Business formation is oftentimes a solo venture. The primary force behind starting and running a company is, many times, a single entrepreneur with drive and vision. However, as I’ve noted before – there is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to starting and running a business. Smart entrepreneurs take advantage of available resources – including modeling success and relying on mentors that have been down the road before.
There are, in fact, a host of free (or low cost) resources available to entrepreneurs to help start, grow, operate and successfully build companies. While this list is by no means comprehensive, here are 6 places to go to get FREE help for starting and running your business.
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
Founded in 1964, SCORE is an SBA affiliated program. SCORE matches retired executives to entrepreneurs in need of mentoring and assistance. The organization has 12,400 mentors across the country and the programs available include both face to face counseling as well as online mentoring. SCORE also offers online workshops.
The first step in accessing SCORE is determining whether in-person mentoring is feasible for you. SCORE has chapters 364 locations across the U.S., so many entrepreneurs will be within driving distance of a SCORE facility. You can search for SCORE chapters and arrange an appointment to visit, where SCORE will set you up with a mentor to advise you face to face.
If in person mentoring is not feasible for you, SCORE also offers an online advisory program. The ASKSCORE program is an online resource that connects you with a personal advisor who can answer specific questions you may have concerning your business.
As noted, these mentoring programs are absolutely free. There are no substantive qualifying requirements and you can take advantage of the mentoring as often as you like.
In addition to the direct advice and mentoring opportunities, SCORE also offers a host of workshops, both online and offline, for entrepreneurs. SCORE offers more than 30 individual online workshops – with topics including business planning, marketing, legal considerations, business growth, finance management, etc. If you are close to a SCORE office, you can visit the chapter’s individual website to register for in-person workshops and seminars.
Finally, SCORE also offers a bunch of document resources for entrepreneurs. There are several templates for business plans and financial modeling, as well as business quizzes and downloadable podcasts.
SCORE has counseled more than 8.5 million business owners and helps create 20,000 new businesses each year. Perhaps you can be one of those businesses?
Entrepreneurship.org is a website run by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The site has a vast amount of content for entrepreneurs, as well as policy makers, investors, mentors and researchers associated with the entrepreneurial community. The amount of content is significant, but that’s a double edged sword. The bulk of content may make it difficult to easily locate resources that you need. Nonetheless, the resources are valuable and this is a good site to keep on your radar screen as an entrepreneur.
The Edward Lowe Foundation
The Edward Lowe Foundation has a mission that is a bit more focused than many other entrepreneurial assistance groups. The Foundation primarily targets second stage entrepreneurs. Second-stage companies are those that have grown past the startup stage but have not grown to maturity. They have enough employees to exceed the comfortable control span of one owner/CEO and benefit from adding professional managers, but they do not yet have a full-scale professional management team. In general, these will be companies between $1 million and $100 million of annual revenues.
The Foundation offers several programs for entrepreneurs that fall into this category, including leadership retreats at the Foundation’s 2,600 acre Big Rock Valley facility in Michigan and Peerspective Roundtable training for non profits serving entrepreneurs.
Despite its focus on second-stage companies, almost any entrepreneur can benefit by visiting the Edward Lowe Foundation’s website. They provide an Entrepreneurs Resource Center with a searchable database of hundreds of articles on various entrepreneurship topics. Additionally, there is a database of peer organizations for second stage entrepreneurs, listing relevant groups by state.
BizToolkit is a resource site powered by the James J. Hill reference library that offers access to business tools and resources for entrepreneurs. Although there is a premium section of the site, there are also a number of free resources that are available.
In fact, much of what Biztoolkit does for free is to send you to other websites. Nonetheless, this can prove quite helpful to entrepreneurs looking for free or low cost resources. BizToolkit has done a lot of the heavy lifting for you in regards to finding free business resources. Thus, you can use the BizToolkit site as a hub when accessing these other free entrepreneurial resources.
US Chamber of Commerce Small Business Nation
The US Chamber of Commerce has a website devoted to small business and accompanying resources. The website offers 9 “toolkits” for small businesses: employer, finance, government contracting, hiring, insurance, printing & shipping, rental car solutions, sales & marketing and star-up. These toolkits are full of thought provoking and how-to content relating to their individual topic areas.
Small Business Administration (SBA)
Of course, one of the most comprehensive organizations serving entrepreneurs is the Small Business Administration. It’s not possible to give a fhttp://unchained-entrepreneur.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=410ull description of all the relevant programs and resources offered by the SBA in this space. However, entrepreneurs should certainly be aware of the following:
The Office of Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) provides management assistance to current and prospective small business owners. The mission of the SBDC network is to help new entrepreneurs realize their dream of business ownership, and to assist existing businesses to remain competitive in the complex marketplace of an ever-changing global economy. In short, your success is our business. Hosted by leading universities, colleges, and state economic development agencies, and funded in part through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, approximately 1,000 service centers are available to provide no-cost consulting and low-cost training.
Small Business Training Network (SBTN)
The SBTN is a virtual campus that offers online courses, publications and other forms of technical assistance. Most courses are self paced and generally take no more than 30-45 minutes to complete. Topics include: business start up, business planning, finance and accounting, survival in a slow economy, marketing & advertising, etc.
The SBA offers more than 200 free publications on its website on topics ranging from government contracting to marketing to management and planning. These are all available as free downloads, usually in PDF format. Additionally, there are a large number of podcasts available for free download (as well as the transcripts of those sessions) on similar topics and subjects.
Whether you are contemplating starting a business or already run a small company, consider taking advantage of some of these resources to help accelerate your success in 2010.
If you’ve ever used any of these resources, please let us know about your experiences. Are there other resources that you think are of great value to entrepreneurs?