Our favourite blogs for entrepreneurs. Pic by jakeandlindsay

Our favourite startup resources this year

Despite spending most of my time working on my own startups, I find myself drawn to reading about what other people are up to, or making use of - whether it is new ideas, new marketing strategies & tools, or even inspiring stories. I can't help it. I have to keep tabs on who's doing what and what the latest trends, gadgets & tools are.

And while browsing sites aimlessly can be a great way to do nothing, every now and then you come across something that makes an impact, or changes the way you think or behave. These moments are super valuable because they can genuinely improve your approach to work (or play).

We've put together a collection of all the sites that have had an impact on us (SME Pals, and our community of readers) that should give you plenty of juicy entrepreneurial goodness to take back and try out in your own startups.

Help a Reporter Out

Help a Reporter Out
Without a doubt, this has been a fantastic find. HARO is useful for two main reasons:

  1. Connect with, and establish relationships with writers & bloggers
  2. Access real-world expertise and stories from entrepreneurs and business owners

We have produced a number of articles that would have been quite dull without the fantastic input we received in response to our story requests. And, conversely, we have also made some great friends who have ended up talking about us and referring other people to us as a result of our responses to their requests.

Definitely something small businesses and startups should be making use of to grow their network, and gain some decent exposure.

Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson author of 'Where good ideas come from'
Steven Johnson, or more accurately, his book entitled, 'Where good ideas come from', was nothing short of a game changer for me.

He talks about how good ideas are a patchwork, a jigsaw puzzle, that get played with, changed, scrapped, revived, mangled, fixed, shared, lost, and found before finally coming to fruition. In other words, they're not a single blinding flash of inspiration, they're a culmination of all sorts of small pieces.

Here's a great visual overview of the ideas contained in his book:

Thinking about ideas as things that are partly evolved and partly constructed is really helpful. It means that instead of wasting time straining for inspiration, you can search for 'new pieces of the puzzle'. This is a far better strategy than failing to come up with great ideasm feeling stupid and giving up.

We also wrote and article summarizing the process of coming up with a great idea over at how to come up with good business ideas.

Twitter

Twitter has been an invaluable networking tool
Twitter, as it turns out, is actually an extremely useful networking tool - much more so than other social networks in my opinion.

The reason?

I think that people are active on Twitter because the interactions are quick and easy, making the barrier to entry for new interactions very low. This in turn makes it possible to connect with top influencers far more easily than any other medium.

Influencers are genuinely monitoring their account for commenting and retweeting activity. This means you can (provided you're smart) take far less time to get on someone's radar and build a relationship with them.

Startup Grind

Startup grind is a great resource for expert knowledge and networking
I tend to hate business and networking functions. It's not that I'm particularly anti-social, it's just that I hate "phony" interactions. I don't like people introducing themselves with the sole purpose of finding out what I can offer them, or worse, what they can offer me.

Google's startup grind is perfect for me because while there is plenty of time for mingling and networking, the bulk of the evening is taken up with a Q & A session with someone of note in your local business world.

It is something you can dip in and out of, which I like immensely. Just because you attend one grind function, doesn't mean you're obliged to go to every one. Pick and choose the events covering topics (and influencers) who interest you, and leave the rest.

All in all, pretty great value with the opportunity to meet interesting locals also involved in startups and business.

Shopify

Shopify responsive eCommerce site builder
We tend to keep close tabs on the state of play when it comes to important things like building online stores for startups. However, it feels to me like Shopify is starting to run away with things.

They are growing much quicker than the competition, and offering more and more industry leading features (like Buy now buttons directly in tweets). Yes, others like Bigcommerce aren't far behind, but Shopify seems to have put a bit of daylight between them and the rest of the pack.

That and the fact that two people asked me what I recommended to build a store with. I sent both to Shopify, and both were extremely happy with what they got out of it. So, for me at least, there is direct tangible proof that Shopify is working well for entrepreneurs.

Canva

Canva provides professional design features for images and documents
Rocco Tuccio, the founder of Zippy Robotics, recommended Canva as tool that allows companies to easily make their own professional designs.

I jumped on this one because I am not a designer (I'm essentially design impaired), and I know first hand how frustrating it can be to try and create professional looking content online. I'll be using Canva to create any infographics we need in the future.

As Rocco says:

They have templates for making social media images, infographics, posters, presentations, etc. In a few minutes you can have a custom image that looks as though it was designed by a professional. We use it mostly for Twitter and presentations, and you can upload your own images to insert and modify, or select from their database.

Skype

Skype provides free VoIP calls and messaging
I work for several different startups and companies, and have to spend quite a bit of time working with people in Europe, the States, and Asia, while I am based in Cape Town, South Africa.

It would simply not be possibly to communicate with everyone I need to by traditional methods, yet Skype makes it quick, easy and completely free to talk to any number of people, anywhere, at any time.

I today's modern era of virtual offices, where businesses employ people all over the globe, Skype is an absolute necessity. And, what's more, it can help drastically cut communications costs - so you don't need to pay for anything more than an Internet connection and bandwidth.

DropBox

DropBox provides cloud based file sharing
DropBox is a cloud based file sharing service that makes sharing documents with teams of people, or colleagues and clients easy - no matter where in the world they are.

Save a file to a local folder on your device and DropBox automatically synchs it to the cloud, where anyone with permission to access that folder can immediately see and access it.

