Take Advantage of Free Business Advice … Right in Your Backyard

Your local SBDC office offers a treasure trove of business services to help PROs write their success stories.

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Question: I have heard that the SBDC is good business resource, but what exactly do they do and how would I contact this organization? 

Answer: The SBDC, or Small Business Development Center, is a valuable free resource that can be a benefit to all PROs. As a part of the U.S. Small Business Administration, SBDCs are usually associated with a local college or university.

The SBDC program is “designed to deliver up-to-date counseling, training and technical assistance in all aspects of small business management.” The Small Business Administration website, www.sba.gov, gives an excellent overview of this organization.

As PROs for 22 years, we absolutely owe a great portion of our success to working with the SBDC at our local university. From starting the business to securing an SBA loan to finally preparing to sell our company, the SBDC provided information, support and counsel throughout our entire ownership career. Here are answers to some common questions about the SBDC:

What services does my local SBDC provide?

Here is a partial list of the available services. Any business need can and should be discussed with an SBDC professional. 

Business planning — Creating a plan to start a business or to expand your current product offerings, markets served or to open a remote location.

Business registration — Guidance for registering, filing and organizing a business in your particular state and municipality. Since SBDCs are in your area, these professionals can give the exact requirements and save you research time and money. Often, larger business organizations provide only general guidelines and information since they are national in scope. 

Business management — Dealing with a multitude of companies in many different market segments, the SBDC is an excellent resource for seeking advice on business organization, company policies and options for employee benefits.

Marketing — Current ideas and strategies are available to the SBDC personnel through their own research and their interaction with others. As PROs, we were introduced to the concept of “ad words” several years ago by the SBDC. They also suggested economical ways to employ this marketing tool.

SBA loans — Not only can the SBDC assist in the preparation of necessary data required for filing for an SBA loan, again, since this is a local organization, local banks that offer SBA loans are known along with the names of the appropriate contacts. When we applied for an SBA loan, our local bank was able to process the application, financials and other documents quickly and easily since the SBDC had assisted us in this preparation.

PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) loans — With this recent program, the SBDC has been able to assist PROs with filing and understanding the process. The new owner of our company was contacted immediately upon the announcement of the PPP Loan Program by his contact at his SBA lender.

Disaster assistance — In the unfortunate event your business location suffers damage in a natural disaster, the SBDC can provide guidance as to the proper steps to follow in filing for any applicable governmental business assistance.

Selling to the government — We found this to be of tremendous benefit to our company as it significantly reduced the research time, phone calls and general uneasiness in dealing with “government red tape.” Again, the experience and the expertise of the SBDC made this process clear and concise. 

Technical assistance — Although not a “technical assistance hotline,” the SBDC does state that through experiences working with a multitude of companies, they may be able to suggest contacts and companies to assist in this ever-changing and complex area.

Certification programs — The SBDC is adept at assisting business owners in applying for and achieving certain certifications, namely women-owned, minority-owned, and veteran-owned certifications. Dealing with the federal government, the SBDC is familiar with the process and can provide guidance to a PRO before they file an application package. Our company was WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) certified and our local SBDC played a vital role in assisting us in preparing our application for this program. Once approved, this certification was beneficial in certain bid opportunities. The free advice saved us time and resulted in increased revenue.

COVID-19 — The SBA developed a resource package entitled Coronavirus (COVID-19): Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources to assist businesses in these challenging times. This is an example of the SBA’s proactive involvement in the current business environment. 

Other — Ask anything! These centers are wonderful repositories of knowledge and experience. However, if research is needed, the SBDC also has the experience and the resources to know where to look!

How do you find a local SBDC?

As previously described, SBDCs are usually affiliated with local colleges and universities. To find the SBDC locations near you, go to www.americassbdc.org.

Contact the office at the location that is the most convenient and set-up an introductory appointment. Whether you have a specific need or are merely inquiring about a general topic, your qualified professional will be eager to assist.

The SBDC is a large and far-reaching organization, so finding a location should not be difficult. In each state, a lead organization coordinates program services offered to small businesses through a network of subcenters located at colleges and universities, but also at community colleges, vocational schools and even some chambers of commerce. There are 62 Lead Small Business Development centers with at least one per state. The network has more than 900 locations. 

Each SBDC Center has a director, staff members, volunteers and part-time personnel. Among the possible volunteers are retired executives from organizations such as SCORE (formerly Service Corps of Retired Executives). Further, graduate students and other students majoring in areas such as general business, marketing, finance, business technology and other areas volunteer to gain experience in working with actual businesses rather than hypothetical situations in the classroom. Our company was the subject of master’s level marketing classes where the students developed plans for our business and our industry. We implemented several of the ideas, and even hired one of the students after graduation!    

Finally, if you have any further questions, the SBA has an “Answer Desk” available at 800-827-5722.  

FINAL THOUGHTS

Throughout our time in business, we valued our business relationship, and personal friendship, with our SBDC professional, Drew Tonsmeire, at Kennesaw State University outside Atlanta. When we started meeting with Drew, he was a staff member, and we were a fairly new company. At the time of our sale, Drew had been the executive director for several years! In a recent conversation, Drew conveyed the fact that “in 25 years with the SBDC, I have consulted with over 5,000 businesses. Experience is the best teacher and our resources come from experience, not from a library or online.” 

With this free resource, we encourage PROs to take advantage of your local SBDC and their variety of services and vast experience. Your tax dollars have been paying for this governmental service every year, so take advantage of this opportunity! 



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