There's no substitute for experience. Many successful entrepreneurs learned how to run a business as they built one, and they had the educational benefit of being able to make mistakes and learn from them as they went along.
But if there's something close to a substitute for experience, it's probably somebody else's experience -- which makes other small business owners the perfect people to ask for advice about your own business decisions.
These nine websites will help you track down the appropriate entrepreneurs. If you've found success on similar sites, let us know about them in the comments below.
Created by the same folks who run the popular programming Q&A site StackOverflow, this site is a perfect place to crowdsource all of your small business questions. After you post a question (let's say, "How do daily deal or coupon websites handle marketing?"), anyone can post an answer. You and other users can vote the different responses up or down so that the best answer floats to the top. At which point, if you decide to, you can mark one response as the "accepted answer."
The site is managed almost entirely by the crowd (none of whose members need to register to participate). Anyone in the community can edit posts and frequent users are allowed to vote irrelevant questions off the site.
Focus differs from other Q&A sites by maintaining a core group of experts who answer many of the questions on the site in exchange for the opportunity to promote themselves. This feature makes it more likely that you'll receive prompt and useful responses.
Topics are divided into IT, marketing, sales, finance, customer service, operations and human resources sections, which makes it easy to search for the latest discussions on your interest area.
Q&A has its value, but a deeper one-on-one relationship with a seasoned businessperson can be a greater asset to your business. MicroMentor helps you find a mentor online. Simply fill out a profile about yourself and your goals, and then search the mentor profiles that match your needs. If your selected mentor agrees that they're a good fit, you can exchange contact information and start learning from each other.
The site is run by Mercy Corps, which intends to help "small businesses grow faster, generate more revenue, and employ more people." More than 1,000 matches have been made to date.
Entrepreneur Media, the parent company of Entrepreneur Magazine, hosts this online network of entrepreneurs. The site's broadly defined "groups" where you can post questions, makes it useful for asking for advice. The replies are less frequent than on some of the other sites, but they tend to be of high quality. You also have the option to create your own private group.
The directory of other entrepreneurs, browsable by industry and name, is also helpful for locating someone who might be helpful regarding a specific issue.
If you have a question that can be expressed in fewer than 140 characters, the PartnerUp community will likely have an answer. You can also search for contacts with different skills in different industries or "PartnerUp" with people who have made comments you appreciated so that you can stay in touch. Like OnStartups, questions and answers can be voted up or down so that the best ones -- at least theoretically -- remain on top.
Thankfully, responses aren't restricted with a character limit.
The authors of business networking book The N Factor venture up the alphabet a little bit to bring you the EFactor. This social network for entrepreneurs can help you answer your questions in a handful of different ways.
First there's a Q&A feature that shares your questions with other entrepreneurs on the site. There's also a traditional forum where you're likely to find a thread that answers your question and where you're welcome to start a new one if you don't. And finally, there's an option to search for a mentor by their expertise and the assistance you're seeking.
This site gives you the opportunity for personal access to the world's most innovative and influential business leaders. Although the rest of us probably won't be able to get our questions for business leaders answered directly, there's likely a video on MeetTheBoss TV that is relevant to your issue. They're all targeted specifically for entrepreneurs and intended to expand a skill set. You'll need to use the search bar to find a video that answers your specific question, but the quality of the advice more than compensates for this slight effort.
A resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE gives free advice to entrepreneurs. The organization has 370 office locations offline and about 1,200 "counselors" offline. By typing in a couple of keywords about what business issue you'd like to discuss, you can browse a list of these counselors -- mostly other small business owners -- and email them directly for advice.
If you prefer a face-to-face conversation, there's also an option to search for a mentor by your zip code.
What sets LinkedIn Answers apart from the others on this list is that people have a couple of strong motives to help you. First, people are always looking for ways to stay in touch with members of their professional networks. Answering your question is a perfect opportunity to refresh a connection. Second, people who give the best answers to questions are featured as "experts" on the Answers homepage and in each category of questions.
LinkedIn's giant network of professionals is another advantage. You can allow this entire network to search and answer your questions, or if you prefer, select individuals from your network who you want to answer your question. There are also advanced search options that allow you to browse the database of previously asked questions.