Small business owners are all about cutting costs right now, but we’re also still looking to grow our companies and learn new things. Here are 3 ideas for great places to get help growing your company without breaking the bank.
1) SCORE: A partnership with the Small Business Administration, SCORE offers free consulting from experienced business veterans. SCORE has more than 350 offices nationwide, with SCORE mentors who meet with you one-on-one to help you grow your business. I do quite a bit of work for SCORE, and can attest to how hard they’re working to help businesses start and grow.
These days, we all need answers fast. So if there’s not a SCORE office near you—or you have a business problem, but it’s 3 am. – no worries: SCORE also offers online counseling 24/7.
SCORE also has plenty of online resources to grow your business. At the SCORE website, take free online workshops and webinars like Tap Into The Power of Social Media, featuring Chris Brogan. Or visit the SCORE Community, where you can ask questions and get answers from other entrepreneurs, or just network and talk business issues.
2) Small Business Development Center (SBDC): I work with the SBDC – Los Angeles on a regular basis, and every time I talk to them, I come away in awe of all the services they offer—absolutely free. SBDCs are one-stop centers that are funded partly by the government and partly by private donations. You can take classes and workshops, attend networking events, plus get one-on-one counseling to build your business. SBDC Business Advisors, many of whom are either current or former entrepreneurs, will help you figure out your priorities and next steps, and then stay on you until you achieve them.
Getting counseling from the SBDC is like having a business coach—except it’s free.
I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs who say the best part about the SBDC is having a Business Advisor to bounce ideas off of and get feedback from. Use the SBA’s online SBDC locator to find the SBDC in your area.
3) Colleges and Universities: I can remember 15 or 20 years ago, the concept of entrepreneurship education was barely recognized, and only a handful of schools offered any courses in the subject. Today, more than 700 colleges or universities nationwide offer degrees in entrepreneurship. The good news for growing companies is that more schools now offer classes on the weekends or at night—so actual entrepreneurs actually have a shot at attending. I realize the title of my post mentioned “almost free,” and entrepreneurship degrees typically aren’t low-cost. But taking classes to boost your skills in key areas can be affordable, especially if you do so at a local community college.
Some colleges also have specialized centers to help entrepreneurs. For instance, in my area, Long Beach City College (a community college) hosts the Center for International Trade Development, which helps entrepreneurs take their businesses global and learn about importing and exporting. You don’t have to be a student to use the center—so find out what amenities your local college has to offer.
One aspect of going back to school that can be free: becoming a guinea pig for a class project. If your local college has a business school or entrepreneurship program, and you’ve got a business challenge that needs solving, see if a professor is willing to have his or her class take it on as a project. Maybe you could get graphic design students to revamp your brand identity, or have a business class do your market research for free before you launch a new product. It never hurts to ask.