Managing Your Business
How the SBA's Women's Business Centers Can Help Boost Your Small Business
March may be known for women's history month, but luckily it's not the only time of year dedicated to celebrating lady bosses throughout the United States.
In fact, every year on September 22, the US celebrates American Business Women's Day. First recognized in 1982, this important holiday is dedicated to honoring, celebrating, and supporting the millions of women business owners and their considerable contributions to our community.
And more than ever before, American businesswomen have a lot to celebrate. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the US. To fully understand how significant that number is, consider this moment in history: In 1972, there were only 402,000 women-owned businesses. Today, 40% of all US businesses are women-owned.
These impressive numbers confirm something we've long known — women entrepreneurs are having a major impact on the small business economy nationwide, and they're increasingly making up a growing, thriving workforce.
Still, despite these growing numbers, women business owners are faced with some disproportionate challenges compared to their male counterparts. Lack of funding and resources continues to challenge many women entrepreneurs, and, alarmingly, women business owners are having trouble getting the bank loans they need to stay successful. In fact, only 30% of women business owners could get a bank loan in the past three months.
As a result, many women entrepreneurs are pessimistic about their trajectory. Because of challenges securing financing and the right resources, 64% of women predicted slow growth for their business. This is just one of the many reasons why many women-owned businesses struggle to stay afloat. In fact, of the 12.9 million companies owned by women, 88% of them earn less than $100,000 annually.
To help more women entrepreneurs get, and stay, ahead, the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Women's Business Centers are popping up throughout the US to flip those numbers around. And along the way, they're giving women across the country the resources they need to thrive as entrepreneurs.
What is the Women's Business Center Program?
Back in 1988, the SBA established the Women's Business Center Program with one goal in mind — to help women overcome common barriers to business success. Today, that initiative has come a long way, and there are more than 100 Women's Business Centers throughout the US in almost every state.
Along with SBA district offices and other SBA resource partners at thousands of locations throughout the country, these centers help women entrepreneurs jumpstart and grow successful businesses. In doing so, they're making business ownership for women more accessible than ever before.
So how do Women's Business Centers help? Through tailored services designed to meet the specific needs of each community they serve. Every Women's Business Center offers one-on-one training and counseling in critical areas like startup business management, financing, marketing techniques, and technology.
This growing national network also opens up invaluable networking and mentorship opportunities for entrepreneurs, giving them access to the first-hand support and insights needed from real women who have already been in their shoes. Today, the Women's Business Center program counsels and trains nearly 150,000 entrepreneurs nationwide every single year.
What Kind of Resources and Support Does the Women's Business Center Program Offer?
No matter what stage of entrepreneurship you're in, the Women's Business Center Program offers a wide array of courses, resources, training, and financing to help women-owned small businesses start, grow, and expand. In general, most Women's Business Centers offer these core services:
- Business advising and counseling
- Financial workshops, loan assistance, and direct lending
- Early child education entrepreneurship training
- Women's Business Enterprise certification
- COVID-19 business advising, training, and resources
- Networking events
So what do these services actually look like in real life? Short answer — it depends on where your Women's Business Center is. For example, in Chicago, the Women's Business Center offers a Plan for Profit training program to improve business outcomes. Consisting of three sessions, the training focuses on critical aspects of business development and how to build a solid business plan that'll set first-time entrepreneurs up for success. Upon completion of the program, women receive a Business Development Program Certificate.
This program includes:
- Building the foundation and vision of your business: Here, you'll be asked to determine market needs, identify your target market, write your executive summary, and pitch your business idea to peers.
- Working on your marketing and exposure: This session has trainees developing marketing strategies and tactics, as well as determining marketing costs and timing.
- Finessing financials: Lastly, you'll learn how to complete pricing and sales estimates for your new business, as well as create initial financial projections. At the end of this session, you'll deliver a presentation to a panel of lenders and business coaches to help you refine the ultimate business pitch.
The Women's Business Center in Nevada offers free one-on-one virtual counseling sessions ranging anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. In Washington, DC, their Women's Business Center specializes in assisting women-owned businesses with developing procurement relationships with government agencies and key businesses in the DC area. And in Montana, they offer business recovery training to help entrepreneurs navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19.
While training, courses, and services vary, one thing is consistent across most Women's Business Centers — they also give women access to financial options when funding is tight or falling short. Some centers offer grants directly through fundraisers and other means, while others help you find local small-business grants and loans that you may qualify for.
For example, at the Women's Business Center in Washington, DC, they work directly with entrepreneurs to understand their business financing needs and identify realistic financing options. The center also helps women compile a useful loan package through one-on-one consultations from lenders and seminars on SBA financing options. Other times, they prepare entrepreneurs to apply for and secure microloans from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
How Can You Get Started With the Women's Business Center Program?
Easy. You can do a quick search online to find a center nearby. Once you land on your local center's website, you can find the service or program that best fits your needs. Participating in the courses or one-on-one counseling sessions is as simple as enrolling for your preferred training at a time that fits with your schedule — at no cost to you.
If you're interested in exploring financing options like micro-lending programs, note that those often come with a prerequisite or two that need to be fulfilled. For example, at the Women's Business Center in New Jersey, women must first complete the Women's Business Academy program — a nine-week training course designed to teach women how to start and operate a small business. Like other services offered throughout the Women's Business Center program, these courses are entirely free.
Are You Ready to Launch Your Small Business?
The Women's Business Center Program is an accessible way to get the training, support, and resources you need to get your new business started on the right foot. As you build out your business plan and move closer to the finish line, the experts at Swyft Filings can walk you through the process of establishing an LLC, so you can spend more time ensuring your brand new business is a huge success.