SBA: A Resource for “All the Seasons” of Small Business
As we transition from summer to fall, we are reminded of all the seasons over the course of a year. Each season has its own characteristics. Similarly, businesses go through various stages with distinct traits, needs and challenges.
Created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is charged with the mission of supporting the U.S economy in creating, maintaining and expanding America’s small businesses. The SBA’s array of programs and resources offers a continuum of assistance for individuals and small businesses from pre-venture to exit.
Resources for New Entrepreneurs
Individuals looking to start a business can begin by contacting one of our resource partner organizations — SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers or Veterans Business Outreach Center. These entities provide one-on-one consultation at no cost and modestly priced training on topics such as assessing the feasibility of a business idea, developing a business plan, legal organization and preparing for business launch. Once a business owner gets the venture off the ground, working with these organizations can and often continues as new challenges and opportunities occur with the firm’s growth and maturity.
Continued Resources Throughout a Business’s Growth
Another important SBA resource for business enterprises at various stages of development is its website, www.sba.gov. Here, businesses can find detailed information on the agency’s program and resource offerings along with articles and blogs covering a range of initial and ongoing business development activities. There are interactive tools, such as:
Create A Business Plan, which guides individuals step-by-step through the process of creating a basic business plan.
LINC, an online referral tool which connects small business borrowers with participating SBA Lenders. Prospective borrowers complete a short online questionnaire. The responses to that questionnaire are forwarded to local participating SBA Lenders. If lenders are interested in the referral, LINC connects them with the potential borrower.
SBA’s website also houses an online Learning Center with over 50 short courses covering topics related to business start-up, growth strategies, managing operations and financing. Prospective and new business owners sometimes go through learning modules to prepare for and maximize the impact of counseling sessions and classroom training with SBA resource partner organizations.
Access Georgia-specific resources and events, and sign up for SBA email updates at www.sba.gov/ga. The Georgia SBA Resource Guide for Small Business provides details on the SBA’s various programs and resources as well those available from other government and private sector sources.
The SBA capital access programs facilitate financing across the different stages of the business life cycle. The self-employed and microenterprises might start with an SBA microloan, up to $50,000. For business financing needs between $50,000 and $250,000, there are SBAExpress and Community Advantage loans.
As the company’s activities grow, or the company needs to consolidate its earlier, more expensive debt, SBA’s 7(a) Loan Guaranty Program can help. A company ready to build, expand or retrofit its own facility can go with the 504 program, which supports financing long-life fixed assets and support projects that create or retain jobs or meet other business and economic development objectives. Both the 7(a) and 504 programs have a maximum loan amount of $5 million.
For high growth companies, there is the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program. SBICs, licensed by the SBA, provide loans and venture capital for entrepreneurial firms that do not fit the conventional commercial borrower profile.
Construction companies are often required to have a surety bond for bidding jobs. If they win the bid, they are required then to put up performance and payment bonds as insurance for the customer in case the company becomes unable to complete the construction contract. Therefore, the ability to establish and grow bonding capacity becomes a major determinant of these firms’ overall ability to grow. Through its Surety Bond Guaranty Program, the SBA guarantees bid, performance and payment bonds issued by participating surety companies to smaller contractors who cannot obtain such bonds through the traditional market.
For small businesses engaged in scientific research and development (R&D), there are the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs. These programs offer start up and development grants to small businesses working on projects meeting the R&D objectives of participating federal agencies and have high potential for commercialization. The SBA oversees and manages these programs by coordinating with the participating agencies and reporting the outcomes to Congress.
For small business owners, as well as non-profit organizations and small government entities with a population of 50,000 or less, facing unfair federal regulatory enforcement actions by federal agencies, there is the SBA’s Office of the National Ombudsman. This office assists small businesses facing repetitive audits or investigations, excessive fines and penalties and retaliation from federal government agencies. It directs reported regulatory fairness matters to the appropriate agency for high-level fairness review, and works across government to address those concerns and reduce regulatory burdens.
Help Through All Stages in a Business’s Life
From the first flash of a business idea to a time-tested company facing the question, “what’s next?” the Small Business Administration offers programs, tools and resources to support entrepreneurial endeavors.
About the Author:
Terri Denison is Georgia District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration. In this role since May 2002, she is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the SBA’s financing, counseling/training and federal contracting programs for small businesses throughout Georgia.