As we near the end of 2011, the majority of small businesses (52%) still perceive that their top and biggest challenge is the general economic climate, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So given that, where can you go to get help when you need it today, and without having it cost you a fortune?
Here are 5 places:
1. SCORE: SCORE is an amazing organization, made up of business executives and entrepreneurs. SCORE is an all-voluntary organization that offers free, confidential counseling and education on almost any subject you can name. Need help with a marketing campaign? SCORE can help. Opening an auto repair shop? A SCORE volunteer probably has done that too. SCORE matches you up with a counselor who will give you as much help as you need in your business, and if he cannot help you with some specific problem, there is another SCORE counselor who can. SCORE’s counseling sessions usually take place either at your place of business, in any one of SCORE’s almost 400 offices around the country, or, increasingly, online via email.
SCORE also offers a variety of small business workshops, both in its offices and online. In a typical year, SCORE will offer about 7,000 workshops and seminars and about 150,000 people typically attend. Some are free, and the others usually cost less than $50. And, how about this – even though there are about 10,000 SCORE volunteers nationwide, the organization is staffed and run by only 14 people. Everything else is handled by volunteers. It is an incredible organization and a great resource.
2. Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): SBDCs are an offshoot of the SBA intended to provide management and technical assistance to small business owners. There are SBDC’s around the country, and each is tied-in with a lead organization that sponsors the SBDC and helps run the program, such as a university or nonprofit organization. There is also a network of smaller centers and satellite locations in each state and these too are associated with universities, community colleges or nonprofits.
Similar to the SBA and SCORE, SBDCs offer counseling and other assistance to entrepreneurs. Volunteers come from chambers of commerce, the legal and banking communities, academia and SCORE. SBDCs also use paid staffers. This assistance can range from helping small businesses with financial issues and marketing to production, organization and even engineering and feasibility studies. SBDCs make a special effort to work with minority and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs, as well as veterans, women and the disabled.
3. The Small Business Administration (SBA) Website: What would you say if I told you that there is a website that helps small businesses in a variety of ways? That would be a pretty good resource to have, wouldn’t you say? Well there is and it is:
- In its field offices throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam, the SBA offers classes, counseling and programs designed to help small businesses succeed at low or no cost.
- After a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) or other major calamitous event (like September 11th), the SBA helps small businesses with disaster assistance.
4. Mentors: Having a mentor is one of the best ways to learn more about how to run a business. A business mentor can open doors, teach skills and provide valuable feedback. Where would you find one? Here are a few options:
- Ask: Finding a mentor is often the result of simply asking someone who you admire if he/she would be willing to mentor you. Or just ask around. Tell people that you are looking for a mentor; you may be surprised at how willing people are to help.
- Pay: If you know someone who knows what you want to learn but who probably would be disinclined to be your mentor, for whatever reason, consider buying their time. Is it ideal? No, but it may still work.
- Click: There are many places online where you can find a mentor: SCORE, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), SBDCs and via social media are a few other options.
5. Websites: There are many options here:
- Of course, I’m partial to sites I am associated with MrAllBiz.comUSA TODAY’s small business site
- Huffington Post Small Business America
- Microsoft Business on Main
- The recently updated SBA website, www.SBA.gov, is full of useful information.
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.