Free small-business counseling: It sounds too good to be true, right? Well, if you know where to look, there's plenty of free advice available, much of it extremely high quality. Using the right networks, you can find seasoned professionals who will help you get your business off the ground or take it to the next level.
Keep in mind that:
- Some focus on particular groups (e.g. women or minorities)
- Some have nominal fees to cover administrative costs
- Some geographic areas have more services than others; but some services are available by email
Contact the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)SCORE – an organization of retired executives who volunteer their time – is a terrific source of free advice. Counseling can take place live, by phone, or by email. Not all volunteers are created equal, so the actual assistance can vary in quality. But overall it's a great organization with a 40-plus-year history of helping small businesses.
Contact your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC)SBDCs provide management and technical services to small businesses nationwide. The SBDC network is a partnership between the government, the private sector, and local universities.
Contact your local business schoolIn addition to participating in the SBDC network, business schools will often engage in less formal partnerships with local small businesses, depending on the particular projects the faculty and students happen to be working on. There's no guarantee that your local business school will have what you're looking for, but it's certainly worth a call.
Contact your local Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)The MBDA runs its own series of development centers around the country to help minority-owned businesses start up and grow. Coverage is a bit more spotty than for SBDCs, but you might find one in your area.
MBDA near you.
Contact you local Women's Business Center (WBC)There are more than 80 of these educational centers, funded in part by the Small Business Administration, that assist women starting and growing small businesses, by offering such services as business roundtables, sales seminars, referral programs, and one-to-one counseling.
- Your lawyer, accountant, banker, and other professional service providers are great sources of business knowledge, too. Don't forget to mine their expertise.
- If you admire a particular business person, try asking him or her to become a mentor. You might be surprised how accessible people will make themselves, especially if they received similar help when they were starting out.