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The Five Best Small-Business Resources You're Not Using

Running a small business can be a lonely life. Working long hours to keep the doors open, it can be easy to feel as though you're the only struggling entrepreneur. But you're not -- and help is available.

The irony is that many small-business owners don't ask for assistance even when there are valuable and affordable resources out there providing expert advice and support. Here are five often-overlooked sources of help for entrepreneurs:

 1. The Small Business Administration and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). With SBA funding shrinking, now's the time to make good use of these resources while they're still around. After all, your taxes paid for them.

The SBA is not just for business owners who want to get a loan. If you've never set foot in a local SBA office, visited a Small Business Development Center, taken an SBA training program or met with a volunteer SCORE mentor then check out the range of offerings. The retired executives who serve as SCORE volunteers are an unheralded national treasure, yet few businesses tap into their knowledge.

2. Your chamber of commerce. I understand that in some places it can cost $500 to join. (Mine costs around $100.) But even if yours is pricey, most chambers will have at least the occasional free networking event you could drop in on, and many have marketing programs that can help all the business in their city, including yours. It could pay to get involved. Connect with your local chamber through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

3. Your industry association. It has always surprised me that many business owners don't join their industry trade group, which usually takes the lead in advocating for businesses like yours in state and national legislatures. Trade groups are also a great source of useful research and forecasting on industry trends, so membership can give you a jump on the competition.

Better than joining, get involved in shaping the agenda and organizing events. You'll learn a lot and build great relationships with others in your field, too. Prices vary, but most trade groups deliver a lot of value for the dues you pay.

4. Other local business owners. Smart business owners look around their town and find ways to team up with other local entrepreneurs, whether it's to market their business, form a mastermind group or just commiserate over a beer. It costs nothing to organize a monthly meeting with a few other business owners, and a lot of great ideas could come out of it.

5. Your community college. Local colleges can be a great source of entry-level job applicants, a conduit to finding interns or a place to send workers to get training on the cheap. If your local college doesn't offer the education your workers need, let the college know. Many learning institutions are focused on meeting the needs of their local business community, so they want to hear from you. They might design a new course to suit your requirements or invite you to be a speaker at a business course, helping to build your reputation and attract new hires.

What are the best resources your business uses? Leave a comment and tell you what organizations help you the most.
 

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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