Starting a new small business? Looking for some professional consulting to help you think through your business plan or your strategies for growth? Your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) can help.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) help entrepreneurs start and grow their small businesses through professional, confidential advising, as well as classes and workshops.
SBDCs can help you with your business plan and access to funding. They also offer resources for market research and consulting on how to efficiently scale operations as your business grows. There are SBDCs in every state, and each year, they provide more than a million hours of business consulting.
Sometimes entrepreneurs feel intimidated because SBDCs are often located on college campuses. But don't be afraid to go in. SBDC advisors tend to be serial entrepreneurs—people who have experience starting their own businesses and really want to help other founders.
In fact, many advisors used their local SBDC to help get their own businesses up and running!
Each SBDC offers a mix of web-based and in-person resources. Offices in more densely populated areas tend to offer more face-to-face time and in-person training. But in some states like Wyoming and Montana, the population is spread out over a larger geographic area, so they offer more online counseling and training because it's easier for most people to access.
Confidential business advising, workshops, and classes. Each SBDC offers slightly different services, but a typical SBDC will have free and confidential business advising, business management classes, and entrepreneurial workshops. Many offer courses on a range of topics, like how to use QuickBooks or figuring out if you need to create an LLC.
Business planning. “The program is more than just business plans, although we do a lot of help with that,” says Charles “Tee” Rowe, president and CEO of America's SBDC, the national organization that oversees local SBDCs. Many centers also offer access to LivePlan, a business planning software with budgeting, forecasting, and benchmarking capabilities.
Help growing and marketing your business. “It's access to capital, access to export markets, helping people with export regulations, marketing, setting up a website, using epayments, cybersecurity, marketing for tourism. It's a soup-to-nuts kind of a setup,” says Rowe.
For instance, America's SBDC Oregon offers a variety of services for entrepreneurs, like access to Market Research Institute data, and business advising for veterans through its Veterans Mean Business program.
Check your local SBDC's website to learn more, and bookmark it so you can come back regularly—you'll often find new classes and workshops. Find your local SBDC office here.
An SBDC can help whether you're just starting out, or you've been up and running for years. The ASBDC's audience is roughly 60 percent existing companies, and 40 percent brand new small businesses—though exact breakdown varies by state.
“Obviously, a startup is going to have radically different needs than an existing business,” Rowe says. When an SBDC works with a new small business, it often helps the client tighten their focus and develop a clear concept of what they're doing, why they're doing it, and how they're going to do it.
Beyond helping people get starting with a writing a business plan, SBDC advisors also can help new businesses identify their target markets and the size of those markets, as well as how to scale their businesses. They can also help startups think through things like how to grow and when to hire their first employee.
Existing businesses often come to the SBDC looking for some expert insights on how to be more efficient as they grow. SBDC advisors can help brainstorm strategies and address problem areas, like how to lean up your manufacturing processes.
“They tend to have had a problem come up and it's usually, ‘I'm doing more and more business but I don't seem to be making more money,’” Rowe says.
An SBDC can help both new and existing businesses figure out how to access loans, investment, and other sources of funding.
When businesses need help getting a loan or accessing startup capital, the issue tends to lie in the company's business planning. Sometimes entrepreneurs and owners find themselves being turned down for loans or investment—but not understanding why. Usually, they need to revisit their sales forecast, their cash flow (and whether they're getting paid on time), or some other element of their financial plan.
SBDC advisors can help with this. They often assist clients in creating successful presentations for banks or investors. They know what funders are looking for in a business plan and pitch presentation, and they can teach clients how to “speak banker.”
In terms of economic impact, the average SBDC client sees about 15 percent job growth, whereas the national average tends to be around 2 percent. Every year, SBDCs create about 100,000 jobs. And the organization has been active for 39 years.
The average SBDC client sees better sales growth than the national average. They also tend to last longer than the average startup, or experience greater survivability.
How do SBDCs gather this sort of information? They conduct annual impact surveys with their clients. Mississippi State University helps process the data each year and organizes the results for the ASBDC. You can find the annual impact survey results on the ASBDC website. They also post industry-specific annual reports on small businesses.
Palo Alto Software (the makers of Bplans and the LivePlan business planning tool) and SBDCs have been collaborating for a long time—we share the mission of helping businesses succeed.
Palo Alto Software is actually the longest-running sponsor of the annual ASBDC conference. Our founder, Tim Berry, attended the very first one. Today, SBDCs work directly with small businesses, and some offices use LivePlan to help their clients with business planning and financials.
Don't hesitate to reach out to your local SBDC to learn more about how they can help you grow your business.
To find your local office, click here.