It wasn’t long ago that we were suspicious of buying products and services from a business without a national brand. We would hesitate to enter our credit card information for an Internet purchase.
Today, “small business” and “entrepreneur” are household words. We readily search the Internet for products we want and purchase from little-known companies. We celebrate Small Business Saturday and are proud to buy local. Statistics everywhere, while differing in the details, point to small business as an increasingly integral part of our economy.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration – or SBA – small businesses make up 99.7 percent of U.S. employers. While you may object that the SBA’s definition of a “small business” is a company with 500 or fewer employees, more than three-quarters of these businesses are owner-operated with no additional employees, with many others employing just a handful of staff.
Despite the overwhelming acceptance of small, local businesses, the plight of the small business owner is more challenging than ever. Credit is tight. Competition is fierce. Economic growth is tentative at best. And customers have high expectations. Small business owners put in long hours and wear many hats.
However, small business owners are a proud, resilient and determined bunch, and they have support from Small Business Development Centers that are passionate about helping them succeed. Starting with a business plan (practical, not academic) and a detailed financial forecast, the SBDC helps owners analyze their business and make smart decisions. SBDC advisors serve as sounding boards, troubleshooters, researchers and analysts – all critical resources for someone trying to do it all with limited time and money. The SBDC offers inexpensive classes taught by subject matter experts, and access to paid databases and software tools that can be prohibitively expensive for most small businesses to afford.
The best news is that help from your local SBDC is often at no cost to the business owner. In Illinois, SBDCs are grant-funded by the SBA and Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. SBDC hosts, typically community colleges or universities, provide matching funds.
Lest you wonder if these resources may not understand the challenges that you, the small business owner, face, most SBDC advisors have a background as experienced small business owners and have faced challenges similar to the ones you are facing today.
Small business owners are capable and resourceful, and they often resist seeking outside assistance. If that describes you, check your ego at the door and take advantage of every resource available to help your business survive and grow. After all, the odds are tough enough. Why not tip them your way?
• Harriet Parker is manager of the Illinois Small Business Development Center hosted at Waubonsee Community College. A Waubonsee column runs the third Wednesday of each month in the Kane County Chronicle.