The United States is a nation of entrepreneurs, and for this reason, there are many resources in place for small business owners. You don’t have to be a global corporation to take advantage of what federal, state and local governments along with many different organizations can offer you.
A College Degree
A college degree isn’t a requirement to be a successful entrepreneur, but it can help, whether that means a degree focused in your specific industry or a bachelor’s in a business field. You certainly don’t need an MBA or another graduate degree in every line of work, but in some, it will be advantageous, and you may be required to have additional education at minimum for certain certifications, such as in accounting.
But a degree is not just about the piece of paper. A college or university can be one of the best resources around for a budding entrepreneur. Not only do you get the opportunity to learn both the theory and practice of business but campuses offer many resources for networking, developing your leadership skills and much more. Grants, scholarships and loans can all help pay for this. If you’re going to get a graduate degree, these funding sources may be available as well. You can take out graduate student loans from a private lender. If you have a strong credit history, you may be able to get a very good interest rate.
Chambers of Commerce
The local chamber of commerce in your community can be a great resource in a number of ways. It can be an excellent way to network. Chambers of commerce often provide information on taxes, regulations you need to follow and funding. Some can advise you on topics as diverse as network security, human resources, or accounting.
You’ll become more involved and more visible in your community, which in turn can connect you to greater opportunities. You may receive tips on everything from simple marketing tactics to how to make the right hire. This is also a way to join with others to get your voice heard. For example, if a regulation is being introduced that would harm your industry, you can work with other business owners and entrepreneurs on putting a stop to it. You might also gain access to marketing opportunities, sponsorships and many other useful channels.
If you live in a fairly decent sized city, there is probably at least one co-working space and possibly more available. There’s no standard for what constitutes a co-working space—anyone can open a cafe and slap a co-working sign on the door—but at their best, they are comfortable places where you can work, meet others and sometimes even conduct meetings. Costs vary, with some entirely free to occasional drop-ins, some charging by the hour or day, and others offering space for a monthly fee, which may include such things as coffee and snacks along with access to printers, photocopiers, and other equipment. These setups are ideal if you are a sole proprietor or you work remotely, providing you with office space and the typical amenities that accompany it as you need them. And if you primarily work from home, they offer a great opportunity to mingle with others instead of being isolated.
A step up from co-working spaces are incubators, organizations that can provide workspace, networking opportunities and much more. Unlike most of those spaces, which usually anyone can walk into as long as they can pay, you must apply to an incubator. These organizations offer a structured program that can be the pathway to success for you. You’ll have access to mentors and sometimes to loans or other types of capital.
Some incubators are industry specific, and they have launched a number of successful businesses. However, they aren’t the right fit for everyone, and there are a few potential drawbacks depending on what your own circumstances are. The process of applying is a rigorous one. If you are accepted, you will be expected to adhere to a certain schedule and participate in workshops and trainings. You might have to commit for a specific time period, such as a year or two. However, for the right business and the right organization, this can be an exceptionally fruitful collaboration.
On a federal level, the U.S. Small Business Administration also has a lot to offer, from help in getting federal contracts to loans to free online training, counseling and more. If you live in a medium-sized or larger city, you may have a Small Business Development Center nearby, which can offer training and counseling as well. Workshops and counseling may also be available from the nonprofit organization SCORE.