Build Your Business with a Great Web Presence
47% of small businesses don’t have a website. Can you believe it? Establishing a web presence is easier than ever these days and there are so many tools out there that will make it quicker and more influential on your bottom line than ever before. Here are 3 resources that will not only convince you that every small business should have a great website, but guide you in exactly how to make that a reality – as painlessly and effectively as possible.
Make Your Website Work for You
Do you have one of the 95% of small business websites that isn’t mobile-optimized? Get ahead of trends, stand out from your competition and make it as easy as possible for customers to connect with your business by providing them with an easy, enjoyable web impression. The new infographic by SCORE, “Making Your Website Work,” shares the real, hard numbers that put the value of mobile-friendly small business websites, online marketing and SEO into perspective. Did you know:
· 97% of consumers look online for local products and services?
· 70% of smartphone owners have connected with a local business after a search?
· 70-80% of searchers ignore paid ads and focus on search results?
The infographic compiles 9 statistics about small business website usage into 3 actionable tips to help you make the most of your business’s web presence.
Optimize Your Site Design
So you’re finally convinced - you have a website, but how can you tell if it’s really adding to your bottom line? And adding the absolute most that it could be? SCORE mentor and entrepreneur Dan Beldowicz presents an online workshop, “Winning with Websites” in which you’ll learn:
- How website design can make or break your online success
- Why going mobile is a MUST
- The truth about mobile apps
- How & when to hire a web developer
Listen and watch as Dan explains how to optimize your web presence.
Create a Great Customer Call to Action (CTA)
Finally, you’ve got to tell customers exactly what you want them to do next. If it’s unclear or if there are too many competing options, they’ll navigate away from that one important click you really want them to make. Daniel Kehrer, founder of BizBest.com, says, “A strong CTA makes it clear what action the customer is expected to take, and why.” How does that translate for your specific business? He says, “Your approach depends on the action you want to motivate. For example, if the goal is to spur a purchase, and you’ve already communicated benefits, a simple ‘Buy Now!’ might be all you need.” Daniel explains in further detail and shares 10 tips for creating strong calls to action to help you turn your heard-earned web visitors into revenue.
By now, I hope you are completely convinced that a user-friendly, informative and helpful website is a must for your business and you know how to convert your newfound prospects into loyal customers. The online experience really does reflect the way you would drive sales at your storefront on Main Street: have an easy to find location, create an enjoyable, uncluttered experience and communicate exactly how customers can follow through to your end goal. And to make sure you stay on the right path to your end goal, be sure to get a SCORE mentor to be your sounding board.
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Make Your Small Business Easily Found Online
If you’re looking to ramp up your business’s online presence and help your potential customers find you more easily, you may have considered a variety of web advertising options: banner ads, social media ads, pay-per-click sponsor ads, SEO, SEM, etc. What’s the most effective route to take? What’s the least costly?
The new infographic, Online Advertising: Go for the Right Audience and You'll See Real Results, compiled research on the effectiveness of various types of online advertising options for small business owners. It found that one-third of small and mid-sized businesses buy online advertising, spending an average of $6,800 annually. Some interesting findings to note in your own online advertising pursuits:
- A typical person sees 1,700 banner ads per month, but clicks just 0.1% of the time.
- 3% of small business owners think that pay-per-click ads are effective.
- 77% of ads are never seen.
- Investment in social media ads has increased from $3.8 billion in 2011 to $5.9 billion in 2013. This amount is projected to increase to $9.8 billion in 2016.
Check out the infographic for the full story on how small businesses like yours are taking advantage of online advertising and to see how Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn compare in terms of click-thru rates and ROI.
Pay for Traffic or Get it Free?
Given those survey results, you might be wondering if paid ads are worth the financial investment. SCORE mentor and owner of A&E Advertising and Web Design, Edison Guzman, answers exactly that question in the (appropriately titled) online workshop, “Pay for Traffic or Get it Free? (The Difference Between SEM and SEO).” Edison says the key to choosing the right strategy is: “before starting any campaign, you need to know the result.” What type of online presence are you looking to promote? Who and where is your target audience? How much are you willing to spend? Who will implement this strategy? These questions will help you determine the right approach for achieving your goals.
