The work of entrepreneurs and small business owners is filled with pitfalls and challenges, and sometimes youjust need to talk to someone who can share a few pieces of good advice. Business networking groups are a great way to meet advisors and mentors who can help during the journey, as well as to find new professional connections, opportunities and ideas.
Whether you’re looking for suggestions for your next product, emotional support or advice on taking your business to the next level, there’s a variety of small business groups and associations willing to assist. Even better, many of them allow members to join and access resources for free. Here’s a list of four organizations with free services for small businesses that can help no matter where members are on the path to entrepreneurship.
1. U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is an independent U.S. federal agency that aims to help people start, grow, finance and sell their small business. The agency’s website contains valuable information in written and video format about a variety of topics, from drafting a business plan and registering your business to obtaining permits and applying for SBA loans. Those who are interested in a more personal approach can visit one of the SBA’s district or regional offices nearby, as well as connect with business centers supporting female entrepreneurs and military veterans.
The SBA is also known as a great resource for business financing. The agency guarantees billions of dollars in small business loans every year and can help you understand how to qualify for an SBA-backed loan or other types of business financing (here’s a comparison chart for a quick guide). SBA loans require an established business credit score —specifically, the FICO SBSS score — to secure financing. (You can check your personal and business credit scores for free on Nav.)
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a U.S. nonprofit association that provides members with free business mentoring and education, thanks to the support of the SBA and more than 11,000 volunteers who have signed up to share their expertise. The organization provides free, confidential business mentoring in person or online, as well as free resources, tips and tools through its website. Those willing to invest a little money in their education can also sign up to attend local workshops or webinars about topics as diverse as social media, taxes and branding.
Meetup is a social network that allows members to find others who are interested in the same topics and activities and meet them for offline events and activities. To date, the website has helped organize more than 25,000 entrepreneurship meetups on six continents, from massive chapters in cities such as New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to smaller and more specialized groups across the U.S. Most scheduled meetups are free to attend, with annual larger events charging admission to cover costs throughout the year. Meetups can be a great opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs, recruit from a specific talent pool or even market your business.
StartupNation is a website and content platform for current and aspiring small business owners that offers a wealth of information about a variety of topics, authored by industry leaders and visionaries. The community was founded in 2002 by Jeff and Rich Sloan, brothers who also host the nationally syndicated StartupNation radio program. Users who sign up for the StartupNation newsletter can receive free content such as articles, case studies, podcasts, book excerpts and webinars directly in their inbox.
Running a small business can sometimes seem overwhelming, so it’s comforting to know that these and other associations are available when entrepreneurs are looking for advice, insights or new contacts. After all, the importance of having a community where members can share experiences and knowledge with other business owners can’t be overstated.