Starting and sustaining a small business comes with a host of challenges that require not just entrepreneurial spirit but also a solid grounding in practical knowledge. Whether it’s financial planning, employee management, or marketing, the need for education and guidance is ever-present.
Fortunately, there’s a wealth of educational resources available to small business owners designed to empower them with the skills and insights they need to navigate the business landscape successfully.
This article aims to serve as a comprehensive guide to these resources, from digital courses and informative podcasts to expert-led workshops and essential reading material, all designed to boost your business acumen and set you on the path to success.
Many programs focus on pairing small business owners with more experienced ones who serve as mentors and provide personalized guidance. These relationships can become both personally and professionally beneficial for everyone involved, from those just starting their business plan to top executives.
- SCORE: A nonprofit organization supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE offers free business mentoring from experienced business professionals across various industries.
- MicroMentor: This is an online platform that connects small business owners with volunteer mentors. The platform allows you to search for mentors based on your specific business needs.
- Startup Grind: Primarily known for its global events, Startup Grind also provides a mentorship program that pairs entrepreneurs with local business leaders and investors.
- American Corporate Partners (ACP): Aimed at veterans who are interested in starting a business, ACP provides year-long mentorships with professionals from some of America’s largest corporations.
Workshops and events
For networking purposes, options like workshops and conventions are a great way to meet others in the same space as you and make more connections.
- Small Business Expo: This is one of the largest business-to-business expos in the United States, offering a range of workshops, seminars, and networking opportunities for small business owners.
- Startup Weekend: Organized by Techstars, this 54-hour event allows entrepreneurs to pitch ideas, form teams, and build a startup over a single weekend, guided by experienced mentors and industry experts.
You don’t need a college degree or formal training to become a successful entrepreneur, which makes it attainable for every American. But there are less traditional routes you can take to learning about starting a small business.
- Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses: This program offers practical business education, support services, and access to working capital to help entrepreneurs expand their operations.
- Small Business School: An online platform that provides a range of courses covering essential business topics like finance, marketing, and operations specifically tailored for small businesses.
- Stanford Ignite: Hosted by Stanford Graduate School of Business, this program focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship, offering both part-time and full-time courses.
- The Tuck School of Business Minority Business Programs: These are executive education programs designed specifically to provide business assistance to minority entrepreneurs as they scale their businesses and improve operational efficiency.
Networks and trade associations
Networks and trade associations are invaluable resources for small business owners, offering a variety of benefits that range from professional development and contracting opportunities to lobbying efforts that advocate for small business interests. These organizations create a sense of community, offering platforms to connect with industry peers, share knowledge, and even collaborate on business opportunities.
- National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): This is one of the largest small business associations in the U.S., focused on influencing public policy and providing a variety of educational resources.
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The largest business organization globally, it offers various services like legal advice, market research, and networking events specifically aimed at small businesses.
- BNI (Business Network International): Known for its structured networking events, BNI helps business owners build a strong network of contacts that can result in business referrals.
- American Management Association (AMA): Offering a range of professional development courses and resources, AMA is a great choice for small business owners looking to improve their management skills.
- Techstars: Primarily an accelerator, Techstars also offers a robust network for tech entrepreneurs, facilitating connections with mentors, investors, and other business owners.
- The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE): Focused on fostering entrepreneurship globally, TiE offers mentorship and networking events and has a large number of chapters worldwide.
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC): Aimed at promoting women-owned businesses, WBENC offers certification programs, networking events, and educational opportunities to its members.
Online communities can serve as a valuable resource for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, offering a platform for networking, mentorship, and shared learning. These virtual spaces allow for real-time collaboration and can provide the kind of business insights that are especially useful in the early stages of doing business as a startup.
- Indie Hackers: A community focused on helping entrepreneurs become profitable while remaining independent, Indie Hackers offers interviews, articles, and a lively forum.
- Startup Nation: This online community offers a range of resources, including articles, podcasts, and forums that cover various aspects of starting and running a small business.
- Reddit Startups: A subreddit dedicated to startups, this forum provides a place for entrepreneurs to share experiences, ask questions, and provide advice.
- FoundersGrid: A newsletter-based community that curates valuable content for startup founders, including funding news, tips, and tools.
- SmallBiz: A news source for small business owners focusing on market trends and emerging business ideas.
Government-sponsored programs offer an often-underutilized avenue for small businesses to gain funding, mentorship, and valuable resources. These programs are typically designed to bolster economic development and encourage entrepreneurship, and they frequently come with the added benefits of lower interest rates, mentorship opportunities, and less stringent qualification requirements than traditional funding sources.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans: Offered by the federal government, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s business loans come with lower interest rates and longer terms, aimed at helping small businesses get the capital they need to grow. Their Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) can help you find small business resources and business centers in your specific location.
- SBA 8(a) Business Development Program: Specifically for minority-owned small businesses, this program offers a range of support, including mentorship, procurement assistance programs, and business training.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): A U.S.-based program that enables small businesses to explore their technological potential while providing the incentive of profit from commercialization.
- National Women’s Business Organization: This is a federal advisory board in the United States specifically committed to advocating for women business owners. The NWBC is unique in its function, being an independent and non-partisan council solely dedicated to this purpose. In addition to its advocacy work, the NWBC holds multiple events throughout the year aimed at networking and empowerment. They also publish an annual report that sheds light on the status and challenges of women entrepreneurs across the United States.
Incubators and accelerators
Incubators and accelerators serve as pivotal springboards for startups and small businesses, providing them with the resources, mentorship, and capital they need to grow. While incubators often offer a more nurturing environment that allows businesses to take their time to develop, accelerators typically operate on a set timeframe during which businesses speed up their growth exponentially.
- StartFast: A combined startup accelerator and venture capital fund, StartFast selects 5-7 businesses each year from a pool of thousands. If chosen, your program benefits from a heavy focus on escalating sales, fundraising, and rapid growth our of their upstate New York offices.
- Amplify: This dynamic network includes mentors and investors from across industries. Businesses in the region that qualify for the Amplify portfolio enjoy perks like free workspaces, discounts on some services, and business advice.
- Dreamit Ventures: Focusing on existing businesses that are mature, post-revenue, and pre-series A startups, Dreamit is heavily invested in the tech industry. In the last 10 years, they have accelerated 300 startups.
- Y Combinator: A venture fund that specializes in seed funding for startups in their infancy. The group funds a wide swath of businesses from the outset, while providing an introduction to subsequent investors down the line.
Yes, there are numerous free (and low-cost) resources available, including online articles, webinars, and even some government-sponsored programs that provide free training and advice.
Mentorship programs, industry events, and professional associations are great ways to connect with potential mentors, as are networking platforms like LinkedIn.
While online platforms can offer valuable insights, it’s important to cross-reference the information with other reputable sources, especially when making major business decisions or seeking technical assistance.
Critical areas for learning often include marketing and outreach, financial resources, human resources, and operations, although the focus can vary depending on your business’s specific needs.
Incubators generally offer long-term support and resources, whereas accelerators provide more intensive, short-term programs designed to rapidly grow your own business.