Listen in to this online workshop to find out:
- The tools needed to get the most out of your time and investment in online advertising
- The difference between on-page SEO and off-page SEO and how to maximize both
- The 7 parts of your website that tell search engines how to rank you
- How social media plays a role in your search engine ranking
- And… the only guaranteed way to rank on Page 1 of search engine results in less than 1 day
Make Content Work for You
You’ve certainly heard that content marketing is the next big thing for positioning yourself as the go-to resource in your industry. But it’s also an absolutely critical (and often free) way to get your business better known to the search engines. In his 4 part series, How to Win the New Game of Semantic Search, Bill Merrow, co-founder of Synergy Sales and Marketing, covers everything you need to know to get search engines to authenticate your website and, ultimately, bring you more and better visitors. Bill says “In September 2013, Google’s Hummingbird update rocked the world of every business concerned with search marketing, as simple keyword strategies were detonated and Google stopped reporting keywords in Google Analytics.” Therefore, he explains, content marketing is a necessary tactic for effective SEO. In the series, Bill details the 4 components to properly implementing an effective content strategy: volume, velocity, variety and veracity.
The more you know about effective online advertising, the more you realize what a powerful tool it can be for bringing potential customers in the virtual door. It doesn’t have to be costly but it can require a time investment to learn the tools at your disposal and decide what works best for reaching your target audience. If you’re not sure who that is or how to reach them, reach out to a SCORE mentor for free, expert help.
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Crowdfunding Sites: Top 3 Tips to Get Funding Once and For All
The internet has fundamentally changed the way we do business on a national and global scale. With over 2 billion internet users and growing, the speed and the way in which we communicate, share ideas, and even invest in businesses have changed forever.
Now anyone with a computer or mobile device and an internet connection can research, review and become an investor in a business with a push of a button. With the growing popularity of crowdfunding sites, it's clear the idea of advertising to the general public through a crowdfunding platform is far more effective at drawing in investors as opposed to finding traditional investors the old fashion way.
To put it bluntly, crowdfunding empowers entrepreneurs.
It offers them the ability to raise capital without giving up equity or accumulating debt. Instead, these rewards-based crowdfunding platforms allow entrepreneurs to raise capital from the public in exchange for tangible products or other relative rewards.
It’s simply one of the best ways to cast a huge net for attracting investors to a business. However, with all the hype and popularity buzzing around the internet, many entrepreneurial hopefuls need to be aware that just because launching a crowdfunding campaign is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
There is a big misconception on what it really takes to reach a funding goal and achieve success in crowdfunding. It’s not as simple as creating a campaign and clicking the submit button and waiting for an idea to go viral. The set it and forget it attitude is the number one reason why crowdfunding campaigns fail.
Did you know of the roughly 60,000 unsuccessful crowdfunding campaigns launched, about 40,000 failed to reach even 20% of their funding goal? The good news is you can succeed in crowdfunding, you just need to know how to prepare for it.
Here are three key tips for crowdfunding success:
1) Perfect Your Pitch – An incredible pitch is crucial for crowdfunding and can make or break landing an investor. People have to be sold on you, your idea and your vision before they will ever invest in your business.
For starters, write up your preliminary draft, include pictures and record a video explaining your vision, the offer and why you should get business funding. Let your passion shine through!
Send your pitch to family and friends so you can get feedback and make any necessary changes. Once you perfected the pitch, start locating initial backers before launching your campaign.
Remember, you don’t have to swim with the sharks; in crowdfunding, you get to swim with the goldfish.
2) Test Your Rewards – Every successful campaign started with a dedicated following. The obvious rewards would be to provide backers with a digital copy, physical product, souvenirs, combined rewards, etc. depending on your business idea.
Start by testing your reward ideas with your personal network, make necessary adjustments and perfect your rewards package so it is unique, eye-catching and memorable.
3) Get Pre-Pledges – Pre-pledges are commitments from those people who fully support your business idea and will be there to invest on day one when you launch your campaign. Since the majority of crowdfunding sites provide a 30-90 day time frame for each campaign, it’s vital to launch with momentum.
