Help for Business Owners

Make use of these free and low-cost resources designed to help you start and grow your business.

The most successful business owners I've profiled throughthe years are the ones who set their egos aside and ask for help.This year, resolve to take advantage of all the free and low-costresources available to help you solve your business problems. Hereis a quick guide to getting help from Uncle Sam or from privateorganizations and corporations dedicated to small-businesssuccess.

The SBA, despite budget cuts, continues to offer a variety ofaffordable programs and resources, ranging from free one-on-onecounseling from a veteran business owner to organizing trademissions abroad. The SBA's extensive Web site is the best placeto find all the help you need. It's easy to navigate andfeatures lots of drop-down menus so you can point and click yourway to specific help available in your area or online. The SBAoperates an extensive network of Business Information Centers,Small Business Development Centers, Export Assistance Centers,Women's Business Development Centers and more. There areprograms to help you bid on government contracts, apply forSBA-guaranteed loans, export your products or seek investmentcapital. Your tax dollars are funding all these SBA programs, sowhy not take advantage of them? The SBA's Web site also hasdozens of links to outside resources, including news sites,small-business publications and organizations.

Many people think the 13,000 SCORE (Service Corps of RetiredExecutives) counselors are there just to help start-ups, but SCOREcounselors are happy to help veteran business owners find solutionsto their toughest business problems. Best of all, SCORE will do itsbest to find a counselor with expertise in your industry.

Dozens of SCORE counselors provided on-site help at the nineBack on Track America small-business conferences we produced aroundthe country. Many attendees scheduled follow-up meetings with SCOREcounselors after the seminars. To find a SCORE counselor online orto meet with one in person, visit

Peer SupportGroups
If you don't belong to a peer support group, this may be theyear to join one. Speaking candidly with other noncompetitivebusiness owners can often help you avoid making the same mistakesthey did.

TEC, The Executive Committee, has been supporting small-companyCEOs since 1957. There are 7,000 TEC members globally and TECchapters operating in most major cities. TEC members meet monthlyto confidentially discuss business challenges and provide adviceand insights to each other. For more information on joining TEC,visit or call (877) 274-2367.

The Women Presidents' Organization (WPO) has 23 chapters in20 cities around the United States. Founded by Marsha Firestone,the WPO provides peer support and networking for women whosebusinesses gross at least $2 million annually from manufacturing or$1 million from services. The group, which accepts new members byinvitation only, has a new member-at-large program for women wholive in a city without a chapter or prefer not to join one.WPO's annual conference is scheduled for Feb. 28 to March 1,2002, in New York City. For membership information visit

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) hasdozens of chapters operating around the country. NAWBO chaptermeetings provide networking opportunities, guest speakers andcorporate connections. There are regional and national conferencesas well. To learn more about NAWBO membership, visit

If you are unhappy with the way Congress treats small-businessowners, stop complaining and join an organization that is lookingout for your best interests. National Small Business United lobbies electedofficials on behalf of small-business owners and hosts an annualconference to set legislative priorities. NSBU publishesnewsletters and a magazine for its members.

The Small Business Survival Committee (SBSC) is also involved inpolitical action on behalf of business owners. The SBSC is lobbyinglawmakers to support tax cuts for business owners and pushing forregulatory reform. According to a report by the SBA's Office ofAdvocacy, business owners with 20 or fewer employees spend $6,975per employee per year to meet federal regulations. That's 61percent higher than companies with 20 to 499 employees. fordetails and to keep up with legislative issues.

Help FromCorporations
Many corporations are reaching out to small-business owners withnew products and services. American Express recently launched OPEN:The Small Business Network, based on feedback solicited from itscardholders, according to Kerry Hatch, executive vice president andgeneral manager of OPEN. Hatch said AmEx recently added a flexiblepayment option to its corporate card and negotiated discounts onHilton Hotels, Dell computers and FedEx shipments.

"We added a whole new set of partners--Dun &Bradstreet, Paytrust and others," said Hatch. "Weoverhauled the whole small-business Web site and added a financial"dashboard" which lets you track all your AmExaccounts." The new site also provides a place for businessowners to post questions and ask for help from other businessowners.

MasterCard International also has an extensive small-businessWeb site providing tools, products, advice and services forsmall-business owners. MasterCard offers discounts on computers andother office equipment to business card holders. To order a freecopy of the "Small Business Financial Resource Guide,"visit

Be sure to check out, which provides free access tointerviews, profiles, articles and transcripts of interest tosmall-business owners. If you've missed one of my columns, pastcolumns are posted in the Resources Area under "Jane'sColumns."

Jane Applegate is a syndicated columnist and the authorof 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business. Fora free copy of her "Business Owner's Check Up," sendyour name and address to Check Up, P.O. Box 768, Pelham NY 10803 ore-mail it to Prior contributed to this report.

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