There’s nothing close to a shortage of free small business advice online.
Just Google the term and you’ll be inundated with more than you could ever possibly read.
This isn’t a bad thing—it feels great to know that the people on the internet have your back and are ready and willing to offer you advice when you need it.
But at the same time, since most of this advice is written in an article or recorded in a video, the person giving the advice doesn’t know your exact situation.
They’re giving advice based on assumptions of what happens in most business, so the advice isn’t tailored to your specific situation.
They might be giving you great advice and telling you to make sure you have an email autoresponder in place to sell people an introductory offer as soon as they download your lead magnet—but what if you don’t have an introductory offer yet and the only services you sell are really expensive?
What do you “sell” them on then?
Or they might tell you to make more money, you need to raise your prices.
But what if you feel like you’ve already maxed out your prices in your current market and are too scared to jump into a new market without a security net to catch you?
What if they’re telling you to outsource your easy-to-replicate processes to a VA, but you’ve already tried it a few times and it was a complete failure?
The advice in and of itself isn’t bad, but the fact that it isn’t tailored exactly to your business and your current needs inherently means it will fall short at some point.
And while hiring a personal business coach to see you through these problems is always an option, it starts to get pricey after a while—especially when you’re a small business without super gargantuan profits.
Fortunately, there’s places you can go to get personalized attention and advice (for free!) to grow your small business, get past your challenges, and learn how to start off on the right foot in your new venture.
Don’t worry—I’m not going to suggest any blogs or online forums where just anyone can log in and give half-assed advice.
In fact, if it’s online—for this post anyway—it’s off-limits. (I do make one exception, but you’ll see why.)
I want to show you places where you can go to get free, personalized, in-person business advice from people who’ve been there and done it.
SCORE, which stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives, is the ultimate place to get free, quality advice from people who already have a lifetime of experience growing successful businesses.
Every member of SCORE is a retired executive or entrepreneur.
They’ve had incredible successes, experienced crushing mistakes and failures, and have kept going and kept their businesses profitable. And they’ve got a wealth of information, experience, and advice they’re ready to share.
Their core work is to connect small business owners and entrepreneurs to mentors who can guide them in building a successful business.
And better yet, it’s free.
It’s sponsored by the Small Business Administration and a slew of other sponsors like Google, Intuit, Microsoft, Staples, Office Depot, Vistaprint, the Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.
With such high-level names backing the project, you already expect it to be incredible. And from my personal experience, it is.
Where I live, SCORE members are hugely involved in the local entrepreneurial and business community and are always looking for ways to reach out and help us.
Since making my first connections with SCORE members, I’ve been asked to speak at some of their events and received a free panel review from a small handful of retired executives to help me spot how to take the next step in my business when I was feeling stuck.
But even if you haven’t run into SCORE members in person yet, you can still take advantage of their free, personalized advice by requesting a mentor here.
And the advice is there for anyone at any stage of business—not just for people getting started.
For example, Designing Digitally had been in business for 10 years, and though they were successful, their owner was facing new challenges like process, production, planning, sales, marketing, and managing his own task list. So he got in touch with SCORE for some advice.
“Once the mentors helped us work through improving our processes,” the owner said, “we focused on building a stronger pipeline between the sales person and the production team.”
With twice-weekly meetings with their mentors, the company is taking on more workloads and hiring and training sales staff to take them to their next level of success.
2. Community College Small Business Centers
Most community colleges will have a small business center that’s funded at least in part by the government.
The reason they’re there and that the government invests in them is to support the local economy and help bolster its growth. And many times, the best way to do this is to offer support to motivated individuals, as it often proves to be an incredible investment with a great ROI.
The Small Business Center page from the community college in my city sums it up pretty nicely: “We aim to increase the number of viable businesses across the state by providing high quality, accessible assistance to small business owners, which in turn, leads to job creation and retention.”
And one of the main services they offer to help do that is professional business counseling—given at no charge.
They’re there to help you with legal questions, planning, growth, cash flow, setting goals that make sense, and reaching those goals.
They even offer free services like HR, accounting, patents, web design, marketing, and business management.
3. MeetUp – Startup Planning Sessions
I’ll admit: this strategy for getting free, quality business advice is a little more hit-and-miss than the two options mentioned above.
Especially since when you have a free, open-to-the-public group, you’ll inevitably get plenty of wannapreneurs or people who are all talk and no action.
But, if you hone in on the event descriptions of the MeetUp groups, you can really help yourself weed out the bad apples and go where the good (free!) advice is.
Because when you do get a hit, it can be one of the most valuable things ever.
