than doing it yourself. Legal mistakes can be costly. How much is peace of mind worth to you?

  1. Zoho (Custom Email, Expenses, Social Media)

An email address along the lines of does not lend the same credibility to your organization as If you’re more tech-savvy than most people, Zoho Mail could save you several dollars each month on a custom email address, compared with popular paid options from Google or Microsoft. Although the only way to read and send email with Zoho’s free plan is through their app or website, the premium $1 per month plan allows you to integrate with a third-party email client or CRM using IMAP, POP3, or Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync.

Even if you’re a team of one, expense management software such as Zoho Expense can help you to properly segregate your personal expenses from your business expenses, which is a must for maintaining the corporate veil that limits your personal liability.

Maintaining social media accounts can be time-consuming, especially if you have accounts spanning multiple platforms. Zoho Social simplifies this task.

Zoho’s software portfolio is broad, competing with many of the vendors in this article. Most of their solutions combine above average customer satisfaction with below average cost, thus providing good value.

  1. Google (Calendar, Office Suite, Phone, Website)

Google Workspace is a paid turnkey solution that may meet all your email, calendar, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and cloud storage needs. But if you’re determined to save money by managing your custom email address with Zoho Email, you can still use that custom email address to sign up for a free Google account. Then, when you send invites from Google Calendar or share documents, spreadsheets, or slides from Google Drive, the recipient sees your custom email domain even though Google is not your email service provider.

With a Google account, you can also sign up for a free phone number through Google Voice. That way, on the same smartphone as your personal phone number, you can also make and receive calls and texts from your business number. Google Voice also gives you the option to make and receive calls from your computer.

You can build your website and even host your custom domain for free with Google Sites. Other free website builders are superior in the quantity and quality of templates that they offer, though they charge for hosting your custom domain.

  1. Canva (Graphic Design)

Need a logo or a graphic for your website or social media post? Canva offers a number of free templates that are easily modified to make you look and feel more creative than you usually give yourself credit for.

  1. Calendly (Appointment Scheduling)

Wish it were easy for people outside your company to schedule meetings with you? Your wish is granted. Send someone your Calendly link and they can sign up for any available time slot, without the tedious back-and-forth “would one of these options work?” You can even embed Calendly scheduling into your website.

  1. Sunrise (Accounting)

If you’re self-sufficient with accounting and have a low volume of transactions that would benefit from integrations with other software, Sunrise may be the perfect solution for you. However, if you rely on a third-party bookkeeper, check with them to see how Sunrise would impact your accounting costs. If they prefer a different accounting software (and are more efficient at using it), they may be able to offer their preferred accounting software at no additional cost to your business.

  1. NBKC (Banking)

When it comes to business checking, NBKC is hard to beat. At the time of writing, their minimum opening deposit is only $5. They charge no monthly fees, no fees to stop payment on a check, no fees for bill pay, no fees for incoming wires, and only $5 for outgoing wires.

  1. SignRequest (eSignature)

It seems that most documents can be conveniently signed and routed entirely electronically these days. SignRequest offers a highly-rated free eSignature solution.

  1. Mailchimp (Marketing)

Mailchimp is a pure-play marketing offering that tops some rankings, performs well in others, and seemingly integrates with anything. Several of the top sales CRM offerings include marketing functionality as well, so it's possible that you won't need a separate marketing vendor.

  1. Bitwarden (Password Manager)

With so many different vendors, who has the mental capacity to create and remember strong, unique passwords for every website? Bitwarden is often recommended as the best free password manager, especially now that LastPass placed new restrictions on its free offering.

Under what circumstances might you skip the free options highlighted above? For starters, you should probably pay for accounting and legal help, especially if you’re a first-time business owner without prior experience in those areas. And unless you're comfortable tinkering with domain settings or excited to gain that skill, Zoho Mail may not be your best option. Similarly, unless you are satisfied with one of the very few Google Sites templates or you are comfortable using GUI-based tools to build and customize your website, Google Sites may not be right for you. For that matter, if you already have a solution that meets your needs for a satisfactory price in any of the service categories, there’s no need to fix something that’s not broken, especially as a business owner with dozens of items on your to-do list. In other words, there are plenty reasons why you might consider straying from the free default option. But especially if your expenses currently exceed your revenue, I hope this post gave you some new ideas to consider. Even if you used half of the free vendors in lieu of paid services, the savings could add up.

The free stack of services introduced above is also summarized in the table below. In some cases, such as CRM and project management, picking the best free option is a nearly impossible task, since there are numerous good options and individual needs and preferences vary. If one of the services highlighted in the free stack isn’t a good match for your needs, you might consider the additional resources to its right, some of which also include free options. If you would like to explore additional software options not included in this post, G2, Capterra, and GetApp are great sites for researching and reviewing business software applications.

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