Free and Low-Cost Resources To Help Grow Your Business

  •    A freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dinah previously worked as a staff reporter for The Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires.

You don't have to go it alone when starting or building your small business — there's plenty of free and low-cost help available. From business plans to mentoring, universities, nonprofits and government agencies offer a wealth of services and ideas to help grow your business.

Jump-start your business venture with these resources.

Higher Education

Universities and community colleges offer online and face-to-face resources to entrepreneurs, including startup services, business-plan templates, management consulting and mentoring.

Temple University in Philadelphia provides several free and paid services — some focused on entrepreneurial students, others open to firms outside the university. The school’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is partly funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), provides free, one-on-one personalized consulting to existing Philadelphia businesses and startups. Services include a free legal clinic and an international business program that helps local small businesses find global opportunities.

The center’s creative department helps companies develop brand images. Its services include marketing and ad consulting, graphic design, copywriting, press releases and photography. Other than a “nominal” materials fee, the services are free.

Temple’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), part of a larger government-supported program, offers free to low-cost training, free consulting and free bid leads to Philadelphia-based companies interested in government procurement.

SBDCs and PTACs like this can be found at universities nationwide. The District of Columbia SBDC, affiliated with Howard University and other Washington, D.C.-area schools, offers free business-management consulting to D.C. residents and businesses.

Use the SBA website’s search feature to find your local SBDC. The agency helps support 63 Small Business Development Center networks with 900 offices nationally.

Check university business school websites, like Stanford’s, for free articles, videos and links to instructions for developing business plans and getting venture capital.

Nonprofits

Nonprofits also provide free and affordable help for small businesses.

SCORE — a corporate-backed SBA partner — calls itself the country’s “major source of free and confidential small business advice for entrepreneurs and small businesses.” The organization offers free business mentoring and low-cost workshops, delivered by working and retired business professionals, at its 320 offices.

SCORE provides an introduction to business plan fundamentals course and training in customer service, hiring practices and home-based business operations. It also offers free online resources on planning and running small businesses.

Women’s Business Centers, also funded by donors and the SBA, offers low-cost workshops on market research and financial management, and online links to information about taxes and licensing.

Extension.org, an educational service affiliated with land grant universities, presents abundant information on agricultural topics, but also shares online advice on entrepreneurship and personal finance. One webinar focuses on taking the leap from hobbyist to entrepreneur, while several small-business articles discuss topics like good record keeping and obtaining loans.

Uncle Sam

The federal government provides a wide array of small-business services, many run by or affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The agency conducts webinars on topics including small business financial management and financing options. It also hosts free or low-cost local events on access to capital, writing a successful business plan, doing business with the government and obtaining SBA disaster loans. The SBA also offers online tools to help you plan, start and run your small business.

Although the SBA is the federal agency devoted specifically to small business, many other government offices also offer services that may help your venture.

  • BusinessUSA is a one-stop shop for small businesses and exporters to get help from federal agencies. The site includes information on hiring, the Affordable Care Act, intellectual property and “green” business opportunities with the government. It also has a financing search tool.
  • The U.S. Defense Logistics Agency oversees the program that houses PTACs. Its services include special programs for women-owned, veteran-owned and disadvantaged companies.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers free and confidential on-site consultations for small businesses. * * The agency says that consultants won’t issue citations for OSHA standards violations found during visits.
    Check state and local government web portals for other agencies dedicated to helping entrepreneurs.

With a little looking, high quality, free help for your business is close at hand.

Photo Credit: Reynermedia/Creative Commons