Small Business Development Centers: What Real-Life Entrepreneurs Thinkby Grasshopper Team Published in Off the Ground on
You’re great at marketing, but terrible at administrative tasks. You know how to optimize your Facebook page, but you have no idea how to impress investors.
How do you fill in the gaps? Where do you go for help?
Even though you pride yourself in doing it alone, connections, experience, and other people can help.
And thankfully, there are programs and organizations across the country that are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners thrive.
“The business advisors and instructors at a small business development center teach entrepreneurs to become small business owners, and help them uncover other business resources available to them,” says Tammy Marquez-Oldham, the Director of the Portland Community College Small Business Development Center.
We agree with Tammy– we’re ready to show you why (and how) small business development centers can help you grow:
Give Yourself Structure and Discipline
Entrepreneurs are visionaries. Successful small business owners, however, do more than dream– they have vision AND they’re organized.
Anastasia Andrzejewski is the President of George’s Toy Chest, who joined the Workshops in Business Opportunities (WIBO) in New York to help her grow.
“I liked the idea of attending a structured class to help guide me in thinking about certain business practices, and to teach me about sustainably growing my business,” says Anastasia. “The rigor of the course and the questions asked are providing me not only with useful information, but also are helping me to become more disciplined.”
No matter what class or service you enroll in or sign up for, just dedicating yourself to a program will help you discover how to structure your calendar and be more disciplined in your work.
How to do it:
- Identify the specific areas you need to grow in so you can pick the best courses.
- Go offline. It’s tempting to stick to the internet, but real-life courses and groups will give structure.
Network Your Butt Off
Every business owner needs a network, and small business development centers come with networking built in.
The Idea Village supports entrepreneurs rebuilding New Orleans, and Stephanie Davis, the Founder of Garden District Bloody Marys, moved her business from Texas to Louisiana to be a part of it.
“I learned so much, but what it has really done is made me a part of the business community here,” says Stephanie. “Through contacts they specifically set up for me, I have worked with UPS to figure out how to ship bottles that previously broke in standard shipping outlets, secured affordable warehouse and shipping logistics solutions, and filtered through advice on co-packers.”
Some small business development centers offer classes or organize events with a specific focus on networking, but even if yours doesn’t, or you opt out of those programs, it’s hard not to network when you’re learning alongside other local small business owners.
How to do it:
- Don’t just meet people and go on your merry way. Instead, follow up! If you hit it off with someone at an event, connect with them on LinkedIn, write them an email, or plan an upcoming coffee date.
- When you need something, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask these connections for help– they’re brimming with advice and insight.
Find Go-to Advisors and Mentors
Many small business development centers offer mentorship opportunities with experienced, successful business owners. The professionals who make themselves available for these programs do so because they are passionate about seeing small business in their area grow, so these relationships are hardly confined to a building or time period.
Andrew Royce Bauer and the executive team at Royce Leather in Secaucus, New Jersey, for example, have an ongoing relationship with their mentors. They continue to consult with 1789 Venture Lab, a small biz development center in North Carolina.
“Whenever I have a question about a business decision, I am able to tap into former entrepreneurs that have had over 40 years of experience successfully launching and sustaining high-growth companies,” says Andrew.
Successful business owners don’t sign up to mentor startups for the paycheck, and the opportunity to develop a life-long relationship with a business mentor is not something you want to pass up.
How to do it:
- Connect with speakers and other successful people whenever possible. That means approaching someone after they give a talk.
- Stay in touch after you meet (a simple LinkedIn connection or an email exchange can go a long way).
Get The Experience You Need to Grow
Experience is a double-edged sword: the inexperienced often make costly mistakes, but the opportunity to learn from those mistakes provides invaluable experience that will usually take you a lot further than someone else’s best advice.
How do you become an experienced business owner while minimizing the risk?
Janette Eusebio Harwell, Founder of Box Play for Kids, did it through Seed Spot in Phoenix, Arizona. She attended Venture Fridays, an opportunity for full-time ventures to practice and refine their pitch.
“It was one of the wisest business decisions I have made,” says Janette. “The opportunity to pitch to investors was an adrenaline-filled, eye-opening experience.”
How to do it:
- Say yes instead of no. When someone asks you to do something, say yes, even if you’re a bit uncomfortable. You never know what you’ll gain from the experience.
So, Why Not Join Up and Join In?
Every small business development center will have different strengths and different opportunities, but some of the core benefits will be the same across the board.
And just because you’ve never heard of one in your area doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Here’s how to find one:
- Search the 900 sites offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration here.
- Find out if there’s a SCORE chapter near you.
- Check with your local Chamber of Commerce.
- Check with your local community college.
- Talk to other small business owners in your community.
Chances are good there’s a site, chapter, organization or group nearby that will help take you and your small business to the next level.
Set aside one hour to do some research, make a list of potential meetings to attend, pare them down to the ‘Top 3,’ and then put at least one into your calendar right away.
You’ll be surprised by the number of networking and growth opportunities that are at your fingertips.
Your Turn: Have you joined a small business development center and found it helpful? If not, would you consider it?