If you’ve started a small business and need advice, there are plenty of resources available to lend you a hand. The problem is that many of them are in the form of books, lectures, and “programs” that have no issue with charging you for their services. So what’s an entrepreneur with limited cash and just a handful of questions to do? Get in touch with these local experts. They’ll more than likely be glad to show you the ropes.
1. Your Parents
It doesn’t matter if they have ever owned a business. They didn’t even have to raise you well. If you had a modestly decent childhood and are alive today to tell about it, chances are great that your parents (or at least one of them) had enough business sense to run a household. Asking them about their most important lessons can spur you on in some tough situations, and most of them are applicable to any business.
2. Local Small Business Owner
If you can identify any local business that’s been around for over 20 years, you’ve found a great candidate for getting free advice — with extra points for family businesses. Why? Working in the same community throughout a changing economy takes flexibility, forward-thinking, and perseverance — all qualities that a successful business-owner needs to survive. (And anyone who can work with their own family is especially talented!)
Your local library is in the business of giving information (literally), and the head librarian is usually very well versed in all kinds of free resources for those wanting to know more about local regulations, tax law, continuing education, and networking opportunities. If you haven’t visited your local branch in awhile, take a day to go in and introduce yourself. Let the librarian know who you are, what you do, and how you could benefit from the library’s resources. Then let them do the talking. They will most likely share all of the perks available to you, including interlibrary loan programs, free information on funding and grants, and more!
4. Chamber of Commerce
If you’re not already hooked up with your local Chamber, there is much you may be missing out on. In addition to networking functions and speaking engagements, you’ll be listed in their directories. While not always free to join, the cost (if any) is usually minimal. (And there is no shortage of professionals who can answer your questions.)
5. College Professor
Thought you had to take a course to get marketing and entrepreneurial info? Think again. Many professors make themselves available to small businesses that are just starting out, and they may appreciate the opportunity to point you in the direction of new trends and tools being studied by current students. Remember that they are busy, too, so don’t take advantage of their kindness. However, a phone call to your local college to inquire about what the students are learning can bring new ideas and opportunities to your business, so don’t hesitate to at least ask!
6. Local Economic Development Groups
In addition to the more formal networks (like the Chamber of Commerce), many communities are forming groups of local businesses for the sole purpose of supporting one another and providing an exchange of ideas and expertise. These groups span several communities (entire states in some cases), and are less formal and political than Chamber groups. Costs can vary from a few dollars to several hundred, but initial communication and participation in their activities is usually free. The opportunity to learn from other businesses is endless!
With the growing popularity of small business startups, it’s natural to assume that you’ll be competing with those more educated or experienced than yourself. However, don’t be intimidated. Your community can be very supportive of your endeavor. After all, growing business locally is good for everyone!