Starting a business is a lot different from finding your next 9-to-5 job, especially when you’re doing so after decades in a company setting.
Fortunately, getting help may be just a click away. As you get ready to launch your mid-career second act, check out these free and low-cost resources.
Jumpstart your dream with professional help
Don’t know where to begin? Not a problem. These groups are available to help.
Small Business Development Centers: Funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, these centers—located throughout the U.S.—offer free and low-cost in-person training and consulting.
You can get advice on business plans, market research, manufacturing, financing and borrowing, exporting and importing, and healthcare plans.
SCORE: Need a mentor who can help you set goals and then execute them? SCORE can match you up with a local volunteer—generally a seasoned business veteran—who can teach you the unwritten rules of business ownership.
SCORE also offers courses and live and recorded webinars, with recent topics including turning your customers into volunteer marketers and writing a one-page business plan.
Figure out if people want to buy what you’re selling
For this, market research is essential. While on-the-ground, in-person surveys can be helpful, you may also want to test your ideas with a wider audience.
SurveyMonkey: You can use this free online survey tool to gather information from potential customers in your own network. Don’t know your target buyers? The site offers access to a global panel of people willing to take a survey. Costs depend on your sample size, survey scope, and time frame.
PickFU: This site allows you to compare how potential customers will respond to one brand or product name versus another, or to test market copy via a poll. You can target prospects by demographics, such as female Amazon Prime members. Membership is free; pricing for polls starts at $50 for 50 responses.
Stay above the law
How you structure your business can have significant tax implications. So before you set up shop, it’s a good idea to get professional advice from your accountant and even a small-business attorney.
Once you settle on the right structure for your situation, you can find low-cost help online.
Lawyers.com: If you don’t already have a lawyer who specializes in small business, search the extensive database on this site for one in your area.
FindLaw: At this site you can purchase the forms you need for a variety of transactions (a package of basic small business legal forms is $59.95). You can also be connected to lawyers for advice on topics such as forming an LLC or incorporating—some offer free preliminary consultations by phone.
Rocket Lawyer: This site also offers legal documents but has a different pricing structure. You can either buy documents individually or become a premium member.
For $39.99 a month, you’ll get a 30-minute phone consultation on every new legal matter you face and access to unlimited documents. (Non-members can buy a 30-minute phone consultation for $59.99.)
Reach out to the crowd
Don’t have access to capital? That doesn’t have to stop you. If you are creating a product—and have an active presence on social media—you can try raising money from friends, family, and fans through a campaign on a crowdfunding site.
Kickstarter and Indiegogo are donation-based crowdfunding sites, meaning you do not have to give backers an ownership stake in your business, as you would on an equity-based crowdfunding site like AngelList or EquityNet.
Many successful campaigns allow your funders to pre-order a product you plan to create in exchange for donations that meet a certain threshold. For instance, a donor who pledges $49 might get a handbag the product designer needs funds to manufacture.
Kickstarter: Founded in 2009,Kickstarter can be a great place to fund creative projects in industries such as fashion, technology, and food, especially those that require relatively small amounts of cash. According to the site, 151,409 projects have been funded, with supporters contributing $3.9 billion. Among successful fundraisers, the largest group raised between $1,000 and $9,999.
Indiegogo: This site specializes in products built around emerging technology and design. It also has a marketplace, where sellers can offer products that have already been funded and manufactured.
Bulk up your roster of clients
When you’re newly out on your own, online freelance platforms can help you find clients, even if the work you land isn’t always as high-paying as what you would find by networking within your industry.
Typically, you create a profile on these sites and bid on posted jobs. One bonus: Often you can invoice clients through the platform, and many have systems in place to deal with payment disputes.
Upwork: This giant platform offers an abundance of professional services projects. You’ll need to apply to be listed.
Freelancer: In addition to gigs in professional services, this global site lists many jobs in more blue-collar industries.
PeoplePerHour: By posting a fixed-price offer on this site, you can get your services in front of a wide audience. Recent examples include recording a professional online video for $84 and writing a sales letter for $71.
Moonlighter: Not ready to take the plunge into full-time freelancing? This site’s focus is on part-time jobs and side gigs.
HireMyMom: Aimed at women professionals who want to work from home, this site lists flexible gigs that allow you to work remotely. Recent listings include Facebook ad manager, marketing “virtual assistant,” and product developer.
Keep close tabs on the money
Also, call your accountant. Some only work in one program, meaning you’ll have to either find a new accountant or migrate your data to a new program if you’re not in sync.
Once you’re set up, these apps that can help you track your expenses.
Expensify: This popular app will help you track business expenses, save receipts, and prepare expense reports. If you have a team, you can upgrade to a program that costs $5 a month per active user.
Everlance: Instead of keeping a mileage log—or always forgetting to write down miles—install this inexpensive app on your phone. It tracks the miles you drive and lets you classify them as work, personal, or in other categories relevant to your taxes, such as charitable work or medical appointments.
Each month, it will send you a mileage report that you can import to your accounting software. It’s free for less than 30 trips a month, $5 a month if you drive more.
Run a low-cost marketing campaign
Marketing 101 starts with putting up a page for your business on social media sites your clients use, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Then look into listing yourself on marketing sites and building an email list of potential customers.
Manta: If you offer professional services needed by other business owners, listing yourself on this site, which targets the small business community, will raise your exposure.
You can create a company profile for free. The site also offers plans that help you verify, publish, and manage your business information across the web ($99 a month) or do all that and manage customer feedback ($199 a month).
Alignable: This free social media site enables you to connect with other small business owners in your area and refer work to each other.
MailChimp: This email list provider is free for your first 2,000 subscribers.
ClickBank: At this popular e-commerce site, you can get help selling your product from legions of affiliate marketers, such as bloggers, who promote your offering to their followers. You pay a one-time $49.95 activation fee and then a fee on each sale to ClickBank, plus commissions on any sales to successful affiliates.
It’s especially good if you want to sell an informational product, such as an ebook, course, or software you’ve created.
Raise your phone game
Freeconferencecall.com: Once you set up an account with this free service, you will get a conference line and PIN you can use for conference calls and video conferencing. The site will also record both.
Globafy: If you make a lot of international conference calls and find internet-based services too spotty, you may want to switch to this free site, which offers high-quality conference lines.
You dial into a US-based number while fellow callers can dial into a number local to their country, saving phone charges for all. For some countries, you must use a premium phone number (fees are about $11.71 a month in USD).
Connect with fellow solo workers
Fellow small business owners can be a great source of support and advice—and are often willing to share their wisdom.
Meetup: If you’re looking for recurring events in your area where you can meet other entrepreneurs, search this site for terms like “entrepreneurship.” You may even find events tailored to your industry.
Eventbrite: This site is great for finding both one-time events such as visits by authors on entrepreneurship, as well as recurring gatherings. Some events are free, while others may require a paid ticket.
Startup Nation: When you can’t make the time to head out to a meeting, this long-established community’s business forums offer many opportunities to connect with fellow entrepreneurs. Who says starting a business has to be a lonely pursuit?