There’s a lot to learn before (and after) you start your own business, and if you don’t have a business degree or previous experience running an online business, your exciting plans can feel a bit overwhelming. So can sorting through all the advice and information out there for new and would-be business owners.
To help you get off to a strong start on a small budget, here are some reliable free and low-cost resources to help you plan, launch, and grow your new business.
1. Mentoring from Experienced Professionals
Want answers to specific business questions or insights from someone who’s been there and done that? SCORE is a nonprofit supported by the US Small Business Administration that provides free, confidential mentoring for entrepreneurs in person, online, and by phone. With more than 10,000 volunteers providing advice nationwide, the odds are good that you can connect with someone in your niche.
You can enter your location on SCORE’s Find a Mentor page to see all the SCORE volunteer mentors near you, search for mentors by industry or keyword, and find the closest SCORE office.
The SCORE website also has a resource library full of blog posts, webinars, podcasts, videos, and templates on thousands of topics. Some of the webinars charge a small fee but most of the resources are free.
2. Courses to Build Your Business Skills
Khan Academy has a group of videos in its Careers section that feature different small business owners and freelancers talking about what they do, how much they earn, how they work, and how they got started. The range of careers covered is relatively small, but even if your niche isn’t included, there’s good advice on running a business in several of the presentations, and you can get an idea of all the tasks that go into being your own boss.
If you’re ready to tackle business topics at the college level, check out OpenCourseWare from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The site provides free access to the materials for most of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate-level courses. You can search by academic department for classes on accounting, marketing, and other business topics.
Or you can explore OpenCourseWare’s Entrepreneurship portal, which includes dozens of classes covering planning, pricing, finance and accounting, marketing, patents, sales, operations, and much more. The only catch? It’s up to you to download and work through the course materials on your own.
Coursera also offers college-level instruction, and it provides graded assignments and feedback in courses from universities around the world. Unlike traditional distance-learning classes, Coursera courses don’t come with a traditional tuition price tag. Some courses can be audited for free, and if you want to earn a certificate or access all the course features, a subscription plan runs about $50 per month. One Coursera option for budding business owners is Michigan State University’s 6-course specialization program called How to Start Your Own Business, which is designed to walk students through the process of starting their own businesses as they launch it.
The classes you may need will depend on the type of business you want to run. Planning an e-commerce business? OpenCourseWare’s undergrad-level Economics and E-Commerce course materials cover pricing, sales taxes, different types of e-commerce, advertising, and search.
One recommendation from me: If you’re planning a service business like freelance design or writing, event planning, or repairs, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about negotiation before you begin, both to earn what you’re worth and to build good relationships with good clients. Becoming a good negotiator can help you in many areas of your business, from setting rates and writing bids to working with vendors and hammering out the fine print in contracts. Coursera offers more than 50 negotiation courses, and MIT OpenCourseWare offers materials for several negotiation classes from the Sloan School of Management’s curriculum.
Whatever you decide to study now, remember that successful business owners are always learning. Free and low-cost courses are a low-stress way to keep up with trends and innovations in your niche.
3. Guidance for Building a User-Friendly eCommerce Website
In late 2018, Google published its UX Playbook for Retail: Collection of best practices to delight your users. Google reviewed hundreds of retail sites to come up with its recommendations, and the result is probably the best free resource you’re going to find for learning what to include on your site and why to include it.
The free-to-download playbook uses Sephora, Warby Parker, Boots, ThredUp and other best-in-class e-commerce sites to show you exactly what works for six key areas: the homepage or landing page, menus and navigation, search, products and categories, conversion, and forms. For each area, there are details on what to include and what to avoid, to help you create a site that looks professional and is frustration-free for shoppers. There are also charts showing the ease of implementation, impact, and key metrics to track for each suggestion in the playbook.
Don’t let the playbook’s 108-page length discourage you from diving in. The guide’s design—lots of screenshots, checklists, and charts—makes it a fast, informative read you can consult as you plan each section of your site.
4. Easy Tools to Create Your Website
DIY website design used to be reserved for hardy amateurs who enjoy coding and don’t mind spending time tinkering and consulting support forums.
For the rest of us, website builders have opened up high-quality site design to anyone who can drag and drop. Site builders like Gator Website Builder make setting up a small business website or even an online store fast and easy by packaging everything you need to get started and making the design process a snap.
For example, every Gator plan includes site hosting, domain name registration, an SSL certificate to protect your data and your customers, analytics to help you measure and improve your site’s performance, and support. You also get unlimited pages, storage, and bandwidth so there’s no limit to how much your site can grow as you add products, services, and testimonials from your best customers. You can also upgrade to Gator Premium for priority support or to Gator eCommerce for priority support plus online store functionality.
Ready to get started? Choose your Gator Website Builder plan now.