The SBA (Small Business Administration) is a United States government department tasked with supporting and nurturing entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. But what can it actually do for you?
We were curious about this so we asked our community for their stories about how the SBA - including the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) who are also funded/supported by them - had impacted their ventures. Not including their websites that offer a huge online repository of information, articles and business resources (we'll list a bunch of important online resources for you to explore at the end of the article).
The over-arching impression I got from the responses was that most people are not aware of just how much support there is made available to them by the SBA, SBDC and SCORE. It's not only about getting loans, trust me.
Here are a few of their stories...
Geoff Orazem, the co-founder of Eastern Foundry, a startup incubator for government contractors, told us that the SBA was a huge help when it came to marketing.
Initially Geoff felt like they didn't really have a handle on how to market and promote their new business.
"It was my first time starting a business and while I felt like I understood the customer base, and had a good first perspective on the services and products that we could provide to address that problem, I didn't know the first thing about marketing. What is the goal of a ribbon cutting? How do I advertise it? What are the channels to make people aware of us? "
He reached out to Nirav Rajapara and Charles Motte at the Howard University SBDC (which is an SBA program) that provides counseling services to prospective business owners.
"They helped me understand the universe of marketing opportunities, how to measure their impact, who I needed to engage and how much I should be spending at each step. In a way they worked with me to build a V1.0 marketing plan but more importantly they taught me how to understand the marketing world and how to be an educated consumer of marketing services."
Ultimately, the results of their efforts proved to be a great success, as Geoff explains...
"We had a wonderful ribbon cutting with Virginia Senator Mark Warner which was covered by a number of news outlets, additionally we implemented a number of their organic marketing suggestions that allowed us to create low cost marketing channels to reach our customer base. Because of this we filled our first location in only a few months and have continued to build on that basic marketing infrastructure in our second location."
Phil Stempin, the CMO of ColdAvenger, is a big fan of the SBA because it has helped them with early phase growth that was being stifled by their own limited resources.
"One of the problems we were having was getting in front of an international audience. The SBA helped us by matching funds to show our products in a trade show in Germany. They also took care of the cost of a plane ride over. "
Was it worth it flying all the way to Germany? You bet.
"The results were fantastic. We signed a new distributor which grew our business by over 15%. "
Here's something else Phil told us that might be of interest to any small company looking to expand their horizons overseas.
"We have also used the SBA to help us check out international businesses before getting involved. This saved us by having them check out a “too good to be true” type situation - which it inevitably was. This saved us a ton of time and money."
Someone Special Books
Heather McCarthy owns Someone Special Books a small business that makes use of SCORE's consulting services. She relates how starting a business with no experience was extremely challenging.
"When my fellow co-founder Kate Ryan and I started our small business we had all the heart and determination we needed, but lacked small business expertise. Kate and I are both middle school teachers and moms with no business expertise so we turned to SCORE for a mentor."
As time went on, Heather and Kate started to pick up important business skills and begun to make real headway.
"Through SCORE's free mentoring, online workshops, and business resources, we learned how to write a business plan, manage social media, and decrease costs to increase revenue."
She goes on to praise the flexibility and diversity of options open to entrepreneurs making use of SCORE - everything from webinars, to meetups, and face-to-face consultations are available for free.
"After watching webinars such as, "Top Ten Things Every Website Needs to Drive Sales", "Social Media 101", and "How to Attract Customers using Online Reviews", we saw improvements to our business. One of the great things about SCORE is that you are not limited to one mentor. You can have face to face meetings, email mentors, and even do video chatting with them. "
And, it's great to hear that things are going well for Heather and Kate...
"This spring Someone Special Books was named one of the 2016 American Small Business Champions through SCORE and Sam's Club. With this honor we received a $1 000 gift card to Sam's Club to assist our growing business. It also puts Someone Special Books in the running for a $25 000 grand prize. The SCORE Grand Champion will be announced August 1st at the SCORE Awards Gala in Washington DC. "
Each of the organizations have their own local, regional and national services on offer, so it's worth checking out what may (or may not) be available for you to make use of in your area.
Have you made use of the SBA, SBDC, or SCORE? What was your experience? Do you have any tips or advice for how to get the most out of a relationship with these organizations? Share your thoughts in the comments below.