Most small business owners have vast knowledge about many aspects of their operations, but that doesn't mean extra help and outside advice isn't needed on key issues.
The problem for many businesses, though, is that there isn't always extra cash available to pay for consultants or experts. Fortunately, there are resources out there that business owners can make use of to get helpful free information and valuable advice. Here are five of them that won't cost you a dime.
SCORE stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives. It's one of the single best resources for small business owners. For five decades, this nonprofit organization has offered education and advice on a wide range of topics related to creating, operating, and expanding business enterprises. SCORE offers both live and recorded webinars as well as courses business owners can take.
Best of all, SCORE also has a network of around 10,000 volunteer mentors spread across the country who actually take time to help small business owners via email, video chats, or in-person meet-ups. You can search by business category and read profiles of local mentors in your area to find someone with the expertise you're looking for.
2. The SBA and Small Business Development Centers
Small business development centers are local offices that help entrepreneurs at all stages of business development. Services are either free or cost little and include help creating a business plan; assistance securing a loan; support for manufacturers, importers, and exporters; disaster recovery help; assistance with market research; guidance on healthcare issues; and aid in procurement and contracting.
These centers are typically hosted by state economic development agencies as well as by top colleges and universities. They're funded through a partnership with the Small Business Administration, which has a list of local centers on its website.
Of course, the SBA is also itself a resource for businesses and has many tools on its website you can use, including business plan templates. However, while most people know the SBA is there to help, business owners may be less familiar with local development centers.
3. The National Federation of Independent Businesses
The National Federation of Independent Businesses is the nation's largest small business association. In addition to extensive lobbying work on behalf of the interests of businesses, NFIB also provides ample resources for entrepreneurs.
Business owners can search for webinars, articles, infographics, or videos on key topics relevant to their operations, including legal issues, financial matters, human resources, technology, and more.
4. Google Analytics
Today, almost every company has an online presence. Customers can find you through your website and social media activities, but it helps if search engines consider your website to be a credible one since you'll show up more highly in the results for searches related to your business.
Because so many people find products and services through the internet, it's useful for you to know what's bringing people to your website, where visitors are coming from, how long they're staying, and when they're leaving. Google Analytics is a free tool that can give you answers to lots of these questions.
There's a paid version, too, but if you're just getting started with tracking online activity, the free version should give you ample information to begin perfecting online marketing tactics.
5. The Department of Labor
If your company plans to hire any workers, it's absolutely imperative you abide by myriad rules and regulations applicable to the hiring process and the way you pay your workers. To help, the Department of Labor has an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization that has a comprehensive summary of the rules you need to know.
On this site, you can find information and resources related to pension plan rules, anti-discrimination laws, wage-and-hour laws, and more. While legal compliance may not seem fun, you need to make certain you protect your company's future by being fully aware of the laws and abiding by all of them. Not knowing the rules is no defense if you're accused of wrongdoing.
Take advantage of all of the resources available to you
Small businesses should take advantage not only of these resources, but any free sources of information and advice they can obtain. This means attending networking events held by your local Chamber of Commerce, keeping in contact with local community colleges who could send you interns and entry-level candidates, and joining industry trade groups. By finding support from many different people and places, you'll grow your business -- and your knowledge base -- all at the same time.
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