I get a lot of questions from people about what resources are available for small business owners and where they can find help for basic, and not so basic, business questions so I decided it was past time for me to sit down and share the skinny on the big daddy of small business resources, the Small Business Administration.
The first thing most people think of when they hear Small Business Administration (SBA) is loans.
And yes, the SBA guarantees a variety of loan programs through local lenders, but that is a topic for another day. Today I am giving you an overview of who the SBA is and how the NH District of the SBA can help you.
If I had to sum it up with one line, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is your strategic partner for starting and growing a business in the United States.
Originally created as the result of the Small Business Act of 1953, the goal of the SBA was to provide “aid, counsel, assistance, etc., to small business concerns” so they could compete with larger corporations.
The idea was that with a little help, regular people could live the American dream of starting and owning a business and today’s SBA has evolved to include a vast network of people, programs, and resources right here in New Hampshire to help you take your business from your initial concept to startup, growth and every step in between.
- business planning
- general & industry specific business counseling
- assistance with loans & venture capital
- government contracting
- in person & online workshops & classes
The SBA contracts with strategic partners to provide almost every type of service or training that a small business owner could need. Click here for more info.
NH District, Small Business Administration
Since the local office is quite small and the majority of programs and services are provided online via their website or in person through local partners, the primary role of the district office is to connect with the business community. In fact, district staff spend a lot of time on the road meeting with business owners and participating in community events.
As you would expect, the SBA has numerous tools and articles on common business topics about starting and managing a business, government contracting, and how to find local resources.
One particularly useful tool is their online business plan builder.
A lot of people get overwhelmed by the idea of putting together a business plan, but the SBA online business plan tool does a nice job of walking you through the process of thinking about the essential key points and putting them together in a cohesive outline that will make your banker and business adviser swoon.
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
SCORE is probably the most visible resource after the loan programs under the SBA umbrella.
New Hampshire has six local SCORE chapters which provide free mentoring services and low-cost workshops to local business owners.
Every effort is made to match the mentor’s expertise and experience to the business owner’s industry. There are currently between 150 – 160 active advisers within the local SCORE network, but if a business owner needs advice in an industry or topic that isn’t represented in any of the New Hampshire chapters, they will reach out to the national SCORE community to find an expert for you.
On a personal note, I had a SCORE mentor with my first business and I know several people who have also had SCORE mentors and I cannot stress the value of getting feedback and advice from someone who is not a friend, relative, or spouse.
NH Small Business Development Center (NH-SBDC)
The NH-SBDC provides one-on-one business counseling and a large catalog of free online classes for entrepreneurs. Unlike SCORE, which relies on volunteers, SBDC maintains a paid staff of certified business professionals to help local business owners with writing a business plan, seeking venture capital, exporting goods abroad, as well most general business challenges.
They also offer a Business Sustainability Program to provide one-on-one advisory services “in the areas of environmental management, energy efficiency assessment and funding, employee safety, and other issues that impact the sustainability of a business.”
The NH-SBDC program is a partnership between a local university, the SBA, the state and private sector. They currently maintain seven regional locations throughout New Hampshire to connect small business owners to programs and resources within their community as well as an excellent list of partners and other local business resources.
This is another group that I’ve interviewed for other articles and know several people who have used their services. Just like SCORE and the NH District SBA offices, everyone I’ve met at NH-SBDC is outgoing, friendly, and genuinely interested in helping people succeed as small business owners.
Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE)
Their only location within New Hampshire is in Nashua, but their free and paid workshops cover almost every business topic, from determining whether business ownership is right for you to how to promote your business on social media. It’s worth the drive if your local SCORE or SBDC office can’t help you with a particular topic.
Don’t let the name fool you. While it may seem like their focus is on women entrepreneurs, the Center for Women & Enterprise is a regional New England non-profit SBA partner whose primary goal is to “help people start and grow their businesses,” and men are definitely welcome.
Veterans Business Outreach Center for New England (VBOC)
In addition to general business and startup programs, CWE also manages the Veterans Business Outreach Center for New England. (VBOC)
Free VBOC resources are available to veterans, active duty service personnel, and their spouses interested in starting or expanding their own business and include information about how to start a business, business planning, funding, and other general business topics.
I don’t have a lot of information about VBOC programs, but my feeling is that the fact that they include military spouses would make them very helpful for anyone who is trying to plan for the unique challenges of being a military spouse and small business owner.
What About the Loans?
Now that we’ve seen all the ways the SBA and their partners can help you find the information and training you need to get your business up and running, let’s take a look at the money.
I’m going to start by saying that the SBA is a government agency and does not directly lend money to anybody.
What they do is offer guarantees to local banks to encourage their investment in small businesses. If the lender follows a specific set of guidelines when they lend money to small business owners, the SBA will promise to honor the loan if the borrower defaults.
I asked Director Greta Johansson if there is a particular industry that seeks SBA funding more than another in the New Hampshire, but she says there is no typical customer and that they have guaranteed loans for less than $5,000 up to 5 million for people right here in New Hampshire.
Five million seems to be a popular threshold for the SBA as it is also the upper limit of their Surety Bond Guarantee Program (SBG).
Sometimes companies need to obtain a surety bond in order to participate in bidding and secure contracts. If they cannot obtain a bond through normal channels, the SBA offers what they call the SBG program where they will act as the guarantor instead of the insurance company. This program is particularly important for new businesses, underserved groups, and minorities when competing against larger, more established companies for large projects.
Finally, the SBA has a venture capital program called the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC).
Just like the loan program, the SBA doesn’t actually give money to small business owners, but they do lend money to privately owned companies licensed as SBICs who then extend capital through long-term loans or equity securities to small businesses.
I don’t want to go into too many details about the various lending programs because they are topics that deserve far more attention than can be given in a brief overview, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the NH District of the SBA is dedicated to supporting local small business and would like to see more small business owners, especially veterans and women, take advantage of the loan program. If you need capital to start or expand your business and are not sure if you’re ready to try for a loan, talk to one of the SBA partner agencies near you. They all offer free business counseling and can help you work through your business plan and loan document preparation.
A Smart Business Owner Uses All the Tools
No matter where you stand on government programs, no one can dispute that the Small Business Administration has put together an A-team when it comes to strategic partners and programs to help small business owners start and grow their business.
It may be different down in Massachusetts or some of the other larger states, but here in New Hampshire we enjoy not only the online tools and programs developed by the SBA, but we also have a team of business professionals who are hands-on and invested in seeing our local economy thrive.
District director Greta Johnson says that “You don’t have to go it alone, we are here to help.” And she is serious. She points out that between their own staff, online tools, and New Hampshire-based partners “There is a 99% chance we have a product or partner that can help,” no matter where you are in your business cycle.
All it takes is a visit to their website or a quick call to their office to find the program or information you need to jump-start your small business.
Concord, NH 03301
Manchester, NH 03101