Accessing capital is only one step of business ownership. Running a business is a complicated process and can be particularly intimidating for first-time business owners and entrepreneurs. Luckily, community resources are readily available at free or low cost for business owners looking to start, grow or maintain their companies. Local Small Business Development Centers, Chambers of Commerce, and SCORE chapters, as well as other business organizations can help develop your company’s business plan, budget, and marketing strategy—they can even direct you toward the appropriate tax forms and trademark paperwork.
Here is a short-list of some of the most useful local community resources for businesses:
Small Business Development Centers: The SBDC program is the country’s largest small business assistance program. Located throughout the country, SBDC’s are often sponsored by colleges and universities, offering information and technical assistance to small businesses and entrepreneurs at low or no cost. Everything from healthcare information to contracting assistance to market research is included in their services.
SCORE: SCORE is a nationally recognized, SBA-supported non-profit association that provides small business assistance through mentors, counseling services, online tools and webinars, and in-person workshops. SCORE has over 300 locations throughout the U.S. and almost 50 years experience catering to the needs of small business owners.
Women’s Business Centers: WBC’s are overseen by the SBA’s office of Women’s Business Ownership. Similar to Small Business Development Centers, these centers cater specifically to the needs of women interested in starting or growing small businesses by offering management and technical assistance. There are almost 100 WBC’s nationally.
Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers: The SBA funds the Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers, which are similar to Women’s Business Centers in that they offer services that are catered to a specific group: veterans.
Procurement & Technical Assistance Centers: Procurement & Technical Assistance Centers exist under the Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAP), which provide small business owners with the resources and qualifications necessary to bid for and secure government contracts. Centers are located throughout the country.
Certified Development Companies: CDC’s are companies that have been certified by the SBA under this SBA 504 program. These companies can provide funding to small businesses. According the National Association of Development Companies web site, the 504 program is responsible for providing over $45 billion to small businesses and creating approximately 2 million jobs.
U.S. Export Assistance Centers: The U.S. Export Assistance Centers provide small business owners with tools and information to prepare them for global expansion. The SBA, U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Export-Import Bank staff the Export Assistance Centers.
In addition to these services, the SBA provides disaster assistance as well as other programs to help educate and empower the United States’ small business community. All of these programs and centers are located throughout the country and can be found through the Small Business Administration’s web site.