Building and operating a small business today is an extraordinarily complex and demanding endeavor. Every time you master one process or function, there’s another one that needs your attention. Today, it’s office leasing and real estate. Tomorrow, it’s tax planning. The day after that, it’s human resources and hiring compliance. The list seems endless. That’s why you need to take advantage of every resource that might be available to help your business growth and thrive.
Interestingly enough, there are lots of resources that small business can benefit from which, ironically, few know about. Here are a few hidden resources your small business should consider working with as you focus on growth:
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
The SBDC network is a national program administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and available across every state in the nation. SBDCs are offices that provide assistance both to existing small businesses and to new and aspiring entrepreneurs, with the goal toward ensuring that small business owners have the skills, knowledge and support they need to succeed. SBDCs provide free and low-cost programs, training and technical assistance in a variety of areas, which typically include business planning financial planning, lending assistance, export and import support, procurement and contracting, market research and business certifications (such as the 8(a) program). SBDCs in each state are further divided into regions and are generally administered through local universities and colleges with business programs and faculty who support the SBDC along with local partners and consultants. To learn more and make an appointment with your local SBDC, use these links:
- Maryland SBDC Network – http://www.mdsbdc.umd.edu/
- Virginia SBDC Network – https://www.virginiasbdc.org/
- Washington, D.C. SBDC – https://dcsbdc.org/
Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)
While Small Business Development Centers focus on general support for small businesses under the auspices of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Procurement Technical Assistance Center network provides highly specific support, training and consulting around government contracting, federal procurement and both civilian and defense government small business opportunities. Administered by the U.S. Department of Defense under the auspices of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the nationwide PTAC network provides counseling and support to small businesses seeking to understand and pursue government business opportunities. Some are affiliated with local SBDCS, while others are administered by contracted partners or by regional economic development agencies. To learn more and locate your local PTAC affiliate, use these links:
- Maryland PTAC – https://www.mdptac.org/
- Virginia PTAC – https://virginiaptap.org/
- Washington, D.C. PTAC – https://dslbd.dc.gov/service/dc-procurement-technical-assistance-center-dc-ptac
Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)
The Manufacturing Extension Partnership is a national network of dedicated consulting and resource centers who work specifically with industrial companies, most of them small and emerging firms, to address a wide range of industry-specific issues including competitive planning, import/export, supply chain management, product development, engineering, talent, finance and operations. Established and administered under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), which is a unit within the U.S. Department of Commerce, MEPs are made available to industrial businesses in every U.S. state and territory. Some are independent, some are regionally managed, some are operated under the MEP name and others may use different brands such as Industrial Resource Centers, as they are called in Pennsylvania or GENEDGE, which is the MEP brand used in Virginia. To learn about MEP programs that can benefit your business and find the local MEP affiliate nearest you, use these links:
- Maryland MEP – http://www.mdmep.org/
- Virginia MEP (GENEDGE) – https://www.genedge.org/
Note: Washington, D.C. is served by the MEP national headquarters: https://www.nist.gov/mep
Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs)
Established in 1998 under the auspices of the federal Workforce Investment Act, the national network of Workforce Investment Boards provides an integrated national, state and regional network to address workforce issues within their jurisdiction. Each WIB must have at least 50% of its board membership from private businesses, ensuring that workforce policies and programs meet the needs of local entrepreneurs. The WIBs oversee a range of programs including the one-stop employment centers in their area and funding for a variety of initiatives involving worker retraining, early warning (when large employers announce significant job cuts in a given community), and school-to-workforce programs. Many small businesses find they can gain valuable insights as well as assistance with their own workforce challenges through the services available from their local WIB. To learn more and contact your local WIB, use these links:
- Maryland WIB Network – http://www.workforceinvestmentworks.com/maryland-test/workforce_experts.asp
- Virginia WIB Network – http://www.workforceinvestmentworks.com/workforce_board_info.asp?st=VA
- Washington, D.C. WIB – https://dcworks.dc.gov/
Clearly, there are many resources available to small business owners to address a wide range of issues. From planning and strategy to sales, contracting and talent — if you know where to look, you can find free or low-cost support resources to help your small business thrive. Choose one or two of these services to learn more about at the start, and begin connecting!
Editor’s Note: In the second article in this series, we will explore additional resources that could be of value to your business including tourism promotion agencies, business improvement districts, economic development corporations and more.