Did you know the most successful crowdfunding campaigns had their campaigns go live only after they had 20-30% of their business funding secured by initial backers? Let's face it; nobody wants to be the first person to fund money into a newcomer's campaign.
Once you perfect the pitch, test your rewards, get pre-pledges and choose a reputable crowdfunding platform, you will need to establish a marketing strategy to reach your target audience so you can advance the momentum of your campaign once you go live.
Crowdfunding sites are a strong stepping-stone for acquiring investors for a business. While for some it can be a viable option, entrepreneurs do need to conduct their due diligence to decide if this business funding option is best for them.
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What to Know About Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs)
When it comes to financing, you probably already know that SBA doesn’t lend money directly to small business owners and entrepreneurs, but has various programs to help get small business ventures financed through local lenders. But did you also know that the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program has been helping small business access capital for more than fifty years?
What’s the SBIC Program?
The Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program is a multi-billion dollar program that, in fiscal year 2013 alone, invested $3.5 billion in financing dollars to small businesses! So how does it work?
SBICs are privately owned and managed investment funds. They’re licensed and regulated by SBA and use their own capital plus funds – borrowed with an SBA guarantee – to make equity and debt investments in qualifying small businesses.
The SBA doesn’t invest directly into small business through the SBIC Program, but provides funding to qualified investment management firms that are experts in certain sectors or industries. For every $1 an SBIC raises from a private investor, the SBA will typically provide $2 of debt capital (with a cap of $150 million). Here’s a look at how it works:
Firms combine their own capital with funds borrowed from the federal government at low rates. In turn, they invest these funds in promising new ventures. And it’s all done with zero taxpayer dollars!
What are the benefits of the SBIC Program?
There are benefits for the SBICs and the small business recipients!
Small businesses that qualify for assistance from the SBIC program can receive equity capital, long-term loans and expert management assistance. SBICs benefit small business owners by opening up greater access to equity capital and expert guidance they may not otherwise get through traditional venture capitalists.
Investment managers participating in the SBIC program can add to their own private investment capital with funds borrowed at favorable rates through the federal government.
And ultimately, the national economy benefits from the SBIC program as the small businesses financed by SBICs continue to create jobs and generate tax revenues over the program’s life.
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Contributor and Moderator
Top 5 Small Business Administration Resources for Veterans
These U.S. Small Business Administration resource partners have almost 1,500 locations across the United States, Guam, and Puerto Rico to help veterans who want to start their own business or grow an existing business. All partners can advise veterans on small business loans and provide training and support on a wide variety of challenges small business owners face, from access to capital to marketing.
Veterans Business Outreach Center
Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, support and mentoring, and referrals for eligible veterans who already own or are considering starting a small business. For more information, visit: http://www.sba.gov/content/veterans-business-outreach-centers.
Women’s Business Centers
Women's Business Centers (WBCs) are designed to assist women start and grow small businesses. WBCs operate with the mission to "level the playing field" for women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the world of business. WBCs offer comprehensive training and guidance on a variety of topics in many languages to help them start and grow their own businesses. For more information, visit: http://www.sba.gov/content/women’s-business-centers.
Small Business Development Centers
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) provide a vast array of technical assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. SBDCs foster local and regional economic development through job creation and retention. SBDC clients receive free, extensive, one-on-one, long-term professional business advising, low-cost training and other specialized services. For more information, visit: http://www.sba.gov/content/small-business-development-centers-sbdcs
SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Business
SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Volunteer business counselors, advisors and mentors provide free, confidential business counseling, free business tools, and inexpensive or free business workshops to aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners. For more information visit: www.score.org
SBA District Offices
SBA District offices offer one-on-one and group programs on a wide variety of business topics for aspiring and existing small business owners, as well as connections and referral to lenders. Ask to speak to a Veterans Business Development Officer (VBDO) or a staff member who is available to help you start, manage and grow a successful small business. For more information, visit: http://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/districtoffices
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Delivering on the American Dream
Today, with appreciation and humility, I begin my work as SBA Administrator and a relentless advocate for America’s 28 million small businesses.
