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Crisis Survival Kit: 8 Low Cost & Free Services To Keep Your Business Running

With the competition for every dollar fiercer than ever, business owners must press any and every competitive advantage. Fortunately, smaller businesses have certain inherent advantages over large enterprises in downturns and now's the time to make the most of them.
With the competition for every dollar fiercer than ever, business owners must press any and every competitive advantage. Fortunately, smaller businesses have certain inherent advantages over large enterprises in downturns and now's the time to make the most of them.The unrelenting barrage of economic data is filled with bad news followed by more bad news. If it's not the stock market plummeting (between those bounding leaps of false promise), it's bleak employment numbers. For example, small businesses shed 281,000 jobs in December according to the most recent ADP Small Business Report -- 201,000 of those jobs in the service sector. That represents the biggest decline in small business employment since ADP started compiling this report in 2000.

This leaves business owners to struggle with skeleton crews and flagging morale in the continued quest for solvency. That puts added pressure on every penny to perform. Recently, Intuit offered some suggestions for "free and affordable" services that business owners can utilize to keep their operations running (and perhaps even growing). Not surprisingly, the list is laden with Intuit's own offerings:

  1. Look for freebies -- Many free and nearly free business tools and resources are available for small businesses, including software and marketing advice. Now may be the best time to take advantage of them.
  2. Get online and get found -- Launch a Web site to promote your business and sell your products and services online. You can do this free for 30 days using the design tools, services, and templates from Intuit Web sites.
  3. Find customers -- List your business on local Web sites; place Web ads next to search results related to your business, and drive sales using e-mail marketing. There's a free 60-day trial for these services from Intuit's Promote Your Business offering.
  4. Manage your money -- Keep a close eye on your cash by using financial software. Accounting software can help business owners make sure that their money isn't slipping through the cracks. It helps them stay organized, look professional, and be ready for tax time. Get started cheap by using QuickBooks Simple Start Free edition.
  5. Get paid faster -- Getting paid faster will enhance your cash flow significantly and using invoicing software can streamline and automate the process by keeping your accounts receivable organized, sending overdue reminders, and even generating invoices. You can use Intuit's online Billing Manager.
  6. Let them pay with plastic -- Whether you run a retail store, take orders by phone or sell online, customers will appreciate having the option to pay by credit card. Check out Intuit QuickBooks Merchant Service for a free 60-day trial and a competitive rate thereafter. You can also add a credit card option to the free Billing Manager service for $14.95 per month.
  7. Do payroll yourself -- Rather than paying another company to do your payroll, do it yourself using an online payroll services that pays your employees, pays your taxes, and files the required forms online with a few clicks. PayCycle offers online payroll services for $9.99 per month and Intuit's runs $9.95 per month -- both offer free trial periods.
  8. Barter it -- You're a Web designer and a small business down the street is a printer. See if you can revamp their Web site for free for a reduced cost on printing. Joining a community of entrepreneurs through a social network or online exchange might let you help each other out by bartering complementary services.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer