Finding Government Resources That Help Your Small Business
When asked “What have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” Benjamin Franklin famously quipped, “A republic, if you can keep it.” If you asked today’s federal government employees what useful information they publish for small business owners, you could reasonably expect the bureaucrats to reply, “A ton of it, if you can find it.”
Historically, navigating federal websites to locate relevant business information was akin to finding a needle in a haystack—a haystack with the complexity of a modern-day bureaucracy and a needle still waiting for approval from five different agencies before its placement in the haystack is authorized. While government websites have improved the information available and the ease of finding it, entrepreneurs still waste considerable time scouring dozens of different agency sites.
To help you find business information that matters without combing Google for countless hours, turn to Business USA.
Getting the Most out of Business USA
The government recently launched Business USA (available at www.business.usa.gov), a multi-agency site billed as “a virtual one-stop shop that makes it easier for America's businesses to access the services and information they need to help them grow, hire and export.”
To its credit, Business USA contains information for a wide-range of small business issues and needs, and the site has managed to harness resources once only available in a variety of far-flung sites. And to help you separate the dross from the gold, almost all resources can be commented and voted on. Of course, you’ll have to take other entrepreneurs’ assessments with a grain of salt, especially considering a large chunk of the comments are spam or have been deleted by the administrator.
Because the site is both easy to navigate and, essentially, a repository of all-things-business that federal government agencies have to offer, spending a little time to peruse the site is generally worth your while. The highlights for most entrepreneurs generally fall into a few common categories.
Starting and Growing Your Business
- have yet to start your venture
- are still on the ground level
- hope to expand in the near future
then the Starting Your Business and Growing Your Business sections provide worthwhile resources you might want to explore.
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) provide free personalized business advice and a variety of training courses, which are available for a fee.
- SCORE Small Business Mentors pairs successful entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors with small business owners interested in learning from others' experiences. Like the SBDC, workshops and classes are available for a fee at locations throughout the country.
- General Small Business Loans, available through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 7(a) loan program, fund many small businesses. (In fact, the 7(a) program ranks as the SBA’s most frequently used non-disaster financial assistance program.) According to the website, small businesses received $30 billion in SBA-Backed 7(a) and 504 loans during fiscal year 2011.
This portion of Business USA isn’t solely focused on general business help—industry-specific topics ranging from Manufacturing Extension Partnerships to the Rural Energy for America Program are covered.
Yes, exporting isn’t right for every small business, and the work involved can be (very) demanding. But consider the facts:
- Nearly 96 percent of consumers live outside of the country
- Two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power lies in other countries
- Only 1 percent of American small businesses export their goods
- Of those American small businesses that export, 60 percent ship to only one country
With so much of the world’s purchasing power residing outside of our borders, there’s no better time than now to consider exporting. And to help guide you through the vagaries of beginning an exporting business, Business USA has corralled some helpful exporting resources.
- The Exporting Questionnaire paints a fairly basic—but insightful—picture of how ready you are to begin exporting. This nine-point questionnaire shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to complete. Once you’ve finished, you’ll receive a ranking indicating your readiness and areas to improve.
- A Basic Guide to Exporting offers a way to learn more about exporting at your pace. Touted as completely revised and updated for 2012, the 17-chapter guide can help you determine if exporting is the right step for your business. Complete the Exporting Questionnaire before dedicating research time to this piece.
- The Export Business Planner includes virtually every component of exporting imaginable. The Planner is available as a PDF and covers exporting instructions, worksheets and a glossary of common exporting terms. You might want to defer completing the Planner until you’ve devoted a significant portion of your resources to export planning. This guide clocks in at over 190 pages.
Once you’ve established your exporting business, or if you’re already shipping goods to international markets, you can learn pointers for improving your exporting operations in the Expanding Exporting section.
State and Local Resources
Unfortunately, being a small business owner means not only navigating multiple federal agencies for information but also complying with state and local laws scattered among even more agencies and departments.
While not comprehensive, Business USA’s State and Local section attempts to consolidate the business info you need for your region. Click your state on the map for an index of relevant links.
As the website itself states, “Too often, interactions with the government are burdensome and frustrating...hard-working businesses are spending too much time navigating the federal bureaucracy.” We couldn’t agree more. While we’d rather see less federal bureaucracy for entrepreneurs like you to navigate, consolidating the bureaucracy does allow small business owners to spend more time on what they do best and less time trying to find the information they need.