As a business owner, it’s common to feel as though it’s you against the world. You compete not only against big box stores and ecommerce ventures, but your fellow SMBs, which can be isolating.
On the contrary, however, lots of people are rooting for you. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, and while some failures are expected and inevitable, many organizations, agencies, and individuals have made it their mission to support existing ventures and help them succeed.
Here’s a list of resources that business owners can turn to in times of need, or just for general advice when deciding how to grow or sustain your company.
The Small Business Administration
The SBA is there for businesses in both good times and bad. Its mission since 1953 has been to support the establishment and viability of small businesses and to assist them after disasters, such as hurricanes.
The SBA’s loan program provides government-backed guarantees on term loans and microloans that can be used as working capital, to refinance debt, to buy inventory, or any many business needs. These loans typically have generous terms that make them cheaper and easier to repay than other financing options.
Entrepreneurial development is also a pillar of the SBA’s work: They help fund hundreds of Small Business Development Centers and many more nonprofits that advise and fund specific populations, such as veterans and minorities. You can easily get in touch with these SBDCs at colleges and entrepreneurial hubs around the country.
The Service Corps Of Retired Executives, or SCORE, is a resource partner of the SBA. This nonprofit connects volunteer small business owners to struggling small business owners, to help tackle their problems. SCORE mentors have the experience, insight, and relationships that new business owners lack, but they are also trained to dispense helpful advice and point clients in the right direction. The organization offers live and recorded webinars, online resources and workshops, business assessments, and more.
Your local Chamber of Commerce
Your local Chamber of Commerce is quite literally tasked with promoting local commerce—also known as your business. Although there is a membership fee that varies on where you live (anywhere from $300-$1,000 a year), that cost is hopefully offset in the long-run by the networking and promotional opportunities the chamber facilitates. Attend local CoC events like expos and conventions to meet new clients and partners, experiment with advertising campaigns, and build your brand.
Your industry association
It may seem antithetical to join an association made up of people in your trade, considering these are some of your most direct competitors. But who knows the challenges and opportunities of your industry better than your peers? Join an industry association to find educational resources, access market research, expand your network, create a name and reputation for yourself, find mentors, join advocacy causes, and take advantage of discounts that come through group-purchasing power.
Your accountant is going to be one of your best friends during your time in business. First and foremost, accounting is a complex endeavor, and failing to take the right deductions or accurately depreciate your assets can not only cost your financially, but put you in a legal bind.
Accountants can often advise you on most things related to your business, not just tax preparation: they’ll discuss big decisions, performance management, and other high-level issues. Research from Barlow Research Associates shows that nearly 55% of small business owners turn first to their accountant for advice.
Speaking of legal binds, lawyers are also excellent people to turn to when you’re unsure of how to proceed while remaining on the right side of the law. Your trusted lawyer not only helps you with the basics of business ownership—establishing business structure, creating a business plan, registering your business with the proper entities—but can also act as a sounding board when discussing how to run your business or what steps you need to take to protect intellectual property rights or obtain financing.
Fellow business owners
Again: Your peers are not your enemy. You can engage with your fellow local business owners on an informal basis—stop in for a chat, or ask them to coffee to discuss business. Or, go beyond your neighborhood and find them through any number of national organizations, such as the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the Young Presidents’ Organization, Ashoka, or Startup Grind.
Women’s Business Development Center and eWomenNetwork
These two associations are two of the biggest and best resources for women-led businesses in the country.
The WBDC has an exhaustive list of materials that can walk you through starting or growing a business, along with access to business counselors, leads on financing and lucrative government contracts, and e-learning opportunities.
The eWomenNetwork also has plenty of information and guidance, but focuses on networking and connecting entrepreneurs to mentors and coaches, and inviting women to summits and talks where they can meet and help one another.
Minority Business Development Agency
The MDBA, a U.S. Department of Commerce agency, works to mobilize and advance minority-owned businesses by connecting them with financing, contracts, and new markets. Their programs include business centers and services, grant competitions, innovation initiatives, and consultations for specific groups such as Native American business owners. If you’re a member of a minority community and unsure which direction to take your business, this is a great place to start your search.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely business. Don’t be afraid to connect with the people and organizations who know your struggle best. More often than not, the issues you’re facing are not new, and a support system of mentors, coaches, peers, and advocates can help you to overcome them.
Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith is a resident Finance Advisor on American Express OPEN Forum and an avid business writer. Her advice consistently appears on such sites as Yahoo!, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, AllBusiness, and many more. Meredith is also the Senior Financial and B2B Correspondent for AlleyWire.