My journey as a first-generation immigrant born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to President Obama’s cabinet is one that could only happen in America. I came to this country at the age of 5 with my mom and five siblings. We didn’t have much, but what we did have was an abundance of hope. We didn’t speak the language yet, neither the English language nor the language of business, but I was taught to believe in the promise of America.
This country was founded by risk-takers, resourceful pioneers who built this prosperous nation. Entrepreneurialism is our heritage.
The American Dream has always been about the opportunity to earn a good education and the keys to your own home, but the expanding American Dream is also about the opportunity to start your own business. I’ve lived that Dream, and as SBA Administrator, I’m determined to help others realize theirs, as well.
Small businesses employ 1 out of 2 workers. SBA is a driving force that helps propel this economic activity. SBA provides access to capital, contracting opportunities, consultation through a national network of partners, and disaster relief loans. I’m energized to begin my work on behalf of this nation’s entrepreneurs, who risk so much to start new businesses and create most of our new jobs.
I’ve already had a busy first morning on the job. I met with our disaster assistance team, which is on the ground in Washington State following the presidential declaration to assist those impacted by the devastating mudslide. I also met with a group of veterans to thank them and to explore how more of our military heroes can use their skills to become successful small business owners.
John F Kennedy once said “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.”
I’ve come to realize that access to the American Dream means access to capital. Entrepreneurs are the difference-makers in our economy. I’ve seen the pivotal role the SBA plays in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. I was both a community banker and an SBA lender. I was a small business owner whose small business helped small businesses every day.
As a bank chairwoman, I examined business plans, their viability, and management’s ability to execute. This not only strengthened my knowledge of the challenges that small businesses face, it also strengthened my resolve to help them overcome those hurdles and succeed.
When I started my first business almost 20 years ago, I experienced the same challenges that entrepreneurs face today. On any given day, I could be called upon to be the company’s human resources director, CFO, spokeswoman, or chief sales officer — all while competing against larger firms in highly competitive markets. Today’s small business owners multitask their way through similar days, relying on their determination, the courage of their convictions, and the power of their entrepreneurial spirit.
At the SBA, we’re working to create the next great American success story. SBA lending has helped launch businesses on a path to the Fortune 500, companies like Apple and Fed Ex. SBA has helped launch an iconic American ice cream brand, Ben and Jerry’s. SBA even helped six small businesses partner with NASA to launch the Mars rover, Curiosity, which is exploring the surface of the planet as we speak.
As Administrator, my mission is to make the SBA an agency that’s as innovative as the small businesses we serve. Two out of three new jobs in America are created by small businesses.
Millions of middle class families are working for folks who depend on the SBA’s ability to facilitate access to capital, counseling and contracting opportunities. We must draw on technology to streamline the process of working with the SBA to make it easier for borrowers to access capital and easier for lenders to lend. The SBA must be nimble and agile to keep pace with our digital age.
Remember when a bank was a tall building you walked into, to do business with a teller or a loan officer? Then ATMs came and transformed our relationship to our banks. Today, Americans can use their smart phone to scan their checks and make bank deposits from their living room. The SBA has to anticipate the kinds of rapid changes that are transforming how Americans access financial services, so our products are accessible and relevant in this technological age.
Demographic changes also require fresh thinking. We know there are more retired people who are looking to start a second career and be their own boss. There are more women and more minorities seeking to join the entrepreneurial class. And data shows that immigrants are twice as likely to file patents and twice as likely to start a new enterprise. As Administrator, I plan to embrace them all with a broad, inclusive vision.
I’m determined to get more loans into the hands of entrepreneurs who reflect the diversity of America. We know SBA lending to African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latino-owned businesses, as well as women-owned businesses, can lift up entire communities. SBA must reach more Main Street businesses seeking loans. We’ll do this by making it easier for community banks and micro lenders to become our partners.
