Virtually every U.S. state & territory offers help and coaching to business owners through Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). While the offerings vary slightly by state, SBDCs are grant-funded organizations that offer no-cost, one-on-one coaching for business owners and potential business owners. The funding for the centers is primarily provided from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the individual state, and local municipalities. SBDCs exist to help small businesses start and grow in a healthy way. When a community is full of thriving businesses, there are more jobs created, more tax revenue generated, and an overall higher quality of life.
Each center typically has a staff of business advisers that have a wide variety of knowledge. Advisers assist clients with a range of topics: writing a business plan, understanding and preparing financials, strategic planning, and on-going accountability, to name a few. Business advisers come from various backgrounds but most have owned their own business at some point and/or have a deep knowledge base in business, accounting, marketing, or commercial banking.
To find your local SBDC, www.americassbdc.org provides a search tool by state and zip code. Canada has a similar program. More information can be found at www.communityfutures.ca Once you’ve found the closest office, give them a call to set-up your first one-on-one appointment. The center will ask you to fill out a form that provides your contact information and a bit about your business. All SBDCs are asked to track information about their clients’ businesses in order to show value to their communities.
Your first meeting will be a “fact finding mission” for your adviser. They will ask a lot of questions about your business or business idea and offer the opportunity for you to ask any pressing questions you may have. Sessions are sometimes very information driven. Other times they will function as a sounding board for brainstorming meetings. Be prepared . . . most of the time, you will leave with homework. Business advisers function as coaches and teachers. They want to see you succeed and thrive, but they won’t (and shouldn’t) do the work for you. However, meetings with your adviser can be catered to the needs of you and your business. While SBDCs typically offer workshops on prominent topics, the one-on-one meetings aren’t usually based on a set curriculum.
Some of the most popular topics are:
Writing a Business Plan
All business owners should write a formal plan for their business prior to starting and review/revise it on a regular basis. Initially the business plan helps the owner to think through and have responses to all aspects of ownership and operations. Once the business is established, the plan functions as a working document that ensures the business stays on track with its goals.
Understanding and Preparing Financials
The majority of business owners enjoy the “widget” of their business and would rather not spend time looking at a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet or report. However, at the end of the day, the point of a business it to make a profit. It’s difficult to know whether or not your business is profitable or running in the red if you don’t have a solid tracking system for your bookkeeping. You need to be able to understand how to read reports like a Profit & Loss Statement, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow Statement.
Preparing for a Commercial Bank Loan
The paperwork required for a commercial loan is more in-depth than applying for a home loan. This can feel overwhelming for a business owner. SBDC advisers are skilled in helping you put together the required documentation to give you the best chance at a loan approval. Many times, the adviser has built relationships with area bankers and can help match you with a lending institution that would be more apt to approve your loan. Also, SBDCs are aware of any type of community or economic development lending programs that might be available in your area.
It is normal to experience periods of feeling stuck and not sure where to go next in order to grow your business. A business adviser can lead you through a strategic planning session that will help determine where you want your business to be in three years and then work backwards to determine the tasks you need to start with in order to achieve the ultimate goal.
Sometimes the best thing for a business owner is to have someone holding them to task on areas of their business where they are dragging their feet. A business adviser will be that extra set of eyes and the one asking, “Did you complete your homework?”
The Small Business Development Center can be a wonderful resource to help you further your business at no cost to you. Whether you are new to running a business or you have been an owner for years, the SBDC business advisers would love to help you take your business to the next level, whatever that may be.
Kari McGilvra has been a Business Advisor with the Indiana Small Business Development Center in New Albany, Indiana since August 2015. She has also been a small business owner for over a decade.