Growing a small business can be quite a challenge. You need funding, advice, new contracts, and a solid business plan. Fortunately, there's a free resource available. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers all of these tools and more to help your business reach its utmost potential.
Overview of the Small Business Administration
Founded in 1953 by the Small Business Act, the SBA is an independent government agency created to help, advise, assist, and protect the interests of small business owners. Its mission is "to maintain and strengthen the nation's economy by enabling the establishment and viability of small businesses and by assisting in the economic recovery of communities after disasters." Sometimes its work is described as the "three Cs": capital, contracts, and counseling.
Run by an administrator, the SBA has an annual budget of more than $710 million dollars—all devoted to helping small businesses. The agency has at least one office in every state and also provides funding for 900 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), 110 Women's Business Centers, and SCORE, a nationwide volunteer organization that provides mentors to business owners.
Small Business Loans
Getting the funds you need can be crucial to expanding your business. To help in the preparation of your loan application, the SBA provides resources for such tasks as creating a business plan, getting a business credit report, and valuing your business. You can access these resources online or in person.
The SBA makes it easier for your small business to access funding by guaranteeing loans offered through lenders, thereby giving a boost to businesses who might not otherwise qualify. The loans, which can range from $500 to $5.5 million and can be guaranteed for up to 90% of their value, offer benefits such as competitive rates, lower down payments, flexible overhead requirements, and no-collateral loans. Some even come with continued SBA support to help you make the most of them. The SBA guarantees a wide variety of loan types, including those for women-owned businesses and veteran-owned businesses.
The SBA Learning Center offers a large variety of online training courses designed to help you grow your business. Courses cover topics such as:
- Business plans
- Financing options
- Young entrepreneurs
- Social media marketing
- Finding and attracting investors
- Accounting basics
- Customer service
- Taking your business global
- Getting a competitive advantage
- Growing an established business
- Strategic planning
The SBA offers classes specifically for veteran-owned businesses, service-disabled veterans, and female veteran-owned businesses. There are also classes for Native-owned businesses and a DreamBuilder program for women-owned businesses.
Obtaining government contracts can be a strategic way to grow your business. To be eligible, your business must obtain certifications that document your business's special status or ability that qualifies you for government work.
The SBA works to ensure that 23% of federal contracts go to small businesses. To qualify, your company must go through the SBA certification process to be listed in the System for Award Management (SAM) database used by the government.
The SBA also certifies businesses that qualify for one of the following:
- Women-Owned Small Business Program (WOSB)
- Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB)
- Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) businesses
- 8(a) Business Development Program, for firms owned and controlled at least 51% by socially and economically disadvantaged businesses
The SBA's All Small Mentor-Protégé Program connects growing businesses with mentors to help them navigate the government contact system. Mentors and protégés can also create joint ventures that make them eligible for contracts specifically granted only to small businesses.
Although starting a business isn't always easy, you can make the process simpler by tapping into one of the many free resources available. For many small businesses, the SBA is your go-to starting point.