Starting a small business is difficult. That’s especially true if you’re trying to open a new restaurant or retail outlet. New restaurants often fail in the first year and retail outlets have to compete with Amazon and other established players. Fortunately, there is a wealth of government resources available to give you a hand. Federal and local government programs to support small businesses can be a welcome source of capital and advice. Here are some of the best government resources to help boost your small business.
1. Small Business Administration
The Small Business Administration is the obvious place to start when looking for resources. Founded in 1953, the SBA’s mission is to assist small businesses in an increasingly competitive marketplace that favors economies of scale. The agency offers a wide range of services through its webpage. First, the SBA provides small business loans at attractive rates and the “7(a)” loan program allow funds to be used for working capital and a variety of other purposes. Second, the SBA provides courses to learn about issues small businesses often face, such as improving customer service and cyber security. Finally, the SBA can provide disaster assistance in the event of natural disasters, terrorism, or other catastrophes. Insurance against such events is often cost-prohibitive for small businesses and SBA disaster assistance can provide financial security in tough times. One of the most valuable services that the SBA offers is access to other small business owners who have probably experienced similar issues. Local SBA partner organizations are a great way to network and find mentors to help guide you.
USA.Gov is another great resource for entrepreneurs, especially those launching their first business. This web portal offers a wealth of advice and mentorship for specific challenges that small businesses often face. These issues include technical topics such as tax requirements for small businesses, hiring employees, and navigating consumer protection laws, among others. Small businesses can use these resources to solve important technical issues like finding the right employee scheduling software and tax preparation tools. USA.Gov also offers targeted assistance to businesses run by veterans and minorities. The site links directly to the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. If you don’t know what kind of support you need or what resources are available, USA.Gov is a powerful tool.
There are plenty of federal and local government grants available, you just need to apply. Fortunately, there’s a single database to evaluate all the different grants that are currently accepting applications. Grants.Gov has a large, frequently updated database of grants available from all levels of government. Each grant posting identifies the government agency, the specific goal of the grant, any eligibility requirements, and the closing date. While the interface is a bit antiquated, it’s possible to use the built-in filters to focus on the specific grants you need. It’s possible to select specific government agencies, industries, and contract types. Once you get comfortable with the grant application process you’ll be able to target the specific grants you need and submit your paperwork. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find a grant on your first search; new grants are uploaded every week and you can sometimes find local grants before they’re uploaded.
4. Look Local
Some cities are particularly active in promoting small business and providing resources to help them grow. If you’re located in one of those cities, you have a wealth of local resources to choose from. For example, the New York Public Library (NYPL) has an entire Small Business arm that supports area entrepreneurs with workshops and learning resources. NYPL offers small group meeting rooms at different locations as well as specialized services such as small business counseling. Portland offers business incubators and accelerators to support entrepreneurs and pair them with area mentors. “The Best HQ” incubator supports entrepreneurs in growing their companies and in the Pearl District the city offers collaborative workspaces. Atlanta also has a local accelerator program for local small businesses call “Invest Atlanta” that is focused on economic development in the city’s Pittsburgh Yard area. Entrepreneurs will receive business coaching and access to capital via city grants. These programs are great because they are tailored to help small businesses compete in their local markets and provide opportunities to use local office space at a discount. Not all cities will offer these programs so check your local government web portal to see what resources are available. You’ll need to confirm that enrollment in federal grant programs doesn’t make you ineligible for any local resources.
There are plenty of resources to support your small business, you just need to know where to look. There are small business loans, numerous grants, and targeted advice that can make you more competitive. In some states you can cherry pick from an attractive mix of federal and local programs that can help you get your business off the ground. Running a small business is difficult and time consuming, but you don’t have to go it alone.