If you own a small business, you need to be an expert in everything – not just your product or service offering, but also marketing, finance, and human resources. Fortunately, the Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network offers expert help in those and other critical areas.
The state SBDC network, headquartered in Athens at the University of Georgia but with 18 offices statewide, is part of a national network of SBDCs in all 50 states. Begun with the help of UGA business school dean William Flewellen in the 1970s, the national network is similar to the model of the agricultural cooperative extension service, which offers help to farmers in communities nationwide.
As the Georgia SBDC celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, it continues to provide much-needed services tailored to each community and to individual businesses. State SBDC director Allan Adams notes that small businesses are “a major employment base – a big source of jobs, sales and product innovation.”
Georgia’s SBDC has made a significant impact as well: Last year it provided training to more than 11,000 people and consulted with some 5,000 business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs. The SBDC offers between 600 and 800 workshops and seminars each year on topics ranging from sales and marketing to accounting to management. Consultants, who hold academic degrees and also have business experience, offer individualized counseling and advice. “Many have been business owners themselves,” Adams says.
Two programs are designed to give business owners a chance to get tips and advice straight from the people who know best – their peers. FastTrac is for established companies that are looking to grow rapidly. The 10-week program blends training from expert speakers with a facilitated discussion where participants share experiences and best practices. In the past, the program has been offered primarily in Atlanta, but is now up and running in Columbus and will launch in Savannah this fall.
The other peer-based program, PeerSpectives, is brand new. It features a series of executive roundtables offering business owners the opportunity to learn from one another. “For a small business owner, the business often dominates his or her life,” Adams says. “They may have everything invested in the business. This gives them the means to gain experience from others in similar circumstances.”
The SBDC also offers specialized services including minority business development, a trade center focused on exporters and SmallBizU, which offers online courses to entrepreneurs. – Kenna Simmons