In 2018, Mollie Plotkin found herself in an awkward situation. After taking a few years off from her keynote speaker agency, Mollie Plotkin Group, she was starting the agency up again and needed advice. But the advice she was getting wasn’t exactly what she was looking for.
“I’m lucky that I knew a lot of business people, [but] I’m their age and yet I’m also running a startup, so we were not speaking the same language,” she says. “I loved the knowledge they were sharing – I mean, they are my dearest friends – but talking to them felt a bit like a parent talking to a child. I started wondering: where do I find advice on how to start up?”
Pretty soon Plotkin found the Small Business Administration, then SCORE and others. Within weeks she was being connected with small-business mentors and attending webinars on a variety of small-business topics – nearly all for free.
“It didn’t take long before I started to realize that there are organizations, associations, government-funded departments that desperately want to help,” she says. “They are excited to hear from you.”
If you're an aspiring entrepreneur or a small-business owner who could use some valuable help, here are a few organizations that can provide it.
Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a government organization designed to help entrepreneurs find resources and advice to propel them forward. Among the many services it offers (most free of charge), the SBA connects entrepreneurs with lenders that provide affordable loans. The SBA also offers resources for marketing and business development, import and export opportunities, training specific to various industries (for you and your employees), and operations improvement resources.
There are SBA locations in most major cities; Plotkin found the office near her Philadelphia home to be incredibly helpful. “The SBA in Philly is so awesome; they have so many different departments,” she says. “I could speak with someone as a women-owned business, another person as a one-person LLC, another person was there to help me navigate all of the resources they offer.”
The SBA matched her with a business coach and she met with that person three times over video chat, for 90 minutes each time.
“The SBA has money earmarked for business coaches,” she says, adding that every session was free of charge. “It was so helpful to talk to the coach. I also spent an hour talking to a CPA, which was invaluable.”
“The relationship building that some of these organizations offer provide connections for business opportunities that oftentimes aren’t made public.” —Lisa Carter Knight, president, Drinkwater Marketing
Veterans Business Outreach Centers
Within the SBA there are several other programs, one of them being the Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) program, which offers resources to service members, veterans, and military spouses who want to start small businesses.
Stephanie Wein is one recipient of help from the VBOC. When she and her husband launched Pinup Coffee Company in Virginia Beach in 2021, they were both still on active duty in the U.S. Navy. In addition to utilizing resources from the SBA, she reached out to her local VBOC branch and “met with them frequently to finalize a business plan, understand finances, costs of goods sold, projections, etc.,” says Wein, who is now a military veteran. “I truly couldn’t have come as far as I did, as fast as I did, without these resources.”
SCORE is another SBA partner and one among many nonprofit organizations that help small businesses. The organization has been around since the mid-1960s and is known for matching aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small-business owners with volunteer mentors who can give them industry-specific advice. According to SCORE’s website, the organization has "helped more than 11 million entrepreneurs start, grow or successfully exist a business. SCORE’s 10,000 volunteers provide free, expert mentoring, resources and education in all 50 states and U.S. territories."
Wein is one grateful recipient to SCORE’s mentors. “Especially being active duty, the fact that I could meet with my mentor over [video chat] was a massive bonus,” she says.
Chris Alexakis is CEO of CabinetSelect, an e-commerce furniture retailer. He says SCORE “has been absolutely instrumental in our success.” After formalizing his business plan, Alexakis met with a mentor and asked them to highlight areas in which he may need further assistance.
“Another really amazing thing is that they hold workshops either for free or within $3- $5,” he says, adding that the price was a welcome financial break from other workshops he saw online that were costing thousands of dollars each. “These workshops were the best money I spent, especially the one on conducting market analysis. Apart from learning, you also get to network with upcoming entrepreneurs and form a community for when you need help. I’ve made some good friends and connections during these workshops.”
While SCORE doesn’t specifically claim to help entrepreneurs make more money, Nikita Sherbina, co-founder and CEO of digital signage company AIScreen, reports that his mentor made a massive difference in his bottom line.
