One of the things that I enjoyed about doing market research is that, 9 out of 10 times, the information was out there -- it was just a matter of finding it. That meant doing some exhaustive web searching or going to the library to talk with the librarians (who are in my mind extremely brilliant and knowledgeable).
I have since come to realize the same thing when looking for web applications. If there is some sort of online service that you want, more often than not, it is already being produced and out there. And, many times, those applications are free. This is great news for the bootstrapping entrepreneur that is trying to save a dime or two.
In the coming months, I will attempt to periodically profile some of the applications that I think are useful. And, I'll start with a few right now that might surprise you.
Launched in 2000, the intent of localendar.com is to provide people with access to public events. This is accomplished by giving away free web-based calendars. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I am not that interested in publicizing my events through their website -- but I am very interested in providing an interactive calendar on my website where my customers / suppliers can see what is going on. What I like about this application (besides it being free) is that it is easy to update on their website and then I can incorporate it into my own website by either providing a link or embedding it as an actual interactive calendar.
Listserves are another great resource for any small business. It allows users to subscribe to your mailing list, and then you can correspond with news, updates or promotions. Our business has historically used this service via godaddy.com, and it has worked well for us - and I do appreciate the extra graphic options that it provides. However, I have also come across some free applications for listserves (with unlimited usage) that I am now using for another organization and recommend you consider. The free application I used is Mailman, and is definitely worth checking out.
By now, craigslist.com is starting to become a household name of sorts! But, think of it from an entrepreneur's perspective -- what a great way to advertise (FOR FREE) your products and services, or your employment needs.
A family member recently referred me to scrapblog.com. For some businesses, creating a scrapblog of sorts may be a good marketing tool or a good way to showcase some of your products. However, I found it to be helpful for other reasons. Specifically, I found it very helpful and user friendly to create a customized website header (and saves you the cost of purchasing a photo editing software and in my mind, is much easier to work with). It is also helpful from a marketing standpoint to create customized, professional looks to help with your marketing material.
On a marketing note, the new HP Creative Studio is also pretty neat. It is an online application that allows you to create business cards, logos, flyers, brochures, websites and more. They do charge for some of their higher level services, but also offer free templates for the cash strapped small business owner.
If you have come across any free online resources that you feel are particularly helpful, feel free to let us know!