By: Cope Norcross
Starting your own business sounds appealing when you are unemployed or thinking of turning your lifelong passion into a career. However, more often than not, small businesses fail within the first year. Starting your own business may sound simple, but ask the hundreds of thousands of people who have tried and failed, and you will hear similar stories from them. Lack of information and unexpected difficulties play a devastating role for entrepreneurs. Help and guidance is needed, and fortunately it is available—free of charge.
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program is a nationwide program designed to help small businesses grow and expand, and to encourage entrepreneurs to start their business ventures in the best direction possible for long-term success. The SBDC offers management and business technical assistance at no cost to the client, as well as offering workshops on a wide variety of interests.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) funds the Small Business Development Centers through a contract with each State to provide funds to operate the program. In California, the host agency for the State is the California Technology Trade and Commerce Agency (CTTCA). The funds flow from the SBA into California and then to local hosts chosen by CTTCA to deliver SBDC services in all areas in California. Through a Request For Proposal process, CTTCA chooses local hosts, of which about 60% are community colleges, and the remainder goes to community-based organizations involved in economic development.
The SBDC offer one-on-one counseling to small businesses to assist in their growth and expansion. One of the most valuable services offered to small business owners is the ability to access capital for growth and expansion. The SBDC are intermediaries for the SBA’s very successful pre-qualification loan program. The SBDC assist business owners in developing a business plan and financial forecast. Then the SBDC completes the pre-qualification loan forms for the client and submits them to the SBA. If the loan guarantee is approved, the SBA provides the client with a pre-approval letter for a loan guarantee, and the client and the SBDC can take that to a bank to assist with a loan application. The SBDC continues to work with the client during the loan process, and provides post-loan technical assistance as well.
Workshops and training is also offered at no cost or low cost on subjects of current interest to small business owners; for instance, How to Start A Business, Access to Capital, Customer Service, How To Market Your Business In Slow Economic Times, How To Develop A Business Plan, Employment Law, How To Get Government Contracts, and many other essential areas.
Consultants are available following workshops, and by appointment, to assist small business owners with any issue concerning the growth of their business. Many SBDC offer counseling on international trade issues, and importing and exporting products and services. They also assist in areas such as business planning, marketing, e-commerce, government contracts, access to capital, accounting, marketing on the Internet, human relations issues, and more. Much of this assistance is offered in Spanish and Chinese.
Currently, there are five Small Business Development Centers in Los Angeles County with each center having a number of local offices for the convenience of business owners. Many SBDC partner with Chambers of Commerce, cities, and service clubs to provide additional locations for delivery of SBDC services.
Many SBDC’s offer counseling on international trade issues. The Center for International Trade and the California Mexico Trade Assistance Center hosted by Citrus College in the San Gabriel is an example. They can be contacted at 909-629-2253, Fax 909-397-5769, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Other hosts provide similar services for those businesses interested in importing and exporting their products and services.
The SBDC program is a public agency funded by taxpayer dollars. Its goal is to improve the small business economy. Having been in business for 17 years in California, the SBDC has had a successful economic impact to the community.