Do not get caught sucking your thumb while the economy emerges from the recession. Your competitors are planning to make their move and they will eat your lunch if you are not prepared.
Now is the time to plan ahead and fortunately help is available so that you do not have to go it alone.
It takes an assortment of experts to help small-business owners emerge from this crippling recession and credit crunch. But if you cannot afford a blue-chip board of directors, there is a village of mentors willing to help existing and startup businesses succeed.
The village of experts that awaits small-business owners comes from a group of organizations that partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Most offer workshops and counseling. Some help their clients procure financing. Others provide microloans when no other lenders are willing to finance startups and fledgling businesses.
Terri Denison, SBA’s Georgia district director says that small-business owners first and foremost "want to know how their businesses can stay viable in the current environment." Accordingly, her district office takes calls from local business owners and offers workshops about survival skills. SBA’s national Website explains its various financing programs and offers online courses at sba.gov/services.
Small Business Development Centers are one of the agency’s resource partners. They can be found at colleges and universities. Many of the SBDC’s business counselors have advanced business degrees and some specialize in specific skill sets such as business planning, marketing and finance.
Meanwhile, SCORE "Counselors to America's Small Business," another of SBA’s resource partners, is a nonprofit, with more than 11,200 volunteer business counselors in 370 local chapters. It also gives online advice from its CyberChapter at score.org. The counselors have hands-on experience in a wide array of industries and are matched according to their clients needs. Some are retired while others are still working.
SCORE and SBDCs offer a potpourri of inexpensive workshops and give free advice about financing, expanding and buying businesses. They also help clients do business with the government and export their products and services overseas — a burgeoning marketplace as foreign economies emerge from the recession.
Even if you have never exported before, SBA’s U.S. Export Assistance Centers can walk you through the process. Furthermore, USEAC will help you select the markets where your products are most apt to sell, introduce you to overseas contacts and tell you about trade missions so that you can form relationships with prospects. They are located in many large cities.
In addition to SBDCs, SCORE and USEAC, SBA micro-lenders are an important part of the agency’s arsenal. They make loans up to $35,000. Their borrowers do not qualify for financing through traditional sources. Micro-loan recipients are often start-up companies with tainted credit, inadequate collateral, insufficient business experience or they lack enough savings to satisfy bankers.
Furthermore, urban bankers are rarely willing to make small-business loans below $100,000. They say that their cost for underwriting, approving and servicing micro-loans is more than they can earn by making them.
Micro-lenders require that applicants agree to training as part of the process. The Obama Administration's stimulus initiative includes grants to micro-lenders so that they can provide training and financing to more small-business owners.
SBA also sponsors Women's Business Centers and Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers that are sensitive to special needs of their clients.
For a more comprehensive list of resource partners, local government agencies and lenders that make small-business loans, download SBA’s local resource guide for each state at www.sbaguides.com. Alternatively, call the agency’s answer desk at (800) 827-5722.
“Our partners can offer struggling entrepreneurs an objective view and analysis of their particular business situations,” Denison says. “They can provide fresh insights and perspectives on practical options these owners have.”
Jerry Chautin is a volunteer SCORE business counselor, business columnist and SBA’s 2006 national “Journalist of the Year” award winner, tenonline.org/sref/jc1bio.html. He is a former entrepreneur, commercial mortgage banker and business lender.
Follow Jerry Chautin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JerryChautin