You might not be able to immediately secure a one-on-one counseling session with an SBDC. "We encourage people to enroll in a course or go to one of our resource libraries and develop a business plan before (individual counseling)," says Charles Penner, regional director of the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Courses may be free or fairly low-cost, such as a few hundred dollars for a three month course, meeting once weekly. Find out more and locate an SBDC near you.
2. Women's Business Centers, or WBCs, are also affiliated with the SBA. There are about 100 centers in the U.S., originally born to allow women to feel comfortable asking questions about business basics in a female-friendly environment, says Winters.
There's nothing special that women need to know about starting a business, Winters says. Men are also welcome at the WBCs, says Mary Laughlin, marketing director for the Women's Business Development Center in Connecticut. "In fact, this year, we've seen a 20 percent jump in the number of men we're serving. That's because we have been focusing on access to capital and redirecting after layoffs."
Classes and individual counseling are available through Women's Business Centers just as with Small Business Development Centers.
Community colleges and extension services at state universities already team up with SBDCs and WBCs to offer courses. Courses may carry a fee, says Winters, but scholarships are often available. Most community colleges also offer noncredit seminars on single topics like establishing a Web site or marketing a small business for minimal fees, says Tommy Goodrow, a vice president at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts.
3. SCORE, a nonprofit also affiliated with the SBA, is composed of volunteers, mostly retired business owners and executives who pass through a training course on startup counseling.
SCORE maintains 370 offices. At some offices, like the one in New York City where volunteer Martin Lehman works, "We have people walk in, and they can usually get an individual counseling session in a few minutes," he says. Other offices set up appointments between volunteers and entrepreneurs at places such as libraries and coffee shops.
"We're trained to listen," says Lehman. Then, after they hear about a client's plans, counselors should ask pointed questions, such as the total anticipated startup costs, says Martin.
The SCORE services are free. Online counseling is also available, which allows entrepreneurs to question SCORE volunteers with expertise in a particular field.
For more information on all three of these programs, visit the SBA Web site.