The story of starting a business in a garage and having it grow into a tech giant holds a powerful appeal in the American consciousness. Thanks to these types of stories and the overall appeal of entrepreneurship, startups have grown.

Fortune reports, “In 2013, venture capitalists invested $29.4 billion in 3,995 deals, up 7 percent in dollars and 4 percent in deals from a year earlier — total funds invested increasing at all stages of development.”

One of the fastest-growing groups is middle-aged entrepreneurs; according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity 1996–2013, the share of new business activity for 45- to 64-year-olds increased 22 to 53.4 percent from 2003 to 2013.

For new entrepreneurs, the right resources and tools can help build a business as well as make the idea possible. The following free online options represent some of the best available assets.

National initiatives

New entrepreneurs can benefit from the support and assistance of initiatives designed to help startups and new businesses succeed. Several national initiatives have taken steps to promote entrepreneurship across the country.

Startup America

Startup America, a White House initiative launched in 2011, is devoted to encouraging and building entrepreneurship throughout the nation. Its purpose is to unite both the federal government and the private sector to increase the prevalence and success of America’s entrepreneurs.

Startup America has launched two $1 billion initiatives and other directives to help entrepreneurs in five key areas:

  • Unlocking access to capital
  • Connecting mentors to entrepreneurs
  • Reducing barriers to entrepreneurship
  • Accelerating innovation
  • Unleashing market opportunities

Responding to President Obama’s call, the Startup America Partnership, now operating as UP Global, launched in the private sector to fuel entrepreneurship. It has a presence in more than 500 cities and 100 countries.

Small Business Administration (SBA)

In addition to the Startup America initiative, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has launched several initiatives and programs to support startups and small businesses in America. The SBA Initiatives page has more information on these programs and opportunities.

Making the dream a reality: tools and resources

Office Tools

Office tools are perhaps the most basic day-to-day need for businesses. File storage, schedules, invoices and the ability to work with office files are essential for most businesses.

Google Docs

Google Docs, along with Sheets, Slides and Forms, offers Web-based functionality for common office file types. It allows businesses and users the ability to create and edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations and surveys, including Microsoft Office files, and access those files from anywhere there is an Internet connection.

In addition to creating documents, Google Docs offers the ability to collaborate with others. These Google tools include functionality to share, comment and co-edit files with others in real time, along with an unlimited revision history that documents all the changes. As a result, these solutions are ideal for businesses that occasionally work with common office files; a paid solution such as Microsoft Office is ideal for heavy use.

Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms are free for unlimited use.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is a tool that can effectively manage meetings and other scheduling items for a person or team. Because users can create multiple calendars in any given account, they can have dedicated calendars just for work and share them with the manager or owner.

Features include event notifications, mobile and online access, the ability to find a time for attendees and other helpful features. It’s free for unlimited use.

Free Invoice Generator

Free Invoice Generator offers the ability to create, download and send invoices. Features include multiple currencies and functionality for discounts, shipping and taxes.

This simple invoice generator is one of many similar tools that businesses can use to take care of invoices. It’s free for unlimited use.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a popular cloud storage tool that businesses can use to store and protect files. It also allows users to easily share files with others, which can be a convenient feature for small businesses to send and sync files.

For moderate file storage needs, Dropbox can be a good solution. Desktop and mobile access is free for two gigabytes of space, while paid plans are available for businesses and personal users needing additional space.

Marketing tools

The right marketing tools can help propel any new startup. A business’s marketing needs often include a website, search engine optimization (SEO), graphic design, and email and social media marketing.

WordPress.org

WordPress is an open-source content management system and blogging tool used to create new websites. It allows businesses to set up a free website complete with blogging features and different themes and plugins to customize the experience for visitors.

The tool of choice for tens of millions of websites, WordPress is free for unlimited use. However, costs are often incurred for a domain name. This tool, WordPress.org, is not to be confused with the free service WordPress.com.

Open Site Explorer

Open Site Explorer from Moz is a tool that can help businesses analyze their website’s SEO efforts. It’s particularly effective for looking at metrics such as page authority and internal and external links to maximize link-building efforts. Many visitors use it to gauge a site’s overall SEO health.

This tool is free except for three features only available to paid subscribers: spam analysis, link opportunities and advanced reports.

Canva

Canva is a graphic design tool that businesses can use to generate graphics for marketing purposes. It can efficiently create website graphics, posters, cards, presentations and more without the difficulty curve and knowledge needed to use graphic design software.

Features include stock image photo integration, use of user photos, simple color and text selections and more. It’s free for unlimited use, with a charge for each premium image that is purchased.

MailChimp

MailChimp is an email marketing tool with a generous free plan that appeals to many startups and small businesses. It includes features such as email templates, geolocation, analytics and other abilities that can help with business growth.

MailChimp’s free plan allows users to send 12,000 emails a month to up to 2,000 subscribers.

HootSuite

HootSuite is a social media management tool that allows businesses to schedule posts, view analytics and track certain topics and events. A customizable interface can keep all relevant information in clear view, saving time needed to connect to others and ultimately grow a business through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

HootSuite’s free plan includes up to three social profiles and basic features that can fit the needs of a startup.

Law and tax resources

Law and tax resources can help new owners understand their obligations and how to navigate this complex issue. However, businesses should consult with a professional for specific advice or help in these areas.

IRS

The IRS has a list of tax forms and resources available for small businesses. It’s a good starting point for businesses to start filing taxes and learn more about the subject.

Docracy

Docracy offers an open collection of legal documents, as well as the ability to negotiate and sign documents online. Founding documents, consulting and nondisclosure agreements, employment offers and other types of files are available, giving others a useful starting point for crafting important documents.

All documents on the site are free and may be used, though the site does not offer legal advice nor does it serve as a substitute for the work that a licensed attorney or law firm does.

Productivity Tools

The right productivity tools can make a business run more efficiently and help with collaboration. Task managers and note-taking tools represent two of the most common types of productivity tools.

Trello

Trello is a task manager for individuals and teams. It uses cards that are dragged and dropped between lists to show how a project is progressing. Updated in real time, the tool integrates due dates, attachments, labels and other features.

Trello is free for unlimited use. Paid account types are available.

Evernote

Evernote is a note-taking tool that can form a note out of text or some other type of media, including a picture or full Web page. Notes also support file attachments, a tagging system, sharing and different notebooks.

The free plan includes up to 60 megabytes of monthly upload space. Other paid plans offer additional space and more features.

Planning for success: next steps

Although tools and resources can help new entrepreneurs get ready to launch a business, further actions need to be taken. Even more resources are available, and the value of education is key.

Resources for further learning

The SBA contains an extensive section on starting a business. Topics include creating a business plan, choosing a business structure and information on licenses and permits, finances, funding sources, taxes, location and equipment, employees and more.

Aspiring entrepreneurs should also consult state-based resources where the business will be launched. For instance, in Florida, the Florida Department of State includes helpful resources on starting a business in the state. Also, Florida Trend has an online guide that is full of tips and advice.

The benefit of a college education

Entrepreneurs can help ensure success by gaining the knowledge and skills needed to grow a business. One of the most powerful and natural ways of doing this is by pursuing a business degree, which teaches leadership principles in addition to topics such as finance, marketing, communication and other core areas used every day by successful startups and businesses.

At Southeastern University, current and future entrepreneurs can pursue a flexible, convenient online degree program that takes place outside of work and personal commitments. Three online business programs are available:

A successful startup requires careful planning and the right approach. Along with effective tools and resources, a strong education can help entrepreneurs meet their goals.

This post was originally published at the Southern University Blog