How Entrepreneurs Can Utilize Local SBDCs
One of the first hard lessons that entrepreneurs learn is that it’s a bad idea to do it alone. Nowhere is the parable of “no man being on an island” truer than with startups. However, many entrepreneurs struggle to figure out how to get on the right path of utilizing expert mentorship, integrating with the community and forming friends and allies. Fortunately, the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) located throughout the United States offer an important staging ground for the development of any business. In this article, we’ll explore why this is important, and how to best utilize your local business centers to assist you.
You have a great idea for a business that could generate wealth not only for you but also for the community. You’ve imagined the success in your mind—and you’re giddy to get started as you daydream about a successful, life-changing venture. However, as the excitement starts to be replaced by reality, you’re faced with the pressing issue of: What do I do next? How do I turn fantasy into reality?
Seasoned business owners, and the professionals here at Brainstorm, will answer this with two words: Get help. Practically speaking, this means putting boots to the ground and meeting people, face-to-face, who will show you what to do next. Live consultation with veteran businesspeople offers a level of depth and energetic exchange that you simply can’t find by burying your nose in books, reading articles online, or trying to make lucky guesses. And most importantly—by utilizing a federally funded SBDC, this help is completely free.
SBDC fundamentals include guidance with marketing, financial plans, business plans, and the education and promotion of business-related skills designed to help local industries thrive.
Even if you think you’re a know-it-all, you’d be surprised how many people miss important skills along the way: From basics like creating invoices or understanding the difference between W2s and W9s, to more complex processes like applying for federal grants, picking the right business insurance, learning state laws for incorporation, and hiring, managing, and firing workers. Being willing to study and learn vital principles ensures you’re less likely to land in hot water down the line—ultimately securing your business and your future.
Let’s explore a few of the benefits to SBDCs we at the Brainstorm Group feel are important to remember (don’t forget, this list is incomplete—there are many other benefits to discover, which you can learn about by reading this journal.)
SBDCs Get You Mingling
As all entrepreneurs learn, socializing is an extremely important aspect of business. This means networking, outside consultation, assistance, professional mixers, industry events and many more elements of outside help. Veteran business owners will testify that this is the difference between successful and failed ventures.
SBDCs can, in fact, assist with all of these areas. The centers are primarily focused on community-consultation to promote the economy, job retention, and growth. However, most SBDC resources—including those in the Illinois and Chicago area—provide numerous other engagement opportunities, including community events, specialized events for niche divisions (such as the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago), opportunities to begin engaging with the greater community—and possibly even earning your first clients (depending, of course, on what your industry is).
We recommend keeping an eye open for community events hosted by your local SBDC and / or Chamber of Commerce. This could involve everything from networking events to charity drives. Then, not only should you attend such events—but you should make it a point to talk to people and generate some excitement about your venture.
Hope When Things Start to Tumble Down
Many of us experience financial ebbs and flows, and periods of unemployment. Another great way to utilize your local SBDC is when you fall on so-called hard times (we say “so-called” because, in reality, unemployment can be a great opportunity for entrepreneurship. Many of the greatest businesses were started after a nasty lay-off.)
SBDC free consulting is often tailored to assist the unemployed. They can provide great resources for relevant topics like repairing credit, finding healthcare after your company plan is lost, and securing funding from non-traditional means if your credit is poor.
Even if you’re not seeking to create a business, some SBDCs and similar private-sector non-profit resources in Illinois can help people out of work get started in a new career. One of the best resources we’ve seen is the free pharmacy technician training offered at the Duman Entrepreneurship Center in Chicago. This is an opportunity to become a licensed pharmacist in 12 weeks, which includes a 120-hour internship and results in a State of Illinois pharmacy technician license. This program is chosen as pharmacy technicians are among the highest-demand fields in the job market, which makes it a great possibility to get back to work in a new industry.
In addition to this fabulous training program, various SBDCs or related groups may also offer valuable job listing / employment information resources to further provide an important edge in the job market.
To piggy-back on the topic of unemployment, most SBDCs and partner organizations can assist job-seekers with crafting a strong resume.
No one should underestimate the importance of getting help from a resume expert. As senior HR personnel testify: a single typo on a resume is often an excuse to weed out candidates—in other words, typos send resumes to waste-bins.
There are certain steps that can be taken to make a small or medium-size business compete against large internationals. One step is to learn about exporting goods, which reduces dependency on the regional market. Almost every state, including Illinois, has U.S. Export Assistance Centers staffed by professionals from the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, and other public or private-sector organizations.
These professionals can help you get started navigating an often complex (but profitable) world of international trade. As is often the case with SBDC assistance, you can expect to find not only free 1-on-1 consultation, but specialty seminars, as well.
Help for Veterans
Former members of our armed services are also given extra assistance in many states, including Illinois. For people in our state, you can check out the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center in Chicago. Veterans may be eligible for a wide variety of benefits, including specialized business loans. If you’re planning on starting a business and you served in the military, don’t miss out on visiting this center.
Don’t Forget Business Plans
Understand there are two primary motives behind a business plan: one is to help secure investors, and the second is to have a blueprint for the development of your business that can be referenced. If you plan to use your plan for the former purpose, it’s vital that the plan is both presentable and organized based on industry standards. If not, your plan will be disregarded by potential investors or banks.
If it’s your first time creating a business plan, hiring outside help can be a costly money-sink for an entrepreneur. This is why SBDCs rectify this by providing the free consultation. Your business plan can be evaluated by an expert. Further, many SBDCs host events such as business plan (and / or resume) workshops. Such workshops are also a great way to connect with other entrepreneurs—and perhaps generate your first leads or clients.
Think Outside the Box
What are other markets you can tap into for your business or service? What about being a provider for the U.S. Federal Government? The SBA offers Procurement Technical Assistance Centers in quite a few states, often through SBDCs. These centers help to determine if your business is ready for government contracting, assures you’re registered in the correct places, and helps point you in the right direction for government-specialized small business certifications.
They may even be able to assist a new business with securing and / or bidding on its first government contract.
This is just one example. The SBA, through SBDCs, and other affiliated organizations, provide many other niche-oriented opportunities—which is why it’s always a good idea to browse the official websites and stay aware of such opportunities as they arise.
When a business succeeds—we all succeed. That’s the nature of how our economic system works. This is also why so many resources are available to push forward this agenda. Statistically, SBDCs have made a major impact on the country. According to the America SSBDC website, America’s network of SBDCs have resulted in almost 18,000 new businesses started just between 2014 and 2015, with a total of $6.9 billion in new sales (total) procured through their services.
This is why at Brainstorm Startups, we always suggest for our clients to take advantage of SBDC resources. We always notice a difference between new ventures that “go it alone” versus the ones that utilize resources, work together, and create a joint-effort to succeed. If you’re embarking on the challenging journey of entrepreneurship, then seek out the consultation of private and public groups designed specifically for you.