The U.S. Small Business Association has determined that small businesses that use consultants grow faster and often add more jobs than those who do not. Unfortunately, for-profit consultants can be beyond the means of many small businesses.
Alternatively, there is a wealth of free and affordable consulting resources available to small businesses who know how to tap into these resources. Universities, corporate donors, and government agencies all provide consulting options for small businesses. If you question the value of anything free, remember, these consultants operate for a specific reason. By helping small businesses to grow, they are helping the economy to grow. That means entities pay them with a vested interest in the economic outlook of the country.
Five consulting options for your small business
1. Small Business Development Centers—these centers are frequently staffed by former executives and business owners who hold a wealth of information about every aspect of operating a small business. The centers are equipped to help you at each stage of your small business and offer:
- Free in-person consulting
- Business workshops that usually charge a small fee
- Online classes that are free or low costs
- Business courses
2. Student Consultants from MBA programs—Many universities that offer an MBA have their graduate students provide free or low costs consulting to small businesses. The consulting gives hands-on training to graduate students while serving the business community. The services vary but usually range from research and recommendations on new product launches to helping businesses create a new marketing plan.
3. Women’s Business Centers—an offshoot of the SBA, these centers are designed to promote success in businesses owned by women. These centers offer networking events, workshops, and one-on-one consultation regarding business-related issues. As with the SBA, most of their services are free or affordable.
4. Business Centers offered by the Minority Business Development Agency—a program established by the U.S. Department of Commerce, these centers offer free business consulting. The centers also provide help to access loans for expansion and support in obtaining federal and corporate contracts. If you are a member of a minority group, these centers often provide access to a wealth of consulting options to help establish and grow your business.
5. Tap into your network—As a small business owner, you probably have more potential consultants at your fingertips than you realize. If you have a problem or need another set of eyes or input, search your network for potential consultants. Friends, business associates, or others you have met in your industry might make the perfect consultant and be willing to barter for their fee. It is crucial to remain engaged and active in building a strong network when starting a small business. You never know when a contact from this network might prove to be the key to the next step in expanding your business or provide information that helps you overcome a significant obstacle.
Reasons small businesses need consultants
Though many people claim the professional title of consultant, it is essential to understand that a consultant is someone who has experience or skills in a particular area and is willing to share that knowledge for gain.
Small businesses can often benefit from this knowledge, as unforeseen circumstances arise that create a problem that exceeds the existing skills in the small business. A consultant can provide solutions for dealing with the issue, as well as bring a fresh perspective that it can be hard to maintain in a small business.
Consultants generally do one or more of the following:
- Provide information or training
- Solve problems or present ways to tackle a new challenge
- Diagnose potential issues, and help establish solutions
- Institute changes that will improve the effectiveness of some part of your business model
A consultant serves as an expert resource to temporarily fill a need. No small business can foresee every potential challenge throughout the lifecycle of their business, and smart people know when to gather knowledge from other intelligent people to tackle an objective. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to access expert input without having to pay extraordinary fees to bring in paid consultants.
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