“My mentor gave me great advice on how to market my business, and with his help my business started doing much better. I actually made 150% more money in just nine months,” he says.
Black Girl Ventures
A few years ago, Aisha McCain found herself at a crossroads. She'd successfully battled cancer more than once, and during treatment had invented a garment to help patients more easily (and beautifully) mask healing drains on their bodies so they could go about their lives. Her business, Casual Recovery, was well-known at hospitals near her home in the Bay Area, but she wanted to support even more cancer patients.
During the pandemic, she found Black Girl Ventures (BGV), and started going to the organization's Wednesday virtual co-working sessions. Within a few weeks, things started to change for the better.
"When I started going to these sessions, I didn't know what a pitch deck was, I didn't know what a pitch was," she says. "I had a lot to learn."
BGV offers not only co-working, but a myriad of resources for Black and Brown female founders including pitch competitions with funding attached. A few months after going to co-working and soaking up every possible resource available, McCain went to a pitch competition and won big.
"I got $10,000 for being in first place, $2,500 for being the crowd favorite, and a donor matched the $10,000 prize," she says, adding that she won the largest prize in BGV history so far.
McCain recommends founders and business owners give BGV a try. "You will find your community," she says. "You will find people at all stages of business and so many people are just here to help. There are resources, there is a community. It is incredible."
In addition to BGV, there are many other organizations that specifically lend a hand to BIPOC entrepreneurs, including the U.S. Black Chambers Inc. USBC offers virtual trainings and programs to help business owners navigate the Small Business Administration and also partners with major companies to offer support like mentorship, funding, and marketing through accelerator programs.
Another organization is the Coalition to Back Black Businesses is a nonprofit that gives grants to Black-owned businesses with between 3 and 20 employees. [Disclosure: American Express is the founding partner of the Coalition to Back Black Businesses.]
Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a government organization that, according to its website, advocates, connects, informs, and fights for business growth and America’s success.
Joining your local Chamber of Commerce can be a great way to market your business to your community and network with other business owners. This is something Lisa Carter Knight, president of digital marketing agency Drinkwater Marketing, did to great success.
“In my small town in New Hampshire, I was finding it difficult to connect with other business owners, learn about business resources, and connect with potential new clients,” she says. “I learned of the Chamber of Commerce through friends and began to seek out chapters to join in key regions near my home. I joined the Chamber in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and a few other smaller chambers in New Hampshire. All of these organizations helped me connect with other business owners and build a sphere.”
In addition to Chambers, Carter Knight found assistance in minority business group Business Alliance For People of Color of New Hampshire, which was formed in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. The organization, she says, was a call to action to raise awareness and support for Black-owned businesses. She got involved and even volunteered to run for chair of the marketing committee (and won). She’s since found tremendous value in her participation, further highlighting how entrepreneurs can look for support among groups that match their identities.
Advice for Entrepreneurs
When looking for organizations that help small businesses, Plotkin recommends starting with the SBA. “The website is great – it gives you a step-by-step guide of what to do and you can do it in small, manageable chunks,” she says.
More than anything, Carter Knight says it is important for every small-business owner to get involved.
“Take time to work on your businesses versus in your business,” she suggests. “It may seem like you’re gambling on ROI, but the relationship building that some of these organizations offer provide connections for business opportunities that oftentimes aren’t made public.”
Looking for more resources to help your business? Additional charities and organizations helping small businesses include:
- Procurement and Technical Assistance Centers
- Women’s Business Centers
- Small Business Development Centers
- U.S. Export Assistance Centers
- Certified Development Companies (loan programs)
- National Federation of Independent Businesses
- National Association for the Self-Employed
- Entrepreneur's Organization
- National Restaurant Association
- StartUp Nation
- New Economy Initiative
- Minority Business Development Agency
- National LGBT Chamber of Commerce
- National Veteran-Owned Business Association
- Dynamite Circle
- Remote Work Association
A version of this article was originally published on October 02, 2013.
Photo: Getty Images