Though the playing field is leveling out for women in business, there are still a number of barriers making it difficult for female entrepreneurs to reach their full potential. One such obstacle is the lack of resources made available to women in business.
Whether it’s due to a lack of diversity in leadership positions or general underrepresentation in certain industries, women oftentimes suffer from a lack of support in their careers. That’s why it’s vital for female entrepreneurs to be aware of resources like the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) that are designed to boost success for women across the country.
What Is the SBDC?
Managed collectively by the U.S. Congress, Small Business Association (SBA), the private sector, and a number of colleges, universities, and state governments, the SBDC is a network of 1,000 local centers providing consulting and training to new or existing small businesses.
According to the website, “Small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs can go to their local SBDCs for free face-to-face business consulting and at-cost training, on topics including business planning, accessing capital, marketing, regulatory compliance, technology development, international trade, and much more.”
The idea for what has become a successful nationwide program was first conceived in 1975 by two former SBA National Advisory Board members, William Flewellen, Jr. and Reed Powell. The duo believed there was a need for a program that would combine the resources of government, higher education, and the private sector to support the development of small businesses.
Now, with locations across the country, the SBDC is celebrating its 40th anniversary and success in engaging with an estimated one million entrepreneurs every year.
What Resources are Available?
The general SBDC website gives an in-depth overview of the center’s varied offerings. For those simply looking to take advantage of in-person resources like business consulting and training, the website can be used to locate nearby SBDC branches.
However, that’s just the start. The SBDC website houses educational materials like an eLearning platform tailored to your specific state, as well as information on cybersecurity and digital safeguarding.
More casual guidance can be found on the website’s blog, which publishes everything from client showcases to business tips. Then, to get a broader look at the state of entrepreneurship — trends, thriving industries, etc. — you can consult the SBDC’s annual report, which is published online.
Moreover, the website is useful for finding information about the SBDC’s signature events and programs. For example, the annual conference, which merges networking, a tradeshow, and reception to help motivate and connect small business owners. Other great programs include the Leadership Institute and the Foundation for Small Business Development.
While you can find a lot online, many entrepreneurs turn to the SBDC because of its free or low-cost in-person resources. These can be accessed by contacting your local SBDC branch.
One of the SBDC’s key offerings is free, confidential business consulting. Their experts can help talk you through a number of subjects ranging from starting or growing a business to disaster assistance to selling to the government to being a female entrepreneur. The website gives specific examples like accounting, marketing, financial planning, loan packaging, and e-commerce as suggestions for potential points of assistance.
Meeting with a consultant from a nearby SBDC branch is particularly useful for early-stage entrepreneurs who are seeking help with core issues like planning and funding. To take advantage of the free counseling, first, make an appointment with one of the center’s advisors. Consider the following when preparing for your appointment:
- What is your vision/goal for the meeting?
- What resources can you invest in your business?
- How much income do you need?
It’s not very often that you’ll get business advice for free so make sure you come into your meeting ready to learn.
The other resource that women in business should be aware of is the SBDC’s business training to startups, entrepreneurs, and small business owners across the U.S. The website states that “[m]ost of our business is free and focuses on starting or growing an existing small business.”
Unlike the advising appointment, you can’t come in with your own specific topic in mind, however, the available training covers a wide range of subjects — everything from confident leadership to funding your business to the food industry to HR management. As an example, here are the upcoming training sessions in New York.
There is also training available for individuals with limited English proficiency. Each state will have its own unique programming and online resources.
How Can SBDCs Help Your Business
The SBDC’s inexpensive or gratuitous in-person services and online resources help fill part of a massive vacuum for women in business. Counseling, in particular, is vital due to the fact that many female entrepreneurs lack mentors or role models.
As a whole, the SBDC has injected small businesses with life. According to their website:
“For 40 years, the nationwide SBDC network has provided high quality, effective assistance resulting in significant long-term economic impact for the small business community and the nation. The result, tens of billions in capital, millions of jobs created and several hundreds of thousands of small businesses created, thriving, and growing.”
Through services like its counseling and Small Business Network of the Americas Grant, the SBDC can help women overcome critical business obstacles like procuring financial support and forming a supportive network.
The best way female entrepreneurs can take advantage of the SBDC is by thoroughly researching their resources and preparing well before appointments. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!