Get your small business off the ground with these free or low-cost online services
Thanks to the technology available these days, starting your own business is easier than ever before. You can make use of many online services and pay little or nothing to get off the ground. Here are just a few:
Squarespace (www.squarespace.com): There are several things you need to start your own business, and none is more important than your website. Squarespace is my favorite website creation and hosting platform -- they offer a ton of fully customizable templates to choose from (with the ability to use your own HTML and CSS if you're into that sort of thing), a complete commerce solution if you want to sell directly from your site, automatic mobile sites built in, blogging, analytics, etc. It really is a one-stop-shop for your website, and starts for as little as $8 a month.
Google Voice (voice.google.com): Your business needs its own phone number, but you don't need to go out and get a second line. Google Voice gives you a new number that you can then configure to ring on any of your phones. It offers free calls and text messages anywhere in the U.S., and offers a ton of features -- including my favorite, which is a transcription of voicemails that are sent automatically as a text.
Moo (www.moo.com): A new business has to have at least a little self-promotion, and the old tried and true business cards still do that particular job. Moo.com lets you design your own card or integrate your logo and artwork into their existing templates, choose from a variety of paper stock, and then order -- all from their website. I love their Mini Cards, in particular, which are about half the size of a normal business card. They are sure to catch a potential client's attention.
Square (www.square.com): The days of the cash register are long gone, and today's small business owner needs to be able to accept whatever form of payment is most convenient for their customers. Enter Square, a service that allows you to take credit card payments with your iPhone or Andorid device. Sign up for the service, and Square will send you a card reader (for free) that plugs into your phone's headphone jack. From there, use their app to make the sale, have customers sign on the phone, and even email or text them a receipt. Square makes their money by charging a 2.75 percent fee per swipe, which to me is worth it if it makes your customers' lives easier.
Simple (www.simple.com): You presumably want to keep your business bank account separate from your personal one, so it's as good a time as any to try out an online-only bank. I have been using Simple for a while now and love its feature set -- photo check deposit, "Safe-to-Spend" and "Goals" to help organize your money, and most importantly -- no fees. Simple partners with FDIC-backed The Bancorp Bank, and makes money on Interest margin and Interchange revenue. The service is by invitation only, but once you're in you may never go back to one of the big brick and mortar banks again.
Legal Zoom (www.legalzoom.com): When things start getting hot and heavy for your business, you might need to incorporate. Legal Zoom is like having your own lawyer who lives in the cloud. From here you can form an LLC, create an S-Corp (and C-Corp) and even register your trademark. This service is very inexpensive (compared to an attorney, at least) and invaluable when you don't have a lot of money to invest in your business at start-up.