Top tools for your business

Ever wanted to determine your eligibility for a loan, improve your business plan and balance a budget without even leaving your chair? The answer can be found online, where thousands of free tools are ready for use to help entrepreneurs improve their business.

Too many SMEs are unaware of the internet’s power when it comes to free advice. Whether you are searching for a financial planning tool or looking for ways to improve your website’s search engine rankings, the internet can provide thousands of these simple services for little or no cost.

So if you’re short on time and looking to get some free advice, look no further than the top 20 free internet tools and calculators designed to help grow your business.

Benchmark your personal wealth against the population

Ever wondered how your personal fortune stacks up against the rest of the population? This free calculator has been developed by Melbourne-based wealth planner Doug Turek, who started his Wealth Benchmarks site as a research project. The quick check tool is free and you can enter your details anonymously, or you can register for regular updates (also free).

Can you get that loan?

If you’re looking for a loan to start or grow your business, it’s nice to know if you’ve got any chance before you walk into the business banking manager’s office. Most banks have finance affordability calculators that allow you get a quick idea about whether you are likely to get your loan, based on some basic business information.

Calculate your home loan repayments

Nearly every Australian is keen to enter the property market, but with such tight lending restrictions and high prices it isn’t an affordable endeavour. Input the loan amount, the interest rate and the length of the loan to determine your weekly, fortnightly or monthly repayments and see if you’re ready to enter the market.

Get that business plan looking great

Business plans can come in all shapes and sizes – from a one-page summary through to a detailed War and Peace-style manuscript. To get an idea of how to set out a thorough but useable business plan, check out this guide from ANZ Bank. There’s a fictional example to guide you through as well as some tips on where to get the information you need to develop a good plan.

Preparing to grow your business

Preparing a business for growth is a daunting task, and one that is only achievable when you have a complete understanding of how your business is run at any given moment. This calculator from Infochoice provides a detailed analysis of set up expenses including advertising, marketing and technology costs, as well as monthly product/service revenue and monthly running expenses.

The ATO delivers it all

Engaging with the tax office can be a daunting affair, but there is enough information on the ATO’s official site to make tax time a touch easier. The site provides information and rates for PAYG withholding tax, income tax, excise rates and fuel tax credits. There are also calculators available for employment termination payments, capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax, fuel tax credits, GST, income tax, PAYG withholding, prepayments and superannuation.

Additionally, the site also provides calculators for ABN entitlement decisions, an employee/contractor decision tool for the construction industry and a link for information on how to obtain the tax withheld calculator on CD.

Plan your finances

This calculator from the Commonwealth Bank allows users to calculate set-up costs, along with a profit and loss forecaster. This break-even analysis tool provides a cashflow forecast and a balance sheet. While it may seem cumbersome to fill out – the budget details even stationery costs – this Excel spreadsheet is as comprehensive as a free online tool gets and can even be saved to your computer for offline use.

How to write a marketing plan

A marketing plan is typically part of a business plan, but it’s so important – this is how you’re going to make money, after all – that it deserves its own tip. This comprehensive guide has been developed by Business Victoria and sets out a 17-page template that you can use for your business. There’s also a fictional example so you can see the type of things you’ll need to consider.

What does each customer cost you?

Websites are a great tool to gain new customers without any significant cost to a business. But due to the number of maintenance fees involved in keeping a site fresh, any new customers gained may not even be enough to cover the site’s expenses.

To help businesses budget a website out properly, have designed a calculator that determines how much it costs a business to acquire each new customer that comes through the website. Judged against the amount of money spent by each online customer, businesses can determine how much these customers are contributing and whether their online strategy needs to change.

Sales target calculator

Targets are crucial for any business developing a sales strategy, but taking the next step in the budget process can often be difficult – especially for online businesses. But another calculator from Panalysis allows businesses to determine how many visitors a website needs in order to meet those targets. Online retail can change dramatically from day-to-day, so regular updates will be crucial for developing a detailed sales budget.

Are you breaking even?

Breaking even is an important milestone for a business, but unfortunately one that many start-ups don’t even reach. This tool from ANZ allows businesses to determine whether they are breaking even, along with detailed analysis of business drivers including sales volumes, average cost of production and the average sale price. It also calculates the number of units that must be sold in order to: cover start-up costs, cover fixed costs in an established business and achieve a certain profit level.

Analyse your industry

Maintaining your own business is all well and good, but how do you stack up against others in your sector? This calculator, based on information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, will give a snapshot of a typical business in any industry given a particular financial year. Based on annual turnover, the calculator can give information such as the industry average for gross profit margin, quick assets ratio, debt to income ratio and sales per employee.

Mark it up

Determining how much to charge for merchandise can be a difficult task, particularly when considering how much your business stands to lose. This calculator allows businesses to see how much they stand to lose, or gain, when setting a retail price for merchandise. Simple, but fundamental for any retail business.

How are you ranking in search?

Search engine optimisation is becoming more crucial as the use of the internet grows on mobile devices such as smartphones. This survey from SEOmoz of SEO experts delivers a range of information on what prominence websites should place on specific SEO techniques, such as the top five ranking factors for websites and the “effectiveness of link building tactics”. If you’re looking to improve your presence on the web, this information should be your first stop.

Free web monitoring

If your website provides a substantial amount of your sales, then having it crash for several hours without warning is an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. Thankfully, a service has been set up that will allow webmasters and site owners to be made aware of their site’s status whenever they like. This service allows free updates of a site’s availability, 24 hours a day for seven days a week. It includes website testing every hour, a weekly statistics report, email alerts, false alarm protection and accounting for multiple URLs within one account.

Steal your competitor’s keywords

As more websites become dependent on search engine optimisation for traffic, the use of “keywords” will become more prominent in developing a new website. It’s hard to know where to begin, which is where becomes useful. This service obtains data about various keywords and how much they can help your site, along with information on competitors’ sites and what keywords they are using. The service also provides “profitable keyword and ad copy combinations”, and information on how much a particular site is spending on Adwords.

Investigate search trends over time

Building up a website is all well and good, but knowing how customers look for and find your site will only help you improve your traffic. Using the Google Insights for Search tool allows entrepreneurs to compare volume patterns across geographic regions, categories, time frames and other details. For example, users can see how popular certain search terms become during different times of the year, which can allow companies to determine when and where to spend their advertising budgets – particularly for online businesses.

Check your bank links

While keywords and good amounts of content on a site are important for determining your site’s prominence on the web, the number of links to your site is just as important. There are a variety of free back-link tools on the internet, but many are unreliable and some even contain malware ready to infect your computer. This free tool documents the number of links to your site – the higher the number of links, the more likely your site is to appear higher on a search engine ranking.

Grade your website’s SEO against competitors

Knowing how to optimise your website for search engine results will only go so far until you can see how you stack up against everybody else. This tool asks users to submit a URL for their websites, along with the URLs of competing websites in their field. The subsequent report features information on how your website ranks in comparison to others, your Google front page ranking and advice for your page title, meta description and meta keywords. It also provides information on whether your page has too many images, how optimised your internal pages are, the “readability level” of your site and how healthy your presence is in the “social mediasphere”.

A currency converter that goes back in time

There are hundreds of currency convertors out there, but Oanda offers a tool that allows you to check what the local currency was worth on a past date – very useful when you are trying to compare price movements from foreign suppliers, or check how the value of your export sales have changed over a set period. There’s also a nice function that lets you print out a foreign exchange “cheat sheet” to take on overseas trips and helps you make sure you’re not getting ripped off.

Several ofthese tools were discovered using Business Victoria


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