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Small-Business Advice is on the Way

11/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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Surviving the Recession?



Are You

Ready for the Recovery?

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.