So you have this great business idea rolling around in your head. How do you get it into the real world?
(What? You don’t have an idea yet? You can use the four tactics in Resource: Small Business Ideas for Small Towns and check out our previous ideas posts to get started. Oh, and look at Nairobi Paul’s Biz Idea, the inspiration for this article. I’ll wait here.)
Online Resource Sites
From idea to a real business is the big jump. Luckily, we are internet age entrepreneurs. Even if you are in a rural area or small town, you can use online tools. Here are five no-cost sites from my favorites list.
- Entrepreneur.com: Starting a Business. This is a huge resource site. The best tools are Countdown to Startup, Stop Procrastinating!, and 75 Secrets to Startup.
- SBA: Small Business Planner: Get Ready. The Starting a Business FAQs are the best. The Startup Guide opens a huge new list of resources by topic.
- Startup Nation: 10 Steps to Open for Business. Articles, audio intros, templates, and resource links. The first step here is to create your life plan, then build the business to fit within it. That’s better than trying to force your life around the business.
UPDATE: A whole new collection of our best “from idea to in business” posts are found on the Dreaming page.
Pick the tool, checklist, or article that best suits your style and where you are in the process. Get started by taking some concrete action.
Live, In-Person Help
What if you just want someone to talk it over with? Let’s find some real people who can help you. No matter where you are, odds are that you are in the territory of some free business consulting sources.
These first two are more or less consistent nationwide in the US. No matter where you are, you can call on the nearest of these services.
- Small Business Development Centers. Our Co-Author Jeanne Cole (OkieJ) works for the SBDC based in Alva, Oklahoma. Her job, along with all SBDC counselors, is to provide free business counseling to anyone who asks. She helps guide people from idea to startup and beyond, and she drives halfway across the state to meet with people on their own turf. Trust me, there is a SBDC and the local equivalent of Jeanne near you waiting to help, probably based on a college campus.
- SCORE. Through SCORE, volunteers with real business experience can help you develop your idea. SCORE has lots of chapters in the US, but they are pretty far apart in my corner of the state. That’s why they also offer to answer questions by email.
This second group of resources is more general. The names and programs will vary from place to place, so you have to do more research to find them in your area. The best place to start is:
- Chamber of Commerce. The local chamber of commerce may have their own business counseling program, or may point you to other local resources. They should know all the other players in your local market. If you local town chamber is too small to help much, try the next bigger neighboring city.
- Economic Development Associations. This could be a city agency, a county group, or a regional or state organization, but many offer help directly to prospective business owners.
- Universities, Colleges, Technical Centers. Many educational institutions have some program or center dedicated to small business. The services available vary widely. You’ll just have to call and find out what’s available to you. Even if you are not near the campus, you are probably still in the service area of some help.
- Business Incubators. All incubators provide services to the businesses that they house. Some also provide assistance to start-ups that might locate with them or even to people looking to do something with their idea. It never hurts to ask. Some incubators worldwide are listed at the NBIA.
- State Business, Commerce, or Economic Development Department. This is usually an agency of the state government, so start looking on your state’s government website. In order to get in-person help from the state, you may need to be planning a pretty large business. More likely, they may help you find a more local resource person.
- Trade Associations. Depending on the type of business you are considering, you may get some help from a trade group or business alliance. Some are semi-governmental groups, and you can connect to them through the state business agency. Some are private membership associations, and you’ll have to find them through research.
I’ve given you several options, because I know that personal help is only as good as the person offering it. If you don’t get the help you need from one source, keep looking.
Now you are armed. You have four free online sites, two no-cost national groups, and untold numbers of local resources to help you. Yes, it takes work to turn that idea into action, but you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Tap into these resources and get going!
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.