Travelling for a meeting? No problem, Dropbox files are accessible from anywhere at any time.

What's nice about DropBox is that it is pretty generous with its free storage space (5GB), meaning that small businesses can get a huge amount of free use from it to begin with.

Inbound

Inbound provides moderated, high quality content curation for marketers
I generally tend to avoid 'content curation platforms' because, in my humble opinion, information overload is all too real and people waste far too much time reading rehashed low quality articles, instead of actually doing stuff.

Inbound is different because they are one of the few communities that actually surface genuinely great content. This means you spend far less time filtering out fluff pieces, and far more time actually getting value.

I pop in each day to glance over the latest offerings and almost always learn something new and useful in the twenty minutes or so I spend there. Highly recommended if you are looking to establish an online footprint and grow via online marketing, SEO, and social media.

Google Analytics

Google analytics provides free Web traffic analysis
Google Analytics has become such an every day part of my work that I very nearly left it out of this article - it's like part of the furniture, not a great new tool to be discovered.

If you aren't using analytics to track and analyze your Web traffic, then life is going to get very hard, very quickly. Without understanding where traffic comes from and what it is doing (when it is on your site), there's evey chance you'll miss out on opportunities or potential problems.

Be careful though, Google Analtyics is plagued by referral spam (bot generated traffic designed to fool webmasters into visiting the referring domains) and in some cases, more of the data is spam than genuine traffic. There are ways to filter it out, but I must admit I am disappointed by how rife it has become.

Evernote

evernote provides an online workspace to save and manage life & work better
Evernote is an incredibly useful tool for me since I like to gather information about a whole lot of different things. By collecting it within Evernote, it's possible to organize and access it far more efficiently than more traditional ways - i.e. Outlook, or handwritten notes.

But I only make use of a fraction of the functionality available. You might well find that they have a host of features, from research, discussion and presentations, that help keep a handle on running your business - especially in the hectic startup period.

And, like all good, modern services, everything you do can be synched to the cloud and accessible any time, from any connected device.

Upwork

Upwork connect businesses with quality freelancers
Brett Bastello over at Inseev Interactive recommended UpWork because it has allowed him to make use of cost-effective virtual assistants on a project by project basis.

This has been extremely beneficial to our company's growth, by allowing us to outsource repetitive and time consuming tasks at a relatively low cost, so that I and the other stakeholders can focus on larger and more complex projects, which adds substantially more value to our company and clients.

A service like Upwork has great potential to help startups get otherwise time consuming and distracting chores out of the way in order to focus on more important things.

RankTracer Enterprise

RankTracer Enterprise provides Amazon sales analytics and competitive research
RankTracer Enterprise's primary function is allow people to monitor the sales performance of their competitors and be alerted in real-time whenever they experience a surge in sales.

It then provides tools and resources (like the hugely popular, free Amazon best sellers page) to quickly find out what marketing or advertising they used to generate those sales. The idea being that you can build up your own list of great marketing strategies by seeing what works for others in your niche.

But, there are other uses for their data, like market research and product sourcing.

I was working with a design based startup who needed to work out what products they were going to use in their launch phase - basically they wanted to know which type of products (specifically incorporating customized artwork) were more popular. Using RankTracer Enterprise they were able to get a good idea of which products they needed to lead with.

There are stacks of other great tools, books, services and resources out there that we haven't included on this list. Drop us a line and tell us what you use, and why it helps. Or, let us know if you decided to try out any of these resources and what the result was.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Working from home to make money online

Selling online is getting easier and easier every day, from a technical point of view, because the technology to handle online transactions (like online shopping cart builders) is fast, easy to use, and cheap.

Small Business Accounting Software Reviews. Pic by Matthew Hine

Bookkeeping, taxes, accounting, and a host of other financial and administrative tasks are vital to keep your small business running smoothly and profitably - even if you hate having to spend countless hours doing it.

In order to stay competitive, companies (in particular, home businesses or small businesses without the resources to hire a dedicated accountant) need to make use of cutting-edge online accounting systems (i.e. cloud based) that offer huge potential for integrations that can save a lot of man-hours.

Inspirational entrepreneur quotes

Life as an entrepreneur can be extremely tough, which is why it is important to sometimes pause and listen to inspiring quotes that keep you going.

But it's one thing to read a quote, it's another to see it brought to life by an artist's interpretation. Often, the imagery combined with the quote can have a far more profound effect than the words by themselves.

And, in the world of small business, finding the right words at the right time could mean the difference between success and failure - especially if you're at the point where you really need something uplifting.

Home office furniture. Pic by Joey Parsons

The humble home office desk and chair have come along way. Now we have adjustable ergonomically designed swivel chairs that do everything but make the coffee. In fact, it can't be too long before we get a smartchair - an iChair - that can control the coffee machine.

But, as it turns out, making yourself as comfortable and supported (in all the right places) may not be as good for you as it seems. In fact, the less our bodies have to do the weaker they can become and more susceptible to injury and other problems.

Tips and advice to save money for small business entrepreneurs. Pic by GotCredit

Starting and running a small business almost inevitably means that money is going to be tight at some stage - often for a prolonged length of time - until the business can start generating a decent stream of revenue.

I'm a strong believer in growing earnings above every other strategy. Saving money doesn't put money on the table, so it is more important to earn faster than to save. But, without efficient use of your financial resources it may be that your startup never makes it to profitability, and that's where money saving tips can be useful.