If you operate a small work-at-home business out of your spare bedroom or maybe even the laundry room, you may have shied away from asking for help from such organizations as the Small Business Administration (SBA). Maybe you think your endeavors aren’t worth the time and effort of bigwig corporate execs or other business owners. Or maybe you’re embarrassed that your current business assets include just your laptop and a rickety old office chair.
That’s unfortunate because the SBA and its partners including SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC), and the Women’s Business Centers (WBC), all exist to help out small businesses, and especially those small businesses that are just starting out. That help includes a lot more than just providing info on how to secure loans. Here are a few of the perks and resources you will locate via the SBA:
The SBA offers a number of free tools to help you. One such tool is SizeUp; this application compares your business to area competitors, provides you with customer data, and offers suggestions on the best places you can advertise. Using this tool, you can find information on where you have lots of customers but little competition, for example.
The Build Your Business Plan tool offers a step-by-step guide to creating your business plan where you simply input the required information into individual sections of a template. You can save this information for up to six months as you work on creating your plan.
Many government contracts are based on specific size standards for small businesses. Find out if your business qualifies for a particular contract by using the SBA’s Size Standards tool.
The SBA and its partners offer many free educational seminars, trainings and workshops throughout the year. All these events can now be searched by date, topic and zip code using the SBA’s Events Calendar tool.
If you just want to talk with someone in your area, there is a tool for that too. Via the SBA’s Local Assistance tool, you can locate not only the nearest SBA office but partner organizations like SCORE and the SBDC, VBOC and WBC.
Finally, if you are looking for a loan, there is a handy SBA LINC (Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital) tool that you can use to connect with lenders.
The SBA is, most notably, an association. As such, it works within a network of partnering business organizations. These organizations are more tailored towards specific area businesses and demographics and include the following:
SCORE– This 350-chapter organization consists of over 13,000 actual executives who are (largely) either retired or still employed but committed to helping out other business professionals. Help topics can include everything from mobile marketing to grants and crowdfunding to avoiding bankruptcy. You can also input your unique question and issue and receive an answer from an online mentor. SCORE also offers a lot of free webinars on subject matters like business loans, balance sheets and SEO.
SBDC– This centers offers low-cost and/or subsidized training and related services to business owners, including manufacturing and lending assistance, market research, and even disaster recovery assistance.
VBOC– This organization offers funding and other information geared specifically to veterans who are starting businesses. The organization will even conduct on-site visits to entrepreneurs to go over their business plans, funding situation, etc.
WBC– This organization helps women, especially those women who are economically or socially disadvantaged, to start and operate their businesses. Help is available in several different languages too.
Resource Guide for Small Business
The SBA offers a free magazine for small businesses which can be customized by state for local information and resources. In this magazine, you’ll find content about obtaining loans and training, local regulations, outsourcing and business advocacy.
It may seem counter-intuitive that you would volunteer your services at the same organization where you need help. However, by volunteering your time and skills, you get to interact with and work more closely with other small business professionals. This can lead to mutually beneficial collaborations and business deals. Also, by being more closely involved with the SBA and its partners, you can get discounted rates to conferences, trade shows and other events.
The SBA is the place to get help- before you need it
Too many work-at-home businesses fail not because their products or services are “bad,” but because the respective business owners remain isolated in a kind of business vacuum and don’t collaborate with others. Then, when their small business encounters a difficulty or delay, the business owner had no one and nowhere to turn to for help.
By checking out organizations like the SBA and SCORE, you not only learn a lot online, but you connect to a community of people who are also starting or growing their businesses. Many of these business owners work from home or from their laptop. By finding such like-minded individuals now, you stand a better chance of surviving and thriving as a business- especially when the unforeseen occurs.