Help for Small Business Owners
Help for Small Business Owners
By: George Mills, Vice President

You are a small business owner, or you want to be. Along with the freedom of being your own boss comes the anxiety of being the sole decision maker. The buck stops with you. That can be a lonely place, especially when you need help. Luckily, there is a place to which you can turn for no-strings assistance - an organization designed solely to aid small business owners with the decisions they often need to make to keep their businesses successful.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal organization with offices located throughout the United States. The SBA offers resources to small business owners who need financial advice, mentoring, and financing sources. The SBA's website,, is a good place to start, as it provides contact numbers for local SBA offices, brief descriptions of their programs, and a database of business opportunities.

Additional assistance organizations exist under the auspices of the SBA - tailored to specific business needs. The Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) and SCORE offices (Service Core of Retired Executives) associated with the SBA can provide advice, counseling, and research assistance on starting and running a business. There is usually no charge for their services, although a fee may be charged for specific seminars or workshops. Like the SBA, these organizations have offices located throughout the United States. Both SBDC and SCORE are staffed by a dedicated group of professionals who either have advanced college degrees or practical experience in a particular industry. They can provide you with information regarding marketing strategies, cash flows, and applications of new technologies for your business. They can also provide information on franchising, developing a business plan, and acquiring business from the federal government.

Another program under SBA's umbrella of financial assistance programs is the U.S. Export Assistance Center (EACS). Working closely with the State Department and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the EACS helps provide businesses with international marketing strategies, such as international market research, establishing key contacts in foreign countries, and customized export counseling. It also offers trade financing for both working capital and long-term financing, as well as export credit insurance. If your business extends beyond the domestic borders, this is an organization with which you should become acquainted.

You can also turn to the SBA for money. While it does not make direct loans to businesses, the SBA will essentially act as a co-signer for your business, guaranteeing a loan made to you by a bank. By serving as a guarantor, the SBA can help your business receive lending assistance that may not have been otherwise available on reasonable terms. Often, start-up businesses or those with strong cash flow but insufficient collateral need to borrow money; however, without the SBA guarantee, the risk of such a loan is unacceptable to the bank.

Not all loan requests are eligible for an SBA guarantee. To be eligible for a SBA-guaranteed loan, your business generally must be operated for a profit and fall within the size standards set by the SBA. The SBA also looks for the following criteria: good character, management expertise, sufficient working capital, a feasible business plan, sufficient collateral, and the ability to repay the loan on time from the projected operating cash flow. Businesses may have more than one SBA loan at a time, as long as they do not go beyond the allowed aggregate amount.

The SBA provides financing and resources that are diverse and comprehensive for most small businesses. You can turn to the organization for small items, such as advice on your new marketing plan, or for larger challenges, such as financing assistance for your site renovation. The SBA exists solely to assist you, the small business owner, with all of the aspects of running your business and keeping it successful--it is a resource that no small business owner should overlook.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service or as a determination that any investment strategy is suitable for a specific investor. Investors should seek financial advice regarding the suitability of any investment strategy based on their objectives, financial situations, and particular needs. This article is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. If professional advice is needed, the services of a professional advisor should be sought.

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