Considering starting a new business in 2021? You’re not alone.
While the pandemic has put strain on many businesses, it’s also fueled a wave of startups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, third-quarter 2020 applications for the federal employer identification numbers that entrepreneurs need to start a business totaled 1,566,373—a whopping 82% increase compared to the same quarter in 2019.
Whether you’ve always wanted to start a business, or are pivoting from being laid off or for other reasons, starting a business can bring on many challenges, questions—and opportunities.
Thankfully, there are many low-cost and free resources to which new and aspiring business owners can turn for help. We asked small business experts for the most valuable resources for new entrepreneurs. Here are five:
1. Small Business Administration-sponsored programs
Consider taking advantage of government-funded programs that provide free counseling, mentoring and training to entrepreneurs. During the pandemic, these providers moved from in-person assistance to online and virtual mentoring and seminars, with subjects ranging from cybersecurity to marketing, says Ramon Ray, small business expert and founder of Smart Hustle. You can search for all your local options here, but some helpful organizations include:
- SCORE, an organization of retired business executives who mentor startup entrepreneurs on everything from marketing to funding. (Spectrum Business has an alliance partnership with SCORE.)
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). Resources vary by location, but they typically can help with business planning, access to financing and classes.\
- Women’s Business Centers. They offer resources specifically geared for helping female entrepreneurs.
- Veteran’s Business Outreach Center. They offer funding assistance, training and contracting opportunities for veteran entrepreneurs.
Many other organizations offer free and low-cost business startup resources, training and grants, specifically to help during COVID-19. These include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Majority and Hello Alice.
2. Online courses for entrepreneurs
Another good option is to take low-cost or free online courses for entrepreneurs offered through sites such as Coursera and Udemy. For example, Coursera recently offered a course by Michigan State University faculty called “How to Start Your Own Business Specialization” and one from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School called Entrepreneurship 2: Launching Your Startup.
3. A mentor
“Use your own network or LinkedIn to find someone you admire in business,” says Melinda Emerson, a small business coach, consultant, author and speaker. “That person doesn’t have to be in your industry but should be running a profitable business.” While direct competitors probably won’t be eager to help, many successful entrepreneurs remember their own startup struggles and are happy to lend a hand. “Great mentors will motivate you when you need it and introduce you to others who can help you,” she adds. They can also help shorten your learning curve by helping you dodge mistakes, and they may guide you to helpful resources and tools.
4. Virtual networking groups
When you’re starting a business, networking is an important way to develop strategic partnerships, referral sources and potential clients. Online networking is booming during COVID-19, Ray says. “Many local business and industry organizations, business coaches and others are putting on terrific online networking events—many of them free or low cost.” An added plus: Networking online is more casual and relaxed than attending in-person events, Ray says.
5. Business planning software
Putting together a formal business plan—whether a short one or a long one—can provide a useful strategic roadmap for you as you launch and grow your business. You can find free and low-cost business plan templates and guides on Bplans.com and SBA.gov.
Getting outside help and expertise can be invaluable as you’re launching a business and may help you prevent costly mistakes. These five resources are a great starting point.
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