The Chicago Small Business Administration's mission is to help small businesses start and grow. According to Marianne Markowitz, the Chicago SBA regional administrator, the organization works with other local agencies to help small businesses with the three "C's" - counseling, access to capital and government contracts.
Throughout the country, there are more than 100 SBA offices with a staff of 2,000 to help with business development issues. Through SBA's network of resource partners, small business owners have access to 14,000 counselors nationwide. These include SCORE, small business development centers and women's development centers. Most of the SBA's counseling services are free or very low in cost.
"We have many tools in our toolbox including podcasts, webinars and online seminars about issues like taxes, whether or not you're ready to start a small business and finance tools," adds Markowitz.
This Thursday, the SBA will host a free webchat about how small businesses can enter foreign markets, and Feb. 2, the Chicago SCORE office is hosting an event, "Going Into Business" for aspiring small business owners. Upcoming events are updated regularly on the SBA's website.
The Chicago SBA helps with two guaranteed lending programs, the 7(a) and the 504.
The 7(a) Loan Program helps small businesses gain access to working capital and is designed for start-up and existing small businesses. It is delivered through banks, but the SBA provides the lending bank with a guarantee behind the loan.
The 504 Program provides financing to purchase capital such as real estate or equipment for expansion or modernization. For these projects, 10 percent of the funding comes from the lender, up to 50 percent comes from private sector lenders and up to 40 percent comes from CDCs (Certified Development Companies), which are private, non-profit corporations set up to contribute to the economic development of their communities.
Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), both of these lending programs have recently received additional funding.
These contracts can serve as an important source of revenue for small businesses. The Chicago SBA offers training that covers the basics of what is involved in government contracts, how to win contracts and even procurement seminars that offer face time with contractors. The federal government mandates that 23 percent of its contracts go to small businesses, so the SBA helps ensure that this happens.
"As the private sector has shrunk, government contracts have helped fill the gap for many small businesses," says Markowitz.
As many hope for 2010 to be a better year than 2009, small businesses that take advantage of resources like the Chicago SBA can learn important strategies to lower costs and raise profits.