Through our vast resource network, we can strengthen entrepreneurial education, which is so important to the one million people who get game-changing SBA counseling every year. We will seed start-up businesses focused in high-growth areas like advanced manufacturing. We must build bridges with rural communities, as well as urban centers alike, so they’re exporting more and are integrated into the global supply chain.
With the President’s support, I’m going to collaborate with my cabinet colleagues to make sure more government contracts are awarded to small businesses.
I’m eager to get to work to help our entrepreneurs grow their companies – and the American economy along with it. At the SBA, taking care of business has been our business for 61 years. This agency has been a pivotal force in America’s economic comeback story, but we’re only getting started.
So let’s get down to business. And I invite you to join me on Twitter at #GettingDownToBusiness to begin that dialogue today.
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How to Use Business Books To Grow Yourself, Your Team, Your Business
Business books are valuable in that they do more than simply teach you how to run your business more smartly. They’re conversation starters, continuing education tools for your staff and more.
The primary benefit of business books is, naturally, that they help you achieve better results in business. Don’t know a thing about social media marketing? Pick up a book and teach yourself. Curious about the latest leadership technique? A book can help you with that too.
Books only help if you commit to reading them. You’re busy. We all are. But if you set a goal for yourself to leverage the knowledge inside books, you end up a smarter business owner.
It’s not necessary to fly across country or spend lots of money on expensive conferences to glean information from business experts. Instead, budget about $150 a year to buy a book each month on Kindle and get all that knowledge (probably more) from the convenience of your favorite easy chair. Don’t have a budget for books? Then don’t forget your local library. Many even offer digital books these days.
Share Your Knowledge
If you blog for your business, books provide great subject fodder. Writing about what you learn is also a wonderful way to process that information and really understand it. As you read, take notes or bookmark pages (yes, you can digitally bookmark as well) so you can come back to pull quotes for your content.
As you continue to master your industry as an expert, you’ll end up imparting what you’ve learned. So that book knowledge can be translated into content for speaking engagements, webinars, social media updates ... even data for your own authored book!
Give It as a Gift
Business books also make fantastic business presents. When you run across a great book, buy copies for key members of your team who you think would benefit and give the books as gifts to each. You could even start a mini book club within your organization and discuss the principles in a book. Not only does this make your team smarter, but it also helps you bond.
Clients appreciate good books too. Send a book you've read to a favorite client along with a note about what you've enjoyed in it (e.g., "I especially loved Chapter 7!") Doing so will build relationships with your clients, and they will appreciate your ongoing investment in your business expertise.
Pay attention when talking to clients or contacts to get clues about what topics they’re interested in. For example, if a long-time client mentions he struggles with analytics, that’s the perfect cue for you to send him your favorite book on the subject. People notice when you pick up on their interests, and it makes for a more personalized gift.
Thirst for More
There will never, ever be a shortage of books. Every day, new ones are published, especially with the surge of self-published authors. It can be a challenge to know which ones are worth reading, and which aren’t. At the next Chamber of Commerce meeting or industry mixer you attend, ask others if they've read any good business books recently. Get recommendations from friends and colleagues. Ask your social network what to read. Join GoodReads and see what your friends are reading. And check out the Small Business Book Awards to see what the community believes are top books for entrepreneurs and small business people.
Make time for reading business books, just like you make time for marketing, sales, and other components of your business. While the results may not be directly obvious, books do help you succeed as a business owner.
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Local Resources Explained – Women’s Business Centers, Export Centers, Veteran Business Outreach Centers, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers
You know from our blog post SBA, SCORE, and SBDCs Explained – 3 Essential Local Resources for Small Business Owners that there are a number of resources available to help your business succeed.
There are also a few resources available to specific small-business audiences such as women, veterans and those interested in guidance about exporting or government contracting.
1. Women’s Business Centers (WBCs)
Women's Business Centers (WBCs) provide counseling, training and networking opportunities for women across the United States and its territories. With a network of nearly 100 educational centers, women around the country can receive tailored assistance to help them start and grow their small businesses. WBCs seek to "level the playing field" for women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the business world.
Offerings vary by location, but you can expect to come into a WBC and get help with questions about developing a business plan; financing and funding sources; certifying your business; bookkeeping; and more.
SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) oversees the WBC network, which provides entrepreneurs (especially women who are economically or socially disadvantaged) comprehensive training and counseling on a variety of topics – and in several languages.
2. Export Assistance Centers
Export Assistance Centers are customized for small business owners and entrepreneurs interested in taking their business global. There are a number of unique challenges you’ll face in the business of exporting, but rest assured that there’s help tailored for your needs!
Staffed with professionals from SBA, Department of Commerce, Export-Import Bank and other public and private organizations, Export Assistance Centers can help you with a variety of topics:
- Trade Counseling: planning and strategy; legal and regulatory issues; documentation and product requirements; trade problems; trade finance and insurance
- Business Matchmaking: contact lists and identifying potential partners; trade missions; trade shows; in-country promotions
- Market Intelligence: country and industry reports; customized market research; background reports; trade data and analysis; commercial diplomacy
Some Export Assistance Centers even have SBA representatives who are available to help you with all of your SBA export financing needs.
3. Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs)
If you’re a veteran interested in entering the business world from the military word, then consider the services available from your local Veterans Business Outreach Center. One of sixteen centers available can assist you with business topics that are unique to you and questions you may have as you enter into your business ventures. So, what can you expect?
- Pre-Business Plan Workshops: You’ll have the chance to work directly with a business counselor during entrepreneurial development workshops.
- Concept Assessments: You’ll get help gauging your entrepreneurial needs and requirements.
- Business Plan Preparations: Important to all business owners is a business plan, so you’ll get help developing and maintaining a business plan.
- Comprehensive Feasibility Analysis: Following the preparation of your business plan, a VBOC will help you identify and analyze its strengths and weaknesses. You’ll use the analysis results to revise the strategic planning portion of the business plan, with the ultimate goal being to increase the likelihood of success.
- Entrepreneurial Training and Counseling: Working with other SBA resource partners, VBOCs conduct entrepreneurial training and counseling sessions specifically for service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs.
- Mentorship: When needed, VBOCs conduct on-site visits to ensure you’re following your business plan. Additionally, VBOCs review monthly financial statements to determine if you should change your business plan to achieve targeted goals.
- Other Business Developmental Related Services: VBOCs also provide assistance and training in topics such as exporting, franchising, marketing, accounting and more.
As you can see, these extensive services can go a long way to help you on your way to success with a career in small-business ownership. Another great benefit of visiting a VBOC is the chance to meet other entrepreneurs like yourself – the opportunity to network and exchange experiences with folks going down a similar path can also be tremendously valuable.
4. Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)
If you’d like to go into business with some of the biggest customers around – the government – then you’ll probably benefit greatly from visiting a Procurement Technical Assistance Center. They provide local, in-person counseling and training services (either for free or at a nominal cost) to enable you to succeed with government contracting. Here are some questions you can expect to answer when you visit a PTAC:
- Is my business ready for government contracting? It’s not the simplest task to pursue government contracts, and can be especially challenging for your company if you don’t have the resources to handle a contract. A PTAC representative can sit with you one-on-one and determine if your business is ready, and help position you for success.
- Where do I register? There are numerous databases to register with to get involved with the government marketplace, including the Department of Defense’s Central Contractor Registration (CCR), GSA Schedules, and other government vendor sites. A PTAC representative can help you determine where and how to register.
- Is my business eligible for any small business certifications? Did you know that some government contracts are set aside for businesses with special certifications? Examples include woman-owned, small disadvantaged businesses and HUBZone businesses. A PTAC representative can help you obtain these certifications if you’re eligible.
- What about contract opportunities? A PTAC representative can look into past contracts to see what types of contracts have been awarded to businesses like yours. This will give you a good idea about the overall business landscape and potential competition. A PTAC can also help you identify and bid on a contract, and if you are awarded the contract, measure your performance and help with contract audits.
So regardless of who you are and what kind of business you’re starting – or the type of business you’d like to do – SBA and its resources partners are here to guide you along the way. You don’t have to go it alone. These and others are available to help you start up, succeed and grow
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Contributor and Moderator