Many business owners, especially those who are in the early stages of running a company, need advice. Many also find they need to learn about business subjects like accounting and marketing. But cost is often a problem. Going to a consultant or enrolling in a university may not be an option when your cash flow is tight in a difficult economy.
There are many resources available for small businesses at schools and business organizations, and they often are free or cost very little. And if you're short of time, you can get plenty of help online.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Colleges and universities across the country offer courses aimed at small business owners. They can be an ideal place to start learning about keeping your company's books or putting together a business or marketing plan. Many schools have set up continuing education programs because of the growing number of small business owners who are interested in learning. While all of these schools offer individual courses, some also offer a certificate program for people who want to delve into a subject.
Big universities are going to charge the most. Courses at some may cost $1,000 or more. But smaller schools and community colleges are likely to be more affordable, in the low hundreds, and even less.
Hundreds of schools across the country operate what are known as Small Business Development Centers. These centers are sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration. They offer courses, seminars and workshops, and many have a nominal cost, like $50, or are even free. They may be held on one occasion, or over the span of several weeks.
SBDCs also offer free advice to business owners who are struggling with a problem or who are trying to decide what their next step should be. There are hundreds of SBDCs around the country. To learn more about them and to find one, visit the SBA website at http://www.sba.gov/content/small-business-development-centers-sbdcs
Many schools, including those that run SBDCs, offer classes online. So if you don't find what you're looking for in a school that's nearby, widen your search. You may be able to take a course that's offered at a school hundreds of miles away.
For-profit schools are another option. Many of them have online classes. But remember, you'll be paying tuition at those schools.
HELP FROM ORGANIZATIONS AND THE GOVERNMENT
SCORE, the organization of retired executives, offers advice and mentoring to small business owners. You can ask about general business topics such as marketing, employee matters or getting a government contract. Or you can get help with on issues that are specific to your type of business, such as running a restaurant. You can get help online or by meeting with a SCORE counselor. You can locate one from the organization's website, www.score.org.
SCORE also has workshops around the country. One in New Haven, Conn., this month is aimed at people trying to decide whether to start a business. Another in Lancaster, Pa., deals with Internet marketing.
Trade and industry groups and chambers of commerce may also offer classes. And they very likely can offer advice.
Government agencies may be a resource. The IRS, for example, offers workshops on tax issues around the country. One in New York in December is aimed at owners who are having trouble paying their taxes because of the economy.
Your state or local government may be another avenue for learning and advice. Governments can also offer specialized help for businesses that are prominent in their state, such as agriculture or technology.
If you search the Internet, you'll find guides and online mini-courses on a variety of topics. The SBA has courses on its website in areas like finance, business planning, management and marketing. Click on www.sba.gov/training/index.html SCORE also has online workshops at www.score.org/online(underscore)workshops.html