Whether you’re just starting out with your venture or you’re several years along in the business life cycle, from time to time, you might need help planning a new strategy or working through your business’ latest obstacle.
Before outsourcing the work, look to an agency that may already sound familiar: the Small Business Administration. Although widely known for its loan guarantees, the SBA also offers a slew of free or low-cost programs focused on helping small businesses grow. One of those programs, the Small Business Development Center, provided 1.24 million hours of business advising in 2016 alone — resulting in $6.4 billion in sales growth.
“We’re the best-kept secret,” says Mary Adelman, assistant director at America’s SBDC of Northwest Jersey.
From a network of experienced business advisers to resources geared toward special interest groups and more, here are eight ways the SBA can help your business grow.
There are nearly 1,000 Small Business Development Centers spread across every state and the U.S. territories, offering unlimited free business advice and low-cost training. At Adelman’s chapter, some clients have been regulars for 10 years. During their personalized one-hour sessions, they might discuss a marketing strategy for a book launch, sift through financials, or develop a business plan. Set up appointments with your local SBDC as often as you’d like, but be ready to show you’re serious about completing any assignments and showing progress, Adelman says.
These women-centric organizations are focused on guiding women through the unique challenges they face in the business world. According to a 2004 report, businesses counseled through Women’s Business Centers generated an economic impact of nearly $500 million and opened 6,660 new firms between 2001 and 2003 alone. Local chapters host training, long-term mentorship, and educational events in 100 offices across the U.S. The WBCs also share information on competitions, grants, loans, and federal contracts available to women in the business world.
By parsing through this network of more than 10,000 volunteer business mentors, you may find your next long-term business relationship. In 2016, SCORE volunteers helped 64% of its mentoring clients grow their revenue. More than 300 chapters are spread across the U.S., and you can connect with a mentor in person, via video chat, or over email — plus take advantage of virtual SCORE workshops and educational resources. Having a mentor is invaluable to a business owner’s success, Adelman says. “It’s having somebody that you can trust and you can turn around and brainstorm with.”
Here you’ll find a bank of free online courses on topics ranging from registering your company to acquiring a new business and developing a global strategy. For the ultra-motivated, videos and printable worksheets are available. The 30-minute courses are organized into four sections that align with a company’s life cycle: plan, launch, manage, and grow.
Wondering how your business stacks up to others in your trade – and how you can better place your next ad campaign? After you enter your industry and location, this tool allows you to gather and review data on industry benchmarks, your competitors, and where to advertise. You can tailor the results by adding revenue information.
Veteran-owned small businesses generate more than $1 trillion in sales annually, according to the SBA. VBOCs serve transitioning service members, veterans, and military spouses looking to start, purchase, or grow a business. There are 22 locations scattered throughout the U.S., and representatives can get you involved in local programs and grants available specifically for this segment. For example, the Boots to Business program provides a free two-day in-person entrepreneurship course followed by an eight-week program.
The SBA is keen on developing historically underutilized business zones that are ripe for economic growth. If your business is eligible to be registered in the HUBZone program, you can benefit from a 10% price preference on federal contracts plus compete for contracts earmarked specially for this program.
Minority-owned firms looking to grow can get business support at 35 offices, which are located in areas with a high concentration of minority populations such as Miami, Florida, and El Paso, Texas. Services range from mentoring to leadership development, educational programs, and financial consulting.
As you check out all the SBA has to offer, consider which service is the best fit for your organization. Most resources are free, but some come with a nominal registration fee. Simply ask about costs before committing to a program.