How To Not Waste Time And Get The Most Out Of Your Local SBDC

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Blog

Feb 09, 2015 | Updated Apr 27, 2016

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are federally-funded facilities that provide managerial and technical assistance to small businesses around the U.S. free of charge. Personal consultations are available, as well as public workshops and meetings.

With 50% of small businesses failing by year 4, it’s important to focus on what matters and not get sidetracked. Finding good business advice can be difficult and there is no guarantee that you’ll always get it at your local SBDC.

While SBDCs can be a great free resource, working with them does cost time. As a growing business time is one of your most valuable assets. Without knowing your business goals before you visit your SBDC, you risk being distracted and losing focus on what matters to your business. So why would you want to work with an SBDC?

They exist to help small businesses grow, offering services and training for situations that most businesses face, including:

organizational structure and management reorganization accounting and financial planning credit counseling and credit repair taxes copyrights, patents, trademarks, licenses, and other legal issues franchising
business plan design/redesign manufacturing human resources and employee management marketing e-commerce government contracting

Keys To Getting The Most Value At Your SBDC

  • to know what you don’t know about your business, ahead of time
  • to have concrete questions and relevant information at the ready
  • telling your advisor up front where your business stands and what you hope to get out of the meeting; you want to keep the conversation focused and on track
  • to ask for a different advisor or supervisor if you are getting confused, or if you suspect that you know more about the relevant business environment and your prospects in it than your advisor does

This strategy will work best for business owners and entrepreneurs with at least some experience; if you are just thinking about starting a business but don’t know how to go about it, you’ll probably benefit most by asking for the most general information about your topic and how people in your financial situation generally handle it.

In general, SBDCs are the most valuable when you need help preparing documents and conforming to the regulations and requirements of financial institutions.

With the above pieces of advice in mind, take a look at how SBDCs can help with two common business challenges.

Managing Business Bank And Credit Accounts

SBDCs often employ banking specialists who can survey your bank and credit accounts for redundancies and expensive terms that could be better elsewhere.

Take the case of Darling Geomantics, a 3D laser-scanning and land surveying company in Tucson, Arizona. Before meeting with the SBDC, Darling Geomantics was a bit of a financial mess. There were 4 different bank accounts in use, multiple business credit cards carrying high balances, and a very expensive credit card merchant contract in place.

The SBDC’s analysis led the company to consolidate its debt, ending up with lowered interest rates and bank fees and cutting those costs by more than 50%. Darling Geomantics wound up with a single line of credit with a low interest rate, and business credit cards to issue to traveling employees that are paid for from a single account. It also installed a remote deposit machine to cut down on time spent going to the bank.

Darling Geomantics reports that it saved several thousand dollars over the first 6 months after making these changes, and is now more comfortable managing finances and planning for the future.

Getting Small Business Loans

Like in the previous case, SBDC financial consultants are aware of banking regulations and procedures, and can be very helpful when it comes to getting all of your ducks in a row for a loan proposal.

Kelly Williams, a franchisee in the hair salon industry, had everything he needed but didn’t know how to properly apply for an SBA loan by preparing a formal loan package to present to a bank. His banker referred him to the University of Houston SBDC, where a financial consultant guided him through the loan application process.

I really didn’t lift a finger, other than providing her with specific documents.  She knew what the SBA was looking for and how to prioritize and prepare the proposal to successfully secure a loan.  [She] handled the paperwork, revamped the executive summary, and put the proposal together.  The loan was approved without any questions!

– Kelly Williams, franchisee

In California, Saul Bedolla was turned down for a micro loan for his bakery startup. His local SBDC researched his case and discovered the regulations he needed to meet for his bakery, providing advice on how to to properly complete the loan application process. The SBDC also helped with many of the other issues a startup faces, and Bedolla was approved for a $30,000 loan. He is now the proud owner of a successful bakery.

These brief case studies highlight one of the chief benefits of an SBDC: the ability to help you get your paperwork in order and satisfy the complex requirements of various financial institutions.

SBDCs can be very valuable, free resources, but make sure you consider other places that you might be able to spend time, or even money, to receive guidance. There may be small business meet-ups or organizations in your area, a local mentor in your industry you could take out to lunch, or even experienced business consultants that charge for their time.
How has your local SBDC helped you? What local resources helped guide you as an entrepreneur? Comment and let us know!

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