By Cindy Bates, Microsoft
This past spring I had the pleasure of participating in an event in Los Angeles put on by the SBA and White House Urban Economic Forum. The forum is a series of national events designed to connect small business owners and entrepreneurs to local and national resources and offers opportunities for networking with local and national small business officials.
Participants offered insights on critical issues in the local small business sector and discussed the policies and programs that fuel the creation of private-sector jobs and the next generation of entrepreneurs. They also identified resources available to help the SMB community grow and thrive.
Coming from a family of small business owners, I am passionate about entrepreneurship and know firsthand how thrilling, but also challenging, it can be to start and maintain a successful business. Knowing that every business owner is eager to learn about available help, here are a few of the business development programs and resources mentioned during the forum that you may find helpful for your own business:
· SBA – In addition to the resources put forth by America’s SBDC, the SBA offers a multitude of free resources that can help business owners pursue investment opportunities, such as online courses and podcasts on financing your business. The free course topics range from how to secure traditional loans and grants, to pursuing bonds and venture capital. The SBA partners with local organizations, such as the SCORE Association and Women’s Business Centers, to deliver these resources at the local level, so chances are there are business counselors in your area who can assist you in your financing efforts. I encourage you to keep tabs on its offerings, which always are free or low cost, as they frequently evolve to meet the changing needs of SMBs.
· American Express OPEN – AMEX OPEN offers mentoring and training specifically catered to small businesses looking for ways to secure funding and appeal to investors. The services include courses to test your knowledge in different areas of business planning and development, small business events and workshops, and advice from top business influencers and outlets on the OPEN Forum homepage. In addition, its “Victory in Procurement” program helps small businesses recognize and apply for other methods of funding, including government contracts.
· Microsoft’s BizSpark – If your company develops software, then look into the many opportunities BizSpark provides to help such businesses succeed. This global program connects software startups to tools, technical support, business training and a network of more than 2,000 partners.
· Brandify – This free service helps SMBs optimize their online profiles and reach more customers by establishing and maintaining positive online reputations. Recommendations are specifically tailored to your business and Brandify will analyze more than 100 different aspects of your online brand before giving you actionable advice to improve your online brand and extend your reach.
Throughout the Urban Economic Forum event in Los Angeles, I was inspired to see first-hand the dedication among the U.S. small business community and government officials to build a strong and lasting economy by fostering small business growth.
Cindy Bates is Vice President of US Small and Midsized Business (SMB) at Microsoft, where she acts as a champion for SMBs within the company, and oversees the team responsible for bringing Microsoft products to the SMB market. She also is the executive sponsor for Microsoft’s support of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the White House Business Council’s Urban Economic Forum, an initiative designed to strengthen America’s small business community by helping entrepreneurs across the country identify local and national resources for business growth.
For more tips and information on how technology can support you and your business, follow me on Twitter (twitter.com/Cindy_Bates) or follow Microsoft SMB on Twitter (@MicrosoftSMB) and Facebook (Microsoft SMB).