Ready for some help with your business? You can research online all day, read every book, even talk with friends and family, but sometimes you just need another experienced business person to sit down with you, face to face, and work on improving your business. No matter where you are, odds are that you are in the territory of some free business consulting sources.
These first two are more or less consistent nationwide in the US. No matter where you are, you can call on the nearest of these services.
- Small Business Development Centers. Our Contributor Jeanne Cole (OkieJ) works for the SBDC based in Alva, Oklahoma. Her job, along with all SBDC counselors, is to provide free business counseling to anyone who asks. She helps people in any stage of business, and she drives halfway across the state to meet with people on their own turf. Trust me, there is an SBDC and the local equivalent of Jeanne near you waiting to help, probably based on a college campus. Check the SBDC Locator to find yours.
- SCORE.Through SCORE, volunteers with real business experience can help you fix problems in your business. SCORE has lots of chapters in the US, but they are pretty far apart in my corner of the state. If you are matched with a volunteer that does not meet your needs, speak up and ask for a change.
This second group of resources is more general. The names and programs will vary from place to place, so you have to do more research to find them in your area. The best place to start is:
- Universities, Colleges, Technical Centers. Many educational institutions have some program or center dedicated to small business. The services available vary widely. You’ll just have to call and find out what’s available to you. Even if you are not near the campus, you are probably still in the service area of some help, and they may drive out to meet you. Don’t be afraid to call the statewide universities and see what they can offer.
- Business Incubators. All incubators provide services to the businesses that they house. Some also provide assistance to outside businesses. It never hurts to ask. Some incubators worldwide are listed at the NBIA. Some incubators now offer co-working in addition to traditional incubation.
- Trade Associations. Depending on the type of business you are in, you may get some help from a trade group or business alliance. They also may be able to help you connect with another small business person in your industry, but not a direct competitor, for some in person discussions.
- Chamber of Commerce. The local chamber of commerce may have their own business counseling program, or may point you to other local resources. They should know all the other players in your local market. If you local town chamber is too small to help much, try the next bigger neighboring city.
- Economic Development Associations. This could be a city agency, a county group, or a regional or state organization, but some offer help directly to existing business owners.
- State Business, Commerce, or Economic Development Department. This is usually an agency of the state government, so start looking on your state’s government website. In order to get in-person help from the state, you may need to be a pretty large business. More likely, they may help you find a more local resource person.
- Utility Companies. Many utilities offer some economic development programs, loans or other services to new businesses. Look especially for local or regional electric or telecommunications utilities that are cooperatives. Call them up and ask about their economic development.
I’ve given you several options, because I know that personal help is only as good as the person offering it. If you don’t get the help you need from one person or one source, keep looking.
Hiring Paid Consultants
Besides these free resources, there are also paid consultants to help with your business. Here’s where I need your help. For the next article on hiring paid consultants, I need your experiences.
- Have you worked with a paid consultant? What were your results?
- Are you a consultant? What can you share about working with client small businesses?
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