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7 Free Cloud Services and Software for Small Business

Here are 7 BizBest picks for top cloud services and software that’s free for small business:

1.      Home Office Suite: For many home computer users, the $279 Microsoft Office software is overkill. As a free yet powerful alternative try OpenOffice.org from Sun Microsystems. You can download for free, and it comes with word processing, spreadsheet, a draw program, database program and presentation software.

2.      Share Large Files Easily:  Sending large computer files can be a pain and an expense if you jam your email software or pay for special devices and services to help out. Dropbox is a better way – a private file sharing solution that’s free and easy.  Use it to privately share your files and collaborate in real time by web, email and mobile.

3.      Free Invoicing for FreelancersBillingBoss.com is a free online invoicing tool designed for small business owners and freelancers to create, send and track invoices. It’s easy to use and you can create your first invoice within minutes of signing up.  If you’ve been getting by with spreadsheets, or use complicated accounting software only for its invoicing tool, BillingBoss might be for you. Unlike some free services, there’s no limit on the number of invoices you can create or send with Billing Boss. You can also set it up so customers can pay you online through Billing Boss. There’s also comfort in knowing this service is run by one of the world’s leading business software companies, and that your information is encrypted and securely stored.

4.      A Virtual Office Online:  Microsoft Office Live (http://officelive.com) is a free password-protected online workspace where you can store and share files and access your work from anywhere, even from other computers.  Its companion site Office Live Small Business is a terrific, affordable place to build a professional-looking online presence, and get a free website and marketing help as well.

5.      Customize Your Own Free Software and Tools Package: Google Pack (http://pack.google.com) is new from the global search giant. It lets you customize and download you own set of free software and web tools that includes everything you need to work more effectively both online and off.  Dozens of  choices – all free – include:

  • Email, calendar and document creation applications.
  • Anti-virus and spyware protection.
  • Photo editing and sharing tools.
  • Skype for making free voice and video calls via the Internet.
  • Adobe Reader to view, print and search PDF files.
  • Google Talk to connect with friends via instant messaging (IM) or free voice calls.
  • A media player that lets you play and organize your music and videos.

6.      Manage Customers for your Small BusinessFreeCRM.com is a great tool for small business contact and lead tracking, sales and contact management, sales forecasting, customer service and business management.  The free version is self-service, allows unlimited users and provides up to 10 MB of storage. If your customer base is not particularly large, it can be a quick and easy way to automate your sales, do a better job of tracking leads and even manage email and call campaigns.

7.      Free Bookkeeping:  Wave is a free online accounting application for small business.  Wave cuts the time-wasting parts of bookkeeping and accounting. No more manual entry. No more confusing steps. By using smarter tools and new technology, Wave is reinventing the way small businesses stay on top of their financial information.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Guide to Sample Business Plans and Business Plan Templates

Starting or expanding a business?  Looking for small business loans, venture capital, angel investors or other financial backing?  Then you need a business plan, plain and simple.  Every successful startup begins with a sound business plan

But why start from scratch if you don’t have to. By using a sample business plan, business plan template or helpful business plan software, creating a buttoned-down business plan that does what you want it to will be a lot easier.  No matter what your business idea, there’s a free sample business plan or template that you can adapt to your own circumstances and needs.   

Even if you plan to work from samples or templates, you should consider using business plan software to put the pieces together.  While there are many business plan software choices available, Business Plan Pro (Palo Alto Software) is a “BizBest ShortList” selection and has been the #1 bestseller for a reason:  It’s simply the best.  At $99 for the standard edition ($159 for premier), it’s something no entrepreneur should be without. 

And here’s a big plus: Business Plan Pro comes with over 500 sample business plans.  Inspire yourself and your cohorts by looking at other successful plans.  You can even start with a sample plan or template and merely edit and change what’s already there to be assured you start off on the right track.

Another key benefit of using business plan software is that it can bullet-proof your numbers.  Nothing frustrates potential investors or venture capitalists like numbers that don’t add up.  Because business plan software comes with built-in formulas and linked tables, you’ll be alerted to any missing numbers, and the software automatically puts data where it needs to go.  Business Plan Pro also comes with data on over 9,000 industries, so you have numbers to back up your projections.

If you’re too cheap or stretched to spring for the $99, check out Bplans (also from Palo Alto Software) which offers hundreds of free sample business plans in popular business categories such as a restaurant, cafe, bakery, retail store, online or eBay store, beauty salon, day spa and service businesses such as accountant, insurance agent, self storage business and cleaning service.  Other categories include consulting, real estate, fitness center, construction and engineering, hotel, bar, medical and health care, pet services and many others.

Free business plan templates are also available from SCORE .  And coming from SCORE, rest assured they are well done and high quality. Free downloads include a business plan for a startup, as well as an established business.  There are also business planning tools for nonprofits.  Other helpful templates you can get for free from SCORE on the same page include: competitive analysis, startup expenses, opening day balance sheet, financial projections, breakeven analysis, bank loan request, cash flow statement, profit and loss projection, and sales forecast.

In the business plan templates for purchase category, Business Plan Success (Version 5.0; $49) is a good choice. It’s a quick and easy way to get your plan into a professional format (and nice looking, too!) that will get serious attention.  The template includes integrated, fill-in-the-blank financials, is fully customizable and comes with lots of extras, including a directory of investor resources, and guide to SBA small business loans.

You’ll also find a large selection of business plan templates and sample business plans – both free and for purchase – at DocStoc.

