Halloween arrives next Monday, though for many the celebration starts this Friday and runs through the weekend. While one can’t overestimate the joy of unlimited candy, zombie walks, and monster mashes, the small business owner in you deserves a treat as well. The following truly useful free resources are sure to please and will help you run a successful small business.
1. Free SEO Management Suite
The free version of SEO Power Suite contains 4 separate programs (you can install any combination of them; simply de-select the ones you don’t want in the install wizard) that are a perfect jumping-off point for any small business owner embarking on a new SEO program. Rank Tracker helps you identify keywords and phrases for your business, and helps you track your rankings for them. Website Auditor locates errors in your webpages that may hurt your SEO rank. SEO Spyglass identifies sites linking to yours. And Link Assistant helps you locate sites that are worth asking for links to your site. Functionality is somewhat limited in the free version, but it is wholly sufficient for small websites.
2. Free HR Management Software
The Sentrifugo Human Resource Management System is an open-source application that is installed on your webserver and then accessed by your employees. It includes a wide selection of modules including standard employee management features (profiles, time sheets, project assignments, stored documents, contact information, vacation/time off management, performance reviews, and more), recruiting and onboarding features (position requisitions, resume storage, interview scheduling, candidate ranking, and background checks), sending notices to all employees, and an analytics suite that provides a variety of reporting options and dashboard widgets. (Read a full review in the original Tip post.)
3. Free Twitter Monitoring
Use the free Warble service to see who on Twitter is sharing your content. Simply enter keywords, #hashtags, @mentions, or even the root of your blog url, and Warble will send you an email each day with a list of activity related to those terms.
4. Free Time Management Tool
Whether you want to understand how you are spending your time, or whether you want to try collaborative time tracking for your team, check out Toggle. Toggle is used as a timer for each of your activities. You simply tap to start it and tap when you’re done with a specific task, and it will record how long you spent. At the most basic level you can use it to examine your day, or your week, to measure where you spend your time. You can also use Toggle to assign your time blocks (and your team can assign theirs) to individual projects or clients, and you can then run reports and use Toggle for tracking project milestones and for invoicing. The application is free for up to 5 team members. (Read a full review in the original Tip post.)
5. Free Password Security Tool
The password checker tool from Kaspersky Labs can help you choose and test a strong password. Enter your password sample in the tool, and it will give you a red (bad), yellow, or green rating and let you know if the password is too short, uses common character combinations, repeats too many characters, how long it will take for a common home PC to crack your password using a brute-force approach, and how long it will take the world’s fastest super computer to do it. It will also give you a feel for how long that really is.
6. Free Small Business Security Policy Template
The PCI DSS applies to every merchant that stores, processes, or transmits credit card data, and it provides a set of requirements for the prevention, detection and reaction to cardholder data security breaches that could affect your business. The new PCI 3.2 Specification will require some policy modifications on the part of small merchants in order to remain in compliance. (Read all about the changes in the recent Is Your Small Business Ready for PCI 3.2? Tip post.) As part of those modifications, you’ll need to create a security policy for your small business as well as an incident response plan. This Security Policy Template, which includes an incident response plan, was designed for PaySimple merchants. However, with a few tweaks it is applicable to any small business that outsources all of its payment processing activity. Use it as the basis for creating your own policies and procedures.
7. Free Small Business Research Reports
The 2016 United States Small Business Profile report from the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides detailed information on the small business landscape in each of the 50 US States. Each state profile includes the number of small businesses it has and the percentage of business in the state that represents, as well as the number of small business employees and the percentage of all employees that represents. Also included are employment and income numbers for the state and how that compares to national averages. And, sections are included that provide statistics for small business owner demographics, small business turnover, international trade, and breakdowns by industry. (For more free research reports see this Tip post from earlier this year.)
8. Free Source for Statistics
Statista provides a searchable database of studies and statistics, and claims to include “data on over 80.000 topics from over 18.000 sources onto a single professional platform.” In addition to straight statistics, it provides a large catalog of graphs and infographics based on the data it collects, as well as industry reports for markets such as e-commerce, services, technology and communication, and retail. Not everything is available with a free account, but there is definitely enough content to make it worth your while.
9. Free Online Vector Graphics Tool
Created by a team of German designers, Gravit bills itself as, “the world’s first web-based vector design tool… that allows everyone to create effortlessly all kinds of professional design, including web and screen design, mobile design, logos, flyers, business cards and more.” Not only does Gravit allow you to design for a wide variety of formats, it also provides free images and templates you can use in those designs. (Read a full review in the original Tip post.)
10. Free Stock Images
Creative Commons 0 (CCO) Public Domain Images are images the photographer has donated to the public domain, and can be used in any way, for any purpose. They can be modified, tweaked, used as the basis for your own creations, or combined with other images (as long as they are not sold as redistributed image collections). The following are great sources:
- Pixabay: My go to source for everything graphics, the site contain photos, vectors, and illustrations. Be sure to stay in the free section. There are a number of paid images available here as well.
- Visual Hunt: This site boasts “354,191,553 creative commons images” as I write this, with 74,590 of them being CC0. To ensure that you only get free to use without attribution images, filter your search for “public domain.”
- Startup Stock Photos: As the name suggests, this site is dedicated to scenes from a start-up. For practical purposes, this is the place to go for photos of 20-somethings engaged in business activities in relaxed office settings.
For even more CC0 image sources, check out tip post 22 More Sites for Free Public Domain Stock Images You Can Use for Any Small Business Purpose.
11. Free Video Compression App
Free Video Compressor does one thing, and does it well. It takes any compatible video (MP4 /MPEG4, MPG, AVI, FLV, F4V, M4V, WMV, MOV, MKV, ASF & more), and compresses it into an MP4 file of a smaller size. I tried the program with a .flv file, which was compressed to a 20MB MP4 with an imperceptible loss of quality. Going down to an 8MB file resulted in a bit of degradation, but the video was still professional looking and eminently viewable.
With all those treats, there must be a trick somewhere, and there is. This wrap-up enabled me to use highlights from this year’s Small Business Tip of the Week archive and forgo searching out new resources this week. (And if you’re counting, there are actually 13 resources in 11 categories–a trick that is also a treat.)
And with that, have a happy and treat-filled Halloween!
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