Has Your ‘Small Business Development Center’ Actually Helped You?

And especially, have they helped you learn effective, affordable and creative ways to market your business?

I’m curious because I often hear mixed reviews. These organizations are often branches of a govt agency and the leadership within the group (the directors, etc.) many times has no personal ‘hands on’ experience running a business. On the other hand, it seems that occasionally someone runs across an organization that has lucked out and has a great leader with tons of background.

I point this out because often ‘traditional’ books and consultants will tell you to reach out to your local Small Business Development Center and/or your local Chamber of Commerce. I confess, I love my local Chamber of Commerce (especially our lovely, vivacious and charming Executive Director) so I’m certainly not suggesting you overlook this resource. But I AM suggesting that you recognize that they are only a piece of the puzzle. It’s critical that you drill down into exactly they type of support and information you need and get that help from people who know exactly what you’re dealing with every day.

As much as it may kill you to step away from the business of running your business for a few hours, you must force yourself to make the time. I am NOT going to encourage you to get a mani/pedi or watch a movie during this break.

Instead, gather the training and education material you’ve been planning to read but haven’t made the time. Turn off the phone, put our your mental ‘do not disturb’ sign and dig in. Have a notebook with you and capture ideas that come to mind. It doesn’t mean you have to do them all today, it just means they are things to think about and you can execute on them when the time is right.

Or, use the time to connect with a fellow business owner…and DON’T waste the time with small talk. Prepare a list of 4-6 topics you want them to weigh in on. Maybe you need someone to brainstorm a new product or marketing idea. Maybe you are feeling frustrated or discouraged about another aspect of your business and need a new perspective. Make sure you stay on track and talk about the business issues you’re dealing with and get some objective input about the situation.

Owning a small business can be isolating and often you may feel like you’re out there all alone. Sometimes we all have to force ourselves to make planning and collaborating a part of our business, even when we feel like we don’t have the time.

Technical Advice Available For Minority Small Businesses

There are numerous components to starting and growing a small business, it can become overwhelming. Fortunately, there is free expert advice available for minority business owners (or aspiring owners). Plus, there is specialized advice for minority business owners also.

SCORE
The formerly named Service Corps of Retired Executives is now formally known simply as SCORE. This is an organization of retired business executives who provide free advice to small business owners. This could be working through problem issues in business to developing a business plan. There are offices nationwide to approach for help.

SBA SBDC
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) throughout the United States. They help businesses with technical help and with securing financing. The SBDC’s are very good help for developing documentation for SBA loans. They also have good primer information for government contracting.

MBDA MBEC
The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) has a number of minority business development centers throughout the US. Renamed Minority Business Enterprise Centers (MBEC) the centers are very good on working with minority preference programs for government contracts. The centers are a strong contact for networking opportunities among minority businesses. There are also Native American specific centers.

P-TAC
The United States Department Of Defense (DoD) funds a number of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) to assist small businesses with DoD contracts. A PTAC will be very good in assessing a business’s potential as a DoD vendor. However, they can also assist a business with standard government procurement (civil purchases) too.

With all this technical assistance freely available, there should be no need to hire consultants for a beginning business. Also, the centers are very good in helping a small business get a grasp on minority preferences for government contracts.

Department Of Commerce Grants For Small Businesses

Several businesses have benefited by applying for and receiving grants from the Department of commerce of their states. These grants are designed to help various small businesses operate and develop within that particular state. Small businesses needing information about the grants from the department of commerce can contact the local area development managers, local development organizations, regional planning commissions or the small business information centers for more detailed information.

Profile of Eligible Candidates to Apply For the Grants:

U.S. based, for-profit businesses are eligible. Individuals or groups of individuals can apply for the grants even before the creation of a company but established businesses have a better chance of getting a grant, as they will have time to focus on the project rather than on creating the company. It must be at least 51% owned by American citizens.

The business must be a small business and can qualify for the grant only if it conforms to the definition of a small business of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

They must use technology and innovations regularly in their operations.

It will be an additional qualification, if an experienced and committed individual, who will ensure the success of the project, heads the company. They will have to have the experience in researching and writing proposals as well as be knowledgeable about using emails and the Internet.

They must present the proposals on how to carry out the project and who will help them such as university faculty who may guide them.

The Small Business Innovation Research program offered by the various state departments of commerce, is very helpful and an excellent opportunity for small businesses to avail non-repayable grants. Businesses can apply and compete to make use of up to 1 million dollars given annually as grants. The department offers free counseling for any individual or groups wanting to explore the possibilities of getting a grant. Various businesses compete annually to get these grants and only 1 out of 10 get these grants, as competition is tough.

Small Business Technology Transfer program is another very important grant available to small technology companies. This grant was designed to allow small businesses to collaborate with non-profit research institutions to bring innovative technologies to the market.
It is necessary for individuals to have a good plan ready and they can seek professional help in planning how they will accomplish the project. The researcher must be well qualified, have adequate research and development experience and have good project management experience. These are just some of the small business grants from the department of commerce. Other grants such as The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG-ED) Economic Development Program, The Customized Labor Training (CLT) Fund, the Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP), The Recycling Demonstration Grant Program etc are also provided by the department of commerce in the state of Wisconsin.
There are firms that offer services as well as products to help run a successful business.