Will the Government Help You Start A New Business?
Will the government help you start a new business? The short answer is yes. There are numerous government-funded organizations out there that can help with many steps of starting or running a business. In particular, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE and the Women’s Business Center offer free counseling, training seminars and (sometimes) resources like computer labs with business software. (For related reading, see: 8 Tips For Starting Your Own Business.)
The long answer is that while this help is available, you have to seek it yourself. Also,while many organizations offer one-to-one counseling sessions, it’s ultimately up to you to determine how you’ll implement the advice in your business.
SCORE vs. SBDC vs. Women’s Business Centers
There are three main organizations that provide help to entrepreneurs: the SBDC, SCORE and the Women’s Business Center. Each of them is funded (in part) by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and has regional offices around the US where anyone can go in for training. They all provide free counseling and free or low-cost training seminars.
They differ, however, in how they procure teachers and mentors for their staff. For example, SBDCs hire full-time employees to train and counsel entrepreneurs, whereas SCORE has volunteers. They also differ in the topics they cover in training and counseling sessions. Generally, each organization has at least one office in almost every mid-to large-sized city. The offices usually work together by specializing in different areas of focus. You might walk into an SBDC looking for HR advice and instead get referred to a SCORE chapter or Women’s Business Center.
Here’s a more detailed overview of what each organization offers:
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
SBDCs constitute a wide network of almost 1,000 regional help centers, which you can find in every state. Small business owners can receive free counseling and attend low-cost training seminars. Some SBDCs also have resource centers that give you access to PCs with business software. According to the SBA, the topics of advice include:
- Business plan development
- Manufacturing assistance
- Financial packaging and lending assistance
- Exporting and importing support
- Procurement and contracting aid
- Market research help
- 8(a) program support (a program that helps minority-owned businesses get government contracts)
SBDCs tend to focus more on developed businesses — those which have been around for a few years and have 5 to 25 employees. But they can still provide help to entrepreneurs who are just starting out. SBDC advisors are trained, full-time employees, so they can provide advice on a wide variety of topics.
Like SBDCs, SCORE has regional offices where entrepreneurs can receive free counseling and attend training seminars. However, unlike SBDC, SCORE also has a lot of resources available on the Web. For example, the Email A Mentor lets you connect with a volunteer business professional who can confidentially advise you on a variety of topics.
SCORE originally stood for Service Core of Retired Executives. The acronym has since been dropped because many volunteers today are not retired. But the model remains the same in that entrepreneurs can receive advice from professionals with “real world” business experience.
This has its benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, you can link up with a mentor who has dealt with the very same issues you’re facing. As Kenneth Yancey, CEO of SCORE, explained to Fit Small Business, “the matching process is driven by what the client wants, their industry, and the particular issues they are facing, etc.. If the business owner is a restaurant owner that wants to increase sales, we might match that person with a food industry professional that has marketing and sales experience.” On the other hand, if that same business owner wants HR advice, he or she will probably have to speak with another mentor. Because each volunteer has specialized knowledge, you’ll have to speak with several different mentors to get the full range of business advice.
Women’s Business Centers
Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) provide many of the same services that SBDCs do. The key difference, however, is that they tend to have more female staff and focus on issues which tend to hinder the success of female entrepreneurs. For example, women entrepreneurs tend not to seek outside capital at the same rate as their male counterparts. (See article: Female Entrepreneurs are Surpassing Their Male Counterparts.)
Despite their focus on helping female entrepreneurs, particularly those who are socially or economically disadvantaged, Women’s Business Centers can also help men. It’s not uncommon for men to seek advice from WBCs because their experts have specialized knowledge they cannot find elsewhere. (For related reading, see: Ten Characteristics Of Successful Entrepreneurs.)
Although the Small Business Administration provides funding to these 3 groups, they also have separate offices that provide help for entrepreneurs. Most notably, small business owners can go to the SBA district offices to apply for SBA-guaranteed loans. It must be noted that the SBA does not provide loans, but rather, if a loan from a bank is approved, they can back that loan. (See: Alternatives to Loans.)
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re starting a business or trying to improve an existing business, there are many different government-backed services out there that can give you a boost. Just be aware that, because of the diversity of businesses out there — and thus, the wide range in types of experience and knowledge mentors have — it may take a little time to find a match.
You can start here to find a Small Business Development Center, SCORE chapter, Women’s Business Center or SBA district office in your area.
About The Author – Jeremy Marsan is a staff writer for Fit Small Business, a “how to” publication for small business owners.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are those of the author and are subject to change at any time due to changes in market or economic conditions. The comments should not be construed as a recommendation of any individual holdings or market sectors. This material does not constitute any specific legal, tax or accounting advice. Please consult with qualified professionals for this type of advice.
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