By: Ty Kiisel, Forbes Contributor
During every election cycle politicians love to talk about the important role small businesses play in the U.S. economy—and for good reason. They create the lion’s share of new jobs and hire roughly half of the workforce in the United States. Just how many new jobs does this mean? Small businesses collectively create a new job every seven minutes according to America’s SBDC, a trade group that represents the network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) all across the country.
I’m writing about them here, because I believe they provide a valuable service that has the potential to help more businesses succeed, create jobs, and strengthen local communities.
These are non-profits, hosted by local universities, community colleges, or state economic development agencies that provide assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. These advisors offer free business consulting and low-cost training services on things like managing a business’ financials, developing a business plan, working with government contracts, marketing, operations, and market research, to name just a few.
“Many people don’t start a business because they’re really excited about the financial side of running a company, but to be successful, they need to be more engaged and have an understanding in that part of the business,” said Lucretia Freeman-Buster, a former commercial banker and now Acting Executive Director at the Washington D.C. SBDC. “It’s every bit as important, sometimes even more important, to have a complete understanding of the business financials—particularly when you need capital and are sitting down in front of a loan officer looking for a loan.”
This is particularly true of the small- and micro-businesses that make up the merchants, dry cleaners, mechanics, restaurants, and other businesses along Main Street. It’s not uncommon to hear about their passion for fixing cars or fine dining long before they share their passion for spreadsheets and financial reports. Because of this, local SBDCs have a great potential for positive impact on local business communities—provided business owners know about what they do and take advantage of the free services these groups provide.
“It’s not a reasonable expectation to assume that everyone understands this stuff without training,” says Freeman-Buster, while discussing the value of the financial training they provide at the DC SBDC. “We see many business owners, some which have owned a business for several years, still managing their receipts out of a shoebox. They don’t realize how much this handicaps their ability to build a healthy and sustainable business.”
Freeman-Buster suggests many of the businesses they see are trying to take their companies to the next level. They want to grow and are looking for advice and knowledge they recognize they might not have to do it. Fortunately, many of the advisers are like Freeman-Buster and come from backgrounds and experience that can be very valuable to an entrepreneur.
Engaging with Your Local SBDC
Most small business owners see the value in leveraging every advantage they have available to help their businesses succeed. Your local SBDC is one more valuable asset that can help you fill in the blanks to build an even stronger, healthier, and more competitive business. How can a business owner make this happen?
- Find an SBDC in your area: America’s SBDC provides a tool to help you search by zip code to find an SBDC in your area and the SBA provides a similar list. You can also contact the office of economic development in your state for a list of local SBDCs.
- Schedule a consultation: Meeting with an advisor is a free service and a great opportunity to learn more about the services they provide and what they might be able to offer you to help your business.
- Attend training or other events sponsored by your local SBDC: These events are a great opportunity to learn and even network with other small businesses in your area.
“While most business owners expect their businesses to grow, it doesn’t just happen,” says Freeman-Buster. America’s SBDC reports that small business owners that work with an SBDC experience 14% job growth compared to the national average of only 1.6% and average four times the average sales than those that don’t. To me, that sounds like a pretty positive economic impact and a great tool small business owners should be leveraging to help their businesses grow.
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