Remember these keys to good business plan:

  • It should be simple — which means easy to understand.
  • It should be detailed and specific. Your goals, objective, benchmarks, competitive analysis, market overview and other key items should be concrete and measurable.
  • Be specific about what actions the business will take, with specific completion dates, who is responsible, and budgets.
  • Your business plan should be realistic, including your sales goals, expense estimates, market size projections and milestone dates. Unrealistic plans fall apart quickly.
  • And be sure to read BizBest’s Five Steps to Business Plan Perfection.

Visit the BizBest StartupSmarts section for more helpful ideas and resources for starting a business.  

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Free Technology Training and Advice for Small Business

Keeping up with technology (or getting in the tech game to begin with) is something millions of small business owners and startups struggle with.  Many have dreamed of having a “technology mentor” they could turn to for expert advice, and access to free tools for learning how to put tech to use. Happily, there’s something new that promises just that.  

eBusinessNow.org – a new program just launched by SCORE with backing from a bevy of big tech companies – is in a mission to help small business owners better understand how new web-based technologies can help boost their businesses, and show how to tap that technology for business growth.

Online, on-demand “Tech Made Simple” workshops form a core component of eBusinessNow. These include:

  • Technology:  Boosting your business using tech
  • Roadmap: Creating a tech plan for your small business
  • Build a site: Building the perfect website for your business
  • Sales:  Using technology to jumpstart your business
  • Cash Flow:  Applying technology to improve your cash flow

But workshops are just the beginning.  eBusinessNow also offers helpful “how-to” guides in these same five topic areas, as well as local Tech Made Simple events held in cities across the country.  

Putting a SCORE Technology Mentor on Your Side

And here’s one of the best parts: An experienced SCORE technology mentor can provide personalized advice – for free.  Whether you’re just starting out, or already have a business, these SCORE mentors will help you harness the power of cutting-edge technology to grow your business.  Go to the “Find a Mentor” section at eBusinessNow to find a SCORE location near you, or search for a mentor online.

“When I first met Emmett, my SCORE technology mentor, I was a senior at the College of William and Mary,” says Frank Taylor, founder of Campus Massage. “I wanted to operate automated massage chairs on college campuses using a unique payment system. Before coming to SCORE I had encountered some technological barriers while trying to get the concept off the ground. Emmett has helped me refocus my business plan and navigate the complex process of developing a new technology.”

A SCORE tech mentor helped Yamile Jackson, founder of Zakeez, Inc. in Sugarland, TX, tap the potential of high-speed Internet. “Broadband is not a luxury, it is essential for my business,” selling products and services for healthy babies, she says. “Because our resources are limited, it is important to be efficient in how we distribute advertisements, news and sales efforts to a wide audience. Broadband also allows me to reach customers around the world, conduct web conferencing and keep an eye on my competition.”

eBusinessNow’s backers include AT&T, Best Buy, Cisco, Constant Contact, Google, HP, Intuit, Microsoft, Skype and Time Warner Cable, plus the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

These heavy tech hitters ensure that eBusinessNow has legs.  “The fact that we have such a strong list of high profile companies attests to the critical importance of technology mentoring and training for small business,” says Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Great Free Sites and Software for Small Biz

1. Home Office Suite: For many solo and home-based businesses, the $279 Microsoft Office software suite is overkill. As a free yet powerful alternative try OpenOffice.org from Sun Microsystems. You can download for free, and it comes with word processing, spreadsheet, a draw program, database program and presentation software.

2. Free Invoicing for FreelancersBillingBoss.com is a free online invoicing tool designed for small business owners and freelancers to create, send and track invoices. It’s easy to use and you can create your first invoice within minutes of signing up.  If you’ve been getting by with spreadsheets, or use complicated accounting software only for its invoicing tool, BillingBoss might be for you. Unlike some free services, there’s no limit on the number of invoices you can create or send with Billing Boss. You can also set it up so customers can pay you online through Billing Boss. There’s also comfort in knowing this service is run by one of the world’s leading business software companies, and that your information is encrypted and securely stored.

3. A Virtual Office Online: Microsoft (http://officelive.com) is a free password-protected online workspace where you can store and share files and access your work from anywhere, even from other computers.  Its companion site Office Live Small Business is a terrific, affordable place to build a professional-looking online presence, and get a free website and marketing help as well.

4. Customize Your Own Free Software and Tools Package: Google Pack is new from the global search giant. It lets you customize and download you own set of free software and web tools that includes everything you need to work more effectively both online and off.  Dozens of  choices – all free – include:

  • Email, calendar and document creation applications.
  • Anti-virus and spyware protection.
  • Photo editing and sharing tools.
  • Skype for making free voice and video calls via the Internet.
  • Adobe Reader to view, print and search PDF files.
  • Google Talk to connect with friends via instant messaging (IM) or free voice calls.
  • A media player that lets you play and organize your music and videos.

5. Manage Your  CustomersFreeCRM.com is a great tool for small business contact and lead tracking, sales and contact management, sales forecasting, customer service and business management.  The free version is self-service, allows unlimited users and provides up to 10 MB of storage. If your customer base is not particularly large, it can be a quick and easy way to automate your sales, do a better job of tracking leads and even manage email and call campaigns.

6. Free Bookkeeping: QuickBooks Online Free is a simplified, free version of the QuickBooks accounting and bookkeeping system for small business. While it lacks the more powerful features of QuickBooks’ other versions, it still packs a nice punch for a solo business. You can instantly create invoices, track your money and manage up to 20 customers. The “easy accounting” features of QuickBooks Online Free are designed for people who don’t know anything about accounting. It helps you get and stay financially organized by gathering your important information in a central place. Your information is then available to you anytime, anywhere via the Internet.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.