Launching a new business venture is a huge undertaking; caution and preparedness are needed to avoid mistakes. You need to conduct extensive research and afford yourself all of the available resources in order to help you make your business dream a reality.
Here are some free resources available from government and private organizations dedicated to small business success.
- SBA counseling. The goal of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is to help small businesses become big. They offer a variety of affordable programs and resources for home-based business startups. These services range from one-on-one free counseling from veteran business owners to information about bidding for government contracts and financing your new business.
- SCORE mentoring. The 13,000 SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) counselors are also available as startup advisors and consultants, and provide onsite help at counseling centers across the country. These are retired men and women who have forged their own career successes and now want to help you.
- Small business support groups. If you find the right group, speaking candidly with those who are in the trenches with you can give you insights into effective strategies and productive opportunities. If such a group does not exist in your area, start one! This will be a great avenue to network and to form beneficial alliances.
- Assistance from big businesses. These days, many established corporations are reaching out to small business owners with new products, services, and small business startup help. Office Max offers seminars with the SBA, American Express runs OPEN: The Small Business Network, and MasterCard has an extensive small-business Web presence.
- Your local chamber of commerce. Even if you’re not a member, you can still rely on the chamber to provide you with local sources of help in your community. Chambers in larger cities often set up entrepreneurial centers where you can get help writing a business plan or loan applications, or attend seminars and workshops on small business subjects.
- Your state or locality’s small business development center. Many state and local governments operate small business development centers out of community colleges or other municipal locations. The experts at your local SBDC can help you with business planning, cash-flow projections, or whatever else you may need to know to launch a business.
- Colleges and universities. Most universities and business schools have entrepreneurial centers, and they’re not just for students. They offer free help, one-on-one counseling, seminars, and legal and financial advice. Many universities also have small business institutes (SBIs), where professors choose businesses to help teach their students. The situation is a win for you and the business school, because it gives students insight into how start-ups run, while you receive the ideas, advice, and innovative thinking from the students and from their professors.
- Incubators. While membership in a business incubator generally isn’t free, they offer extensive resources that are free to their members. These may include training programs and facilities, high-speed networks, and free receptionist and phone service.
- The Minority Business Development Agency. The goal of this federal agency is to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses in America. They offer loans, information, and support to businesses owned by socially or economically disadvantaged individuals.
- Friends and family. Don’t neglect this convenient support network and resource. Friends can help you turn a mass-mailing project into an assembly line of helpful volunteers. They can also be a source of comfort and can help you generate more promising solutions.