Three years ago, I decided to start on an entrepreneurial journey without really having any concrete ideas of what I needed to do in order to get my business off the ground. And yes, I was connected to small business centers in my local community. I even went so far as to attend a few entrepreneurial bootcamps––the Center for Women in Enterprise offers a fabulous one that can be accessed here. I read incessantly, ask questions, and am constantly being pushed out of my comfort zone. I know, I know, every podcaster, blogger, and influencer says this. And do you know why they make these claims? Because it’s true. What I have learned is that the best investment of your time as an entrepreneur is asking questions from those who have built a business, learning from subject matter experts, and just doing.
So, I’m putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard––whatever makes sense to you) to share some of the resources that helped me along the way, and what I have learned. And for those of you who are penny conscientious, don’t worry, most of what I mention below are FREE resources. Don’t get me started on how many of my friends have complained to me about dropping tens of thousands of dollars into programs that gave them no return. Hence, I digress, and that’s another article for another day. Here are the freebies I know about––from me to you. And you’re welcome in advance (had to throw a little sass in there to keep things interesting).
The Public Library. Remember that bootcamp I mentioned earlier offered by the Center for Women in Enterprise? I got a lot of valuable information from it. One of the most valuable pieces of information I received was how to leverage resources available through my local library. From that bootcamp, I learned what questions to ask my local reference librarian, where to access free market research resources, and so much more. So soon after the course was over, I contacted the reference librarian where I lived. I learned about the business resources available in that location. Then I went hunting. I spoke to many reference librarians thereafter, learning which collections each library location had, what resources could help my business, and how to access each resource. I was surprised at how much data I found on trade associations, other businesses, and my industry of focus. Additionally, I learned how to navigate online subscriptions to platforms like Linkedin Learning through my public library. Most importantly, I learned which databases I could use to generate an initial leads list, online business plan builders, and how to access business ebooks and audiobooks with free apps. There’s just so much information out there! Much of it is easily accessible through a library's website. Others can only be accessed by visiting a local branch or using a third party app. I highly recommend that if you call yourself a business owner or entrepreneur, to see what's available for free because a penny saved is a penny earned, especially when you're starting out. Remember, it’s your tax dollars at work so use it!
Youtube. YouTube was my trusted friend (and advisor) throughout graduate school. It remains a tool I fall back on frequently as an entrepreneur. I've found so many useful YouTube channels that have really helped me understand specific topics that I struggled with or couldn't understand by just reading a book. Also, because the search engine optimization is so robust on the Youtube platform, you can simply type in a question and get some really useful channels with individuals who are highly knowledgeable sharing their experience and skills. I've learned topics such as sales, accounting, and marketing by just looking at YouTube.
Podcasts. Ebooks. Audiobooks. I am a highly auditory learner. So podcasts and audiobooks have been my friend. I have an iPhone so I used Apple podcasts to learn as I travel from place to place or when I am doing mundane tasks that don’t need much brain power like washing the dishes. I normally bookmark items I want to return to while I take on my mundane task, and then take out time to create notes that eventually end up in my business's standard operating procedures (SOPs). I also find other resources to help me learn by listening to podcasts. I've also used a lot of the ebooks and audiobooks that are available through my local library to access books on productivity, sales, marketing, accounting, and management. Often, I get interesting recommendations just by doing a quick search of a library catalog, especially the digital catalog. I highly recommend listening to at least one business audiobook a week and trying to read at least four business-related books a month. Try it, it's easier than you think.
LinkedIn Learning. In general, I've made it a practice to use my local library as a huge resource in helping me in my professional development. I'm able to access LinkedIn Learning through the Boston Public Library’s business online resource page. I personally spend 45 minutes a week going through Linkedin Learning just to learn a new skill. There are lots of executive coaches who have courses on the platform. Many share very useful information, techniques, and strategies on a wide array of topics including management. It takes a while to get a sense of the platform if you are not familiar with it, however, I found that once I got the hang of it, it was time well spent.
CEO Round Tables and Accelerator Programs. For me, that has included participating in accelerator programs such as the LISC Digital Growth Accelerator, Power Forward offered by the Center for Women in Enterprise, and Goldman’s Sachs’s 10,000 Women virtual self-paced accelerator found on Coursera. It is really important to make sure you are part of some kind of entrepreneurial ecosystem.
I really felt my business start to gain traction once I was accepted into Babson College's
Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (BWEL) Program (I graduated in the Fall of 2022). Since graduating from BWEL, I have moved onto the Launch Pad Accelerator which has been useful in helping me with the development of an online platform which will be launching at the beginning of 2024. As one of the top colleges focused on entrepreneurship, I am convinced that Babson has the best pedagogy for business owners to wrap their head around. For female entrepreneurs, there is the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) that has a variety of programming. There’s also the Arthur Blank Center for Entrepreneurship which is rich in resources.
SBA Centers. SCORE has been a great resource in helping me connect to mentors who have deep expertise in the areas where I need help. I initially reached out to SCORE to learn sales and marketing but have learned so much more. During my 1.5 years working closely with a SCORE mentor, I have learned several things about how the organization works. My takeaways are: 1) make sure to interview any prospective SCORE mentor(s) you are matched with and 2) if the rapport is not there, move on to someone new until you find a good fit. From my experience, SCORE mentors who are certified by SCORE are the best. They understand the full breadth of the resources available through the network. They also have been doing things for a while so they have a better sense of whether they can or cannot help you. I have a mentor who is a “generalist” (that’s what he calls himself). He is very skilled at bringing me back down to Earth when I get lost in the clouds. He provides support on business strategy, business development and sales. For any other matters including legal, accounting, marketing and closing sales, he refers me to other SCORE mentors who he terms as “specialist”. These are usually retired professionals who have deep expertise in both the industry and the subject matter area I need support in. This strategy has worked well for me, as a business owner.
Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC). PTAC is a wonderful resource if you are interested in public sector contracting. PTAC has its own accelerators also known as APEX. I am a member of my local PTAC where I have been able to learn about how to access contracting opportunities at the municipal, state, and federal levels. I receive one-on-one coaching along with assistance navigating BidMatch, a resource that catalogs all federal and state opportunities across the nation. The only way to access BidMatch is through your local PTAC. I have also leveraged information from procurement centers or PTACS in other states. My favorite is the Catalyst Center in Huntsville, AL which has a lot of virtual information and training sessions that are very useful when starting out in the public contracting world. My other favorite PTAC is the APEX accelerator available through the University of Texas at Arlington. Both allow individuals from any state to attend their sessions. What I love about the UT Arlington APEX accelerator is that they also have a lot of recording and training materials on their program page. This is very useful if you don’t have the time but need a quick start.
Okay, so how are we doing? Is your head spinning yet? If it’s not, check out A Crash Course in Small Business Certifications (Installment 1). All that is required is just the time investment. And feel free to leave a comment below about your experience or drop me an email.