The SBDC (Small Business Development Center) is a business consulting service provided by the government. It offers no-cost consulting and low-cost training to current and aspiring business owners. The consulting topics vary depending on the center and background of the consultants. Every business owner should make an appointment to learn more about your local center and the specific services it provides.
How Does the SBDC Work?
America’s Small Business Development Centers are a partner program of the Small Business Administration (SBA). The centers are designed to assist entrepreneurs and start-up businesses through coaching and training.
Various sources fund SBDC operations, including the SBA (federal funding), state funding, sponsorships, and grants. The main piece of information that you need to know is that its consulting services are free, and its trainings are either free or low-cost.
Tip: You may find that your local SBDC has different names for its employees. One of the most popular titles is consultant. However, you may find that your local center calls them counselor, adviser, or coach.
Who Is the SBDC for?
The SBDC is a valuable service if you:
- Have a business idea: Even if all you have is an idea, SBDC advisers can help you explore it, map it out, and determine if it’s worth pursuing.
- Are in the process of starting a small business: From business planning and modeling to financial projections, the SBDC will guide you through the not-always-intuitive process of getting your business up-and-running.
- Are a small business owner: Nothing in business is guaranteed. You’ll want to continue growing your business in order to keep your doors open. SBDC coaching and training can help existing enterprises begin to thrive instead of survive.
Typical SBDC Services
Every SBDC offers general business coaching and training. At some centers, however, you’ll find a whole slew of specialists and consultants who can help you address every component of your business. Typical SBDC services include:
- General business coaching: Most SBDCs will have one or more experts on staff to help you work on your business plan and the many pieces that shape it, including your marketing and branding, operations, staffing, IT, and financials.
- Training: Different SBDCs have different audiences and goals, but depending on your local SBDC, you may find training such as online webinars and multi-week in-classroom boot camps.
- Specialized coaching: Some SBDCs have access to funding for on-staff attorneys, accountants, HR specialists, financial advisers, marketing experts, and even entrepreneurs-in-residence. This may make your location a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs.
- Business information: SBDC consultants know where their expertise ends and where the expertise of others begins. That’s why they provide clients with tools, resources, referrals, and other information to strengthen and diversify a client’s support system.
SBDC vs SCORE
So many acronyms, right? You may have heard of “SCORE” mentioned along with “SBDC.” And while they have similar audiences and objectives, they have slightly different approaches.
SCORE focuses on individually assigned mentors.
SCORE provides consistent, personal coaches or mentors available to you on a volunteer basis to grow your business idea or enterprise.
Some SCORE chapters also offer training and education. SCORE is funded primarily by the SBA as well, but are otherwise self-contained. Typically, SCORE mentors are not paid, whereas SBDC employees are.
SBDCs focus on wrap-around services, including coaching, training, and information.
SBDCs are always hosted by a larger organization, such as a college, university, state economic development agency, or private sector partner. Your local SBDC will likely be at a library, a college, or in a government facility.
The centers focus on providing coaching, training, and information to clients. If you’d like, you can work with the same consultant every meeting. However, they do have other clients and don’t serve in a mentor’s capacity like volunteers at SCORE.
There’s no harm in accessing both services—you’ll get into a groove with some consultants and mentors and not with others. Investigating the many resources available to you is always a smart investment in your business.
Working with an SBDC for coaching and consulting is a completely no-cost service. All you have to do is find your local office, register with them, and schedule your first appointment.
While SBDCs offer many free training, webinars, and workshops, some are priced for a low fee. This is so that guest presenters, experts, and other valuable resources can be compensated. Examples of reasonably priced training series include becoming profitable, starting a business, and hiring your first employee.
How to Make an Appointment With the SBDC?
Here’s how to make an appointment with your local SBDC for consulting:
1) Find your local office on ASBDC’s website.
2) Research the consultants at your location on the local SBDC website.
3) Schedule an appointment either by calling the front desk or filling out a form on the website—if you’d like, request a specific consultant.
4) Provide specific information about the what aspect of your business you’d like to improve or what type of assistance you’re seeking.
5) Attend the meeting with an open mind!
How to Best Prepare for Your SBDC Appointment
A common business saying is: failing to plan is planning to fail. Some SBDC advisers expect clients to come with a blank slate and help them build some information from the ground-up. Others appreciate a little preparation.
Here are a couple of things you can do to prepare for your first SBDC Appointment:
- Review staff bios on the SBDC’s website to get an idea of their collective expertise.
- Check out the services and training on the SBDC’s website to get an idea of their educational focus.
- If you have a business plan, bring it with you or send it to the consultant beforehand.
- If you don’t have a business plan, jot down your business idea in one to two pages. Also, the center may have a sheet they’d like you to fill out before the appointment. Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect. But thinking it through will help the meeting be more productive.
Tip: If you’re starting your first business, you may find that the SBDC strongly recommends attending its workshop on starting a business. Attending this workshop will help you better prepare for your first appointment and think through your business idea.
Tapping into free business consulting and training services can be an excellent benefit for your business. Even if you already have a business coach or mentor, you can round out your support system by working with various experts with diversified expertise. Check out your local office, get a feel for the culture there, and give them a chance. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.