The Best Ways to Get Free Help Starting a Business
Pick up great tips for becoming a successful entrepreneur without spending a dime
Ready to trade in your corporate or nonprofit job for life as an entrepreneur? Regardless of your industry or background, it’s likely that you’ll need to learn a variety of skills to run a successful business of your own.
Fortunately, these days you don’t have to invest a lot of money to get your company off the ground. The opportunities to take advantage of free (or nearly free) entrepreneurial training are greater then ever.
Here are three resources worth checking out if you’re planning to start your own business:
Government programs The U.S. Small Business Administration has timely, helpful advice for entrepreneurs eager to learn about every aspect of entrepreneurship, from getting the word out through social media and raising money to writing a business plan.
The SBA website, SBA.gov, is a rich destination offering free online courses that cover the basics of starting, managing and financing a business. Among them are 30-minute sessions specifically for starting an encore business, including one for women over 50.
The SBA also hosts local workshops and technical classes (some charge a nominal fee) at more than 1,800 locations.
In addition, the SBA has a partnership with SCORE, a nonprofit whose 12,000 volunteers provide training, mentoring and counseling for small business owners.
SCORE holds more than 100 free online webinars on its site, Score.org. Coming up: A May 14 webinar on how to grow your business with email and social media, taught by Ron Cates of Constant Contact, a leading small business advisory firm.
Next Avenue has published a variety of how-to articles by SCORE experts, like "7 Ways to Finance Your Business."
SCORE also provides thousands of in-person training workshops at its branch offices nationwide; there is a small charge for some classes.
Entrepreneurial training One of the best ways to learn about starting a business is to take classes, either online or in person, from experienced entrepreneurs who are actively and successfully doing what you want to do.
I’ve signed up for some myself and especially enjoyed getting marketing tips from Marcia Yudkin of Yudkin.com; advice on creating online videos from David Siteman Garland of Therisetothetop.com; and social media strategies from Amy Porterfield of Amyporterfield.com. (She has a free webinar coming up next week on how to implement a Facebook marketing plan.)
Whether you want to learn how to publish a book, produce a webinar series or create a profitable blog, you’ll find many experienced practitioners eager to impart their knowledge during free introductory sessions, even if “free” sometimes means you’ll have to sit through a not-so-thinly-veiled sales pitch for their products or services.
(MORE: Don’t Get Scammed by Online Business 'Coaches')
To find the best classes taught by entrepreneurs, start with an Internet search on your topic of interest. Once you’ve identified a few quality sites whose owners offer free webinars or seminars, sign up to receive their newsletters and alerts for upcoming instruction.
Free college courses I’m not kidding: you really can attend college for free and educate yourself about launching an enterprise.
There are nearly 7,000 courses, including ones on entrepreneurship and business basics, offered through the OpenCourseWare Consortium, whose members include Tufts, Johns Hopkins and MIT.
For example, Doug Neal, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan College of Engineering, taught the Entrepreneurship Hour seminar series, which is available for free through iTunes.
You won’t receive college credit for OpenCourseWare classes, however, or be able to interact with other students or professors.
Another site worth checking out for free college classes online is Coursera.org, which is somewhat similar to the OpenCourseWare Consortium.
If you’d prefer to attend free classes in person, some colleges allow people over 60 to audit courses on a non-credit basis. That means you can attend lectures without having to take tests or do homework — unless you want to. This arrangement is often called a “senior citizen tuition waiver” program. Look for ones near you by doing an Internet search with that phrase.
You might also find excellent free lectures at your local library or through area business groups. Start making it a point to become an active learner and you’re likely to be delighted by the resources available to cash-strapped entrepreneurs.