So you've decided to start a business and you don't know what you're doing and you're feeling like you're pulled in a thousand directions.
You've thought to yourself, "I wonder if I should get my MBA?" You even googled "MBA degree" to see what it's all about.
But then you immediately talked yourself out of it, because, well, it sounds like a lot of money to do that, and a lot of work, and you never really liked college classes the first time around.
Maybe you'll get around to getting your MBA someday.
But for now you have raw passion and love for what you know you're called to do, and you don't mind learning on the fly.
Unfortunately, the process of learning on your own in the School of Hard Knocks can end up costing you more than you planned or can even quantify.
The time you spend fumbling around in the dark, trying to find the map to your business success, is time you could be spending doing something that would be getting you to your goal of having a profitable business faster.
Eventually, you'll begin to realize you need more than talent and a dream.
You need someone to help you navigate the process. A coach, perhaps. Maybe a training seminar. Those are great ideas, and I recommend them. But they are expensive and the money adds up fast, especially when you factor in any costs associated with travel.
In my wayward path to entrepreneurship, I've discovered there are valuable free and low-cost resources that exist to help small business owners in a variety of ways. From basics on starting a business, to networking events, to group and one-on-one counseling, you may have a treasure trove of experienced business people in your own backyard, just itching to help you succeed.
There are also terrific free online training resources specifically geared toward small business owners.
So I thought I'd share a few resources I'm aware of, and hopefully you'll be able to find something similar in your area to take advantage of.
Please feel free to share in the comments any other resources that would help fellow entrepreneurs have access to free or low cost training.
1. 501 c3 Nonprofit Organizations
In my area there's a 501 c3 called Community Business Partnership. They provide education, technical assistance, business incubation services, access to capital and networking opportunities to small businesses. They partner with several local, state and federal government agencies, and are connected with George Mason University, specifically, the George Mason Enterprise Center.
A large part of what they do is made possible through a funding agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
They specialize in helping small businesses get contracts with government agencies. They also have a focus on helping women, military veterans, minorities or other special status business owners. Government agencies are looking for small businesses contractors who fit these special categories so they can fulfill requirements of US contract law.
But whether you want to work with government or private enterprise, the CBP has programs to help you in whatever your stage of business. The courses, seminars and roundtables are taught by people with real-world business experience. Registration costs are low and sometimes free.
I suggest you do a search in your area for nonprofits who work with small business owners. And if you fit a special category, search for that as well. For instance, "Nonprofits in (your state) who help women start small businesses"
2. US Small Business Administration (SBA)
You can visit their website for tons of great information organized in such a way that you can walk through the steps of starting a business and doing all the proper administrative stuff that has to happen, like building a business plan, registering your business, if applicable, and choosing what structure your business should take (e.g. LLC, S Corp, Partnership, etc.).
They teach you about things you need to know in the areas of business law and filing taxes.
There's information about how to apply for SBA loans and other financial sources.
And there's a page dedicated to listing local resources, so this is a great first step to finding out which offices and agencies dedicated to helping small businesses are in your area.
3. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
Years ago I attended a SBCD informational meeting when I lived in Pennsylvania. Sitting around a conference table with all those excited entrepreneurs made a big impact on me, even though I wasn't quite prepared to jump into starting a business at that time.
This nationwide network of small business training centers started with a humble, SBA-funded pilot program in 1976, and has grown to nearly 1,000 centers across the US. They help around 1 million small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs realize the dream of business ownership.
Local SBDCs help small business owners with important aspects of running their business, such as:
• Writing business plans • Accessing capital • Marketing • Regulatory compliance • Technology development • International trade
They offer free one-on-one counseling and other training opportunities to help small business owners.They're able to provide these services for free and low cost to the participants because of partnerships with the US Congress (enacted in 1980), universities, colleges and state economic development agencies.
The national organization that coordinates and promotes the local SBDCs is America's Small Business Development Center. They have helpful information on their site, including a finder tool, where you can search your state for the closest SBDC.
There are quite a few helpful sites that provide college-level information that, normally, only business students would have access to. The Frugal Entrepreneur blog did a great job compiling a list of online resources related to business, marketing and finance. You can check out their article here.
Do it now.
You may still want to get your MBA one day. But if finances or job requirements prevent you from committing to that at this time in your life, I encourage you to get involved with entrepreneurs who want to help you succeed in your business plans. Do it now, before you get any older, or you'll look back one day and say to yourself, "If only I'd have started sooner..."
Even if you don't have a business yet, just go to the classes and learn all you can. You will most likely be inspired and filled with confidence that you can, indeed, start a profitable business.
These are just five examples...what resources do you know of that would be helpful to others?