Are SBDCs Worth the Time and Energy?

If a person is looking to start or upgrade their small business or microventure, they should consider going to a Small Business Development Center, or SBDC.  These have been around for a minute and for the most part, have a good reputation for helping anyone get their business aspirations off the ground - no matter how large or small.  The majority have a direct connection to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and most interact with local SBDCs in a given area.

The SBA is a good place to get information about SBDCs in your area but it is important to know that not all of these places operate in the same fashion.  To date, I've worked with about three in the past decade and a half.  One reason for the constant change is money.

While some offer free training courses that cover everything from getting off the ground to personnel matters to tax issues.  Others may charge a small fee for things like training in basic accounting or marketing techniques.  Where I live, no one has to live in a specific area in order to participate in training sessions.

However, some programs may require clients participants to participate in a series of workshops in order to be eligible for funding and support. Workshops may be free or a nominal charge and at least 90% (average) attendance are required in order to qualify for the full range of services. Attending classes voluntarily allows prospects to see how each center operates and gauge what type of businesses they serve the best.

One center I dealt with last year had a preference for food-based operations.  The person in charge made this clear during the intake orientation and it appeared that microbusiness or solopreneurships weren't their priority.  Prior to this contact, I dealt with one center that had an abundance of resources and they were able to get me the funding I needed.

Now, if you should happen to speak with a counselor and find they don't have your best interests at heart, this does not have to be the end.  If a person is living paycheck-to-paycheck and has a reasonable business idea, these centers can be a gift from heaven.  It's just a matter of finding a compatible center.

This is why I highly encourage checking out more than one simultaneously.  Even though most of the staff may know one another, it may be possible to get in on specific items needed to get going.  For instance, finding a quiet place to work and meet clients can cost a nice penny.  Not all libraries operate the same and most coffee shops are about as quiet as a major airport.  Some of these centers have business incubators, or shared workspace, with amenities for less than what most private (paid) places charge.

Although you may have heard about people starting their six-figure operation for a ridiculous amount, we all know that it takes some money to make money.  Even small things, like office supplies, add up and money helps with consistency while business is growing.  Since a lot of SBDCs are run by the government, this is one of the best ways to make tax dollars work.