The SBA is divided into three operational levels: the central office in Washington, D.C.; regional offices in 10 major cities-Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. Each region encompasses several states. District offices are located throughout the United States, and these offices are the contact points for small businesses needing information and assistance.
Most small, independent businesses are eligible for SBA assistance. To be eligible for SBA loans and other assistance, a business must meet a size standard set by the agency. Information is available from any SBA office around the country.
A good way to start your quest for information is to call the Small Business Answer Desk (800-827-5722) in Washington, D.C. It is set up to answer callers' questions about how to start and manage a business, where to get financing, and provide other information required to operate and expand a business.
Helping women become successful entrepreneurs is a major goal of SBA. Women comprise more than half of the U.S. population and currently own more than 25 percent of its businesses. It makes a special effort to assist women, minorities, the handicapped, and veterans to start and stay in business because of the unusual difficulties they face. In 1983, SBA began organizing a series of business training seminars and workshops for women business owners and for women who want to start a small business.
The Key Ingredient for Success
In a recent nationwide attitude survey on successful women entrepreneurs con ducted by Avon Products Inc., a cosmetics company head quartered in New York City, the most important quality given for entrepreneurial success was perseverance (50 percent). Twenty-nine percent of the female entrepreneurs said they derive far more satisfaction from offering a quality product or service than from sales growth or personal income. And 26 percent said they enjoyed satisfaction that comes from having more control over their lives.
The women in the Avon Report do not consider lack of business skills as the major obstacle to business, but they do believe that acquiring competence in various business active ties, such as management and marketing, are crucial to entrepreneurial success. When asked to name the most satisfying aspects of business ownership, only 2 percent said "personal income." Thirty-eight percent defined success in terms of happiness or self-fulfillment, whereas only 12 percent measured it in sales growth and profit.
Help for Minorities
SBA also offers special programs to assist members of minority groups who want to start a small business or expand an existing one. In this effort, SBA has combined its programs with those of private industry, banks, communities, and other federal agencies. The agency also makes loans available to physically handicapped small business owners and private nonprofit organizations that employ handicapped persons.
SBA's Business Development Program is extensive and diversified. It includes free individual counseling, courses, conferences, workshops, problem clinics, and a wide range of publications. Many of these publications are free, and charges are nominal for those that are not.
Counseling is provided by the SBA Development Staff: the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), and its corollary organization of active businesspersons, the Active Corps of Executives (ACE), and numerous professional associations. SCORE and ACE help small business executives solve their operating problems through one-on-one counseling.
A nationwide organization, SCORE offers management counseling and training through 13,000 retired volunteers with extensive business experience and special skills; the average SCORE counselor has 35 years of business experience.
SCORE operates out of SBA offices and in more than 700 other locations. Their counsel is free and confidential. A small fee is charged for specialized services. If the SCORE counselor feels you are not ready to go into business, he or she will tell you. The counselor will also work with a new applicant as long as necessary.
Where to Get Counseling
Small Business Institutes (SBIs) organized through SBA are found on approximately 500 university and college campuses. At each SBI, senior and graduate students at schools of business administration and their faculty advisers provide on-site management counseling. Students are guided by the faculty advisers and SBA management assistance experts and receive academic credit for their work. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) provide managerial and technical help through the private sector, through university facilities, and through local state and federal agencies. These organizations access technical help, research studies, and other types of specialized assistance of value to small businesses. The centers are generally located in academic institutions and provide individual counseling and practical training for small business owners.
The federal government offers a broad range of services to would-be entrepreneurs. Knowing the type of business you want to start and its goals, however, will result in faster service when you seek help or information from the SBA. An excellent source of business information for women is the American Women's Economic Development Corps (AWED) in New York City. During the past few years, AWED has helped more than 72,000 women who have attended training courses, received individual counseling, and participated in network meetings, conferences, and lectures. The courses include practical information about advertising, marketing, record keeping, sales, insurance, law, and finance.