Intuit Quickbooks reaching out to small firms

You can't argue with free stuff that's useful, especially if it has the potential to make a business run more efficiently. I've been on the lookout for ways that small businesses can cut costs, and some of the nation's bigger companies recently have launched initiatives to help small firms better compete in this economy.

Intuit recently unveiled the Small Business United campaign providing small firms some free services and tools and other services for free for a limited time.

The company is offering a version of its QuickBooks accounting software totally free, which could be a boon with tax-time just around the corner. It's also offering, for free, a normally $300 software program called QuickBooks Cash Register Plus designed to help firms track sales and customers. Additionally, the company is giving away software for creating a Web site and providing payroll and credit card processing services free for a limited amount of time. After a year, there will be a $5 charger for the basic Web package; and transaction fees still apply to the credit card program.

Lastly, through its MyCorporation unit, Intuit is offering free incorporation and LLC formation services through July 31.

Rick Jensen, Intuit's senior vice president at its small business division, said the company received feedback from small firms via its numerous chat boards and research that the "small business spirit still burns bright" but it's hard to build and grow in this economy.

"The economy is impacting a lot of [small businesses]," said Jensen. "As you look around as how Washington has responded to help Wall Street and the auto industry, we thought what can we do... because small businesses need help too."

To help entrepreneurs learn from each other's challenges and opportunities, Intuit has also kicked off a forum for small firms to share their experiences and survival tips. Judges will select 50 finalists to receive $5,000 and a camcorder. Four first prize winners will be chosen from that group -- those winners each will receive money and Intuit products with a grand prize winner scooping up more than $25,000. Entries are due by Mach 23 and finalists will be chosen by April 1.

Intuit is also contributing $50,000 in grants to several organizations that support and develop small businesses and entrepreneurs, including the Latino Coalition, National Black Chamber of Commerce, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council and Women Impacting Public Policy.

Meanwhile, Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence has teamed up with American Express OPEN to launch the Make Mine a Million $ Business RACE -- a year-long business growth marathon offering women entrepreneurs coaching and other resources. Entrepreneurs who enter the race can choose a business revenue goal ranging from $250,000 to $1 million. There will be rewards and a grand prize of $100,000 and national advertising. Participants will be judged based on sales, revenue and employee growth, net worth and profitability. Registration is open until June 30.


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