You may have heard that a third of all new businesses fail within the first two years. For the most part, these failures aren't due to the economy or other factors beyond their owners' control.
Instead, businesses typically fail because of problems that might have been avoided with better advice and education. These include: insufficient planning, poor management, lack of experience, and underestimating the competition.
Good business advice can save your small business, and it doesn't have to cost you a fortune. Here are six free or low-cost ways to get top-notch business help.
1. The U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) operates district offices in all 50 states. The district office can advise you on SBA financing programs and connect you with other resources, including advising and resources for minority-owned businesses through the Minority Enterprise Development Program and advising for women business owners through Women's Business Ownership Representatives. The SBA also provides funding for SCORE and Small Business Development Centers.
SCORE has been around for 50 years, offering free business mentoring by volunteers with real-world business experience. SCORE also provides free and low-cost educational programs for small business owners.
SCORE's mentors come from a wide range of industries and backgrounds. You can request a mentor based on industry, location, or expertise, or you can ask SCORE to match you with someone. You can meet with your mentor online or at one of SCORE's 300 offices nationwide. Mentors may direct you to other resources, work with you to set goals, and help you learn to make better business decisions.
3. Small Business Development Centers
Located throughout the United States, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) offer free advisory services to aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners. They also have an array of low-cost training programs on topics such as business plan development, finances, marketing, procurement, and the basic nuts and bolts of starting and running a small business.
4. Trade Groups in Your Industry
There's a trade group or association for almost every kind of business, whether you operate a brick-and-mortar fireplace store or create apps in your basement. Many trade groups have free resources on their websites, ranging from informational articles, to how-to guides, to templates for commonly used documents.
For more resources, consider investing in a membership. Depending on the trade group, your annual membership fee may give you access to educational materials, seminars, mentoring, and online forums where you can ask questions and get responses from people with businesses like yours. Your trade group may have local chapters that offer seminars and networking opportunities, or an annual conference that will give you access to seminars and an opportunity to talk to similar business owners face to face.
BusinessAdvising.org is a nonprofit that provides free mentoring to small businesses through a network of volunteer advisors. These advisors include experienced entrepreneurs and senior executives at banks, consulting firms, and Fortune 500 companies in dozens of industries. Business owners are matched with a mentor after filling out a questionnaire.
BusinessAdvising.org's mission is to help small businesses grow, so they can create jobs in economically underserved communities or rural areas. It aims to help businesses that have been operating for at least a year and share this goal or have a compelling social purpose.
6. Your Local Public Library
It may sound quaint, but your neighborhood library is chock full of useful resources for entrepreneurs. Practical business guides can take you through everything from writing a business plan to using social media for marketing. Books like the “Dummies" series can systematically take you through a complex topic and make it easy to understand.
Libraries are also a good resource for inspirational business books that will help you adopt an entrepreneurial mindset or hone your management skills. And your reference librarian may be able to point you to resources for researching competitors, demographics, trade groups, or potential locations.
While it's not easy becoming a successful small business owner, you don't have to go it alone. Take advantage of free and low-cost community and online resources, and you can receive solid advice and a useful education at a bargain price.