Big help available for small businesses

2008

You opened your business with less than $35,000 operating capital. You have less than five employees. Some say you are crazy. I say people like you are the backbone of the country. But what you really are is a micro business. And the good news is that micro businesses have resources opening up to them like never before.

One such resource is startupnation.com. Founded by entrepreneurial experts Jeff and Rich Sloan, startupnation has an abundance of resources for starting a business from scratch. In addition to all the articles and step-by-step instructions, their online community lets you chat with other entrepreneurs from around the world.

Another innovative site is micromentor.org. It emerged from an Aspen Institute project called FIELD - the Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination.

The site got started after a FIELD study on how to help small business owners grow and stabilize their enterprises. A key finding was that micro business-owners kept things moving in the right direction with the help of one-on-one, in-depth, industry-specific business assistance. A no-brainer there. But what they also found was that technology was ready for an efficient, low-cost delivery of that service.

Consequently, the MicroMentor concept took shape.

The result is a free, Web-based service connecting low-income and shoestring start-ups with successful business owners and managers. All mentors are volunteers who must meet certain criteria: be at least 21; have a minimum three years of business ownership or five years in business management; and agree to spend at least three hours per month for three months helping each matched protégé.

To have a mentor, "Microentrepreneurs" must apply and fill out a questionnaire about their business. Once matched, the mentor often helps the microentrepreneur establish goals and plans. Meetings usually occur via email and telephone, and the relationship can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the need.

Considering that large corporations have more money in their training budget than most microentrepreneurs make in a year, MicroMentor.org an awesome idea. In fact, this site and startupnation.com are probably the most practical applications of social networking I've seen yet.

Along more traditional lines, SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, has a long history of helping small businesses owners. More than 7.8 million of them, according to their literature.

A pioneer in the field of small business assistance, SCORE also takes advantage of the Web to provide services. At score.org you can access "how to" articles and templates for starting, marketing, and maintaining your business. You can even take more than two dozen online courses through their online learning center.

They also have almost 400 offices nationwide and over 10,000 active volunteers, so if you prefer, chances are good that free consulting through SCORE can happen face-to-face.

Why all the free help? As indicated earlier, micro businesses cannot afford the rates most consultants charge. And despite their small size and limited market share, micro-enterprises are the largest and fastest growing part of the private sector. Therefore, they are of immense importance to the economy.

Interestingly, some organizations helping microentrepreneurs work regionally and focus on niche demographics. META, which stands for MicroEnterprise Training & Assistance, is a nonprofit organization providing small business assistance to new Americans, women, minorities, and other low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs in southwest and south central Idaho.

Part of the nonprofit Mountain States Group, META (metaidaho.org) holds classes on all aspects of running a business, as well as monthly business lunch workshops. I especially like how META helps refugees who would otherwise have a difficult time maneuvering the ins and outs of getting a business off the ground in the US.

Of course, we can't talk about starting a business and ignore that little agency known as the IRS. The problem? Microentrepreneurs rarely ramp up on the all the paperwork required by our favorite bevy of tax collectors.

It's wise for microentrepreneurs to secure a reputable CPA and also talk tax liabilities with a MicroMentor. But a useful guide can be found on the IRS website itself:

Pretty much every tax form and information booklet you'll need is available there to download for free.

They also have a section that explains what constitutes a business deduction and what to take into consideration when calculating cost-of-goods sold. It won't be as much help as a good CPA, but it's a useful starting point.

The idea here is that if you're a microentrepreneur, a plethora of resources are available to you – many of them absolutely free. Not just pages of data, but people, too. Check out SCORE and MicroMentor.org. Don't be shy or afraid. Chances are your start-up will be a lot more successful with a little bit of outside help.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.