Within entrepreneurial MeetUp groups in your area, look through their past events for these things:
- A healthy number of RSVPs
- Comments from attendees about how valuable the MeetUp was
- Each meeting as a topic of focus
- There’s workshop-style meetings happening where everyone comes to work on their business and not just talk about how great it is to be self-employed
- It’s a group that’s been going strong for more than a few months
And if you really need some good, solid business advice, I’d suggest really looking for and going after MeetUps that are labeled with “workshop” or “working group” or “working session” or something similar.
Another tip is to go for planning-focused sessions. In my city, there’s a MeetUp focused solely around the Lean Startup methodology, and every single meeting is focused around helping attendees plan out their business. The best part is, it’s led by people who have experience starting businesses and making them successful, so if you bring your ideas there, they can give you their own experienced input.
Okay, is technically a website, but the “online” part only matters in that it’s how they match you with a volunteer advisor… and that the advising can happen virtually.
But I think we can all agree that meeting with an advisor (for free!) via Skype is almost as good (if not equally as good) as meeting with one in person—especially when that advisor is hand-picked for your specific situation.
And according to their home page, small businesses who work with an advisor via their program grow their revenues by 26% and create jobs 11 times higher than the national rate—which is not an opportunity to ignore, if you ask me.
The only potential drawback though, is they don’t serve brand new businesses.
The requirements are that you’ve got to have been in business for at least two years, have at least $150,000 in annual revenue, have a minimum of at least two full-time employees, and either be focused around creating jobs economically underserved communities or have a compelling social mission.
But, they do say they’re flexible, so if you don’t meet the criteria 100%, you can still get in touch. (It doesn’t hurt, and honestly, what do you have to lose?)
Each advisor is asked to commit to five hours per month per person they mentor—meaning that’s at least a one-hour call every single week.
Kipper Clothiers, a socially-oriented business that didn’t have the experience to scale as they got more and more orders, turned to BusinessAdvising.org for help when they needed it.
After working with a mentor, the founders restructured their marketing plan, gained new clients, and learned how to put on amazing events.
Angela T. Jones had never run her own business before she started Super Woman Productions and Publishing. And as her business started to grow, she realized she really needed some advice.
Her mentor helped her improve the marketing of her offerings, increase engagement with her target audience, and see the big picture of her efforts.
Okay, I know I promised no websites or forums, but I’m going to include one because it’s just too good not to ignore.
Avoo is a company that helps business owners hire experienced lawyers to help them with their legal issues and problems.
But as a part of their site, they also have a page where you can submit a question and get an answer from a real lawyer for free—often within a day.
Which is perfect if you’ve been Googling yourself silly trying to find an answer to something you just can’t figure out, but you know it’s a question a lawyer could answer easily—so there’s no reason to hire one to consult with you for an hour.
And yes, it’s free.
Here’s the question form where you can request free legal advice without having to pay a lawyer’s hourly consulting fee.
6. Small Business Legal Clinics
Ironically, even though this post isn’t about focusing on websites, I don’t have a single website to point you to for uncovering information on this one.
All I can tell you to do is to Google something like “small business legal clinic + [city]” or “small business clinic + [city]” and maybe substitute “clinic” for words like workshop, center, class, support group, or seminar. “Pro bono” is also a good term to throw in there.
It’s a little bit of work and a little bit of an art, but it doesn’t take that long to figure out if there’s anything near you, and if there is, it can be a great place to go for free, quality business advice.
For example, when I Googled it, I found NC LEAP, which I never even knew existed before.
It provides services to low-wealth entrepreneurs for whom even bootstrapping would be a stretch—helping make sure they get what they need to succeed rather than becoming a statistic of another failed business.
Access to all the legal services for participants are pro bono, meaning the lawyers are offering them on a volunteer basis and they’re free to you as an entrepreneur.
Other events like this include things offered by independent law firms, B2B business who have Pro Bono offerings and events, and you’ll also probably see your community college and SCORE offerings (mentioned above) show up in this search.
7. Women’s Business Centers
The Small Business Association (SBA) started the Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) in 1979 to make sure women—who’ve been historically excluded and under-served in the entrepreneurial world—participate more strongly in the economy.
Beyond training and counseling, the OWBO also offers things like financial resources via business loans, access to procurement opportunities, and local offices where you can connect within your own community.
The tool on this page helps you find Women’s Business Centers in your state—complete with addresses and phone numbers so you know where to go and who to call if you find yourself needing help.
And because they’re a part of the SBA network, they’re also heavily connected with resources like SCORE and community colleges to help you get the most out of all the free resources available to you as a small business owner.
8. Veterans Business Outreach Centers
With 19 different participating centers across the United States, these centers are not as readily available as others, but if you’re a veteran with a small business, they’re definitely something to take advantage of—even if the closest one is two states away.
The program is designed for veteran entrepreneurs who either already own a small business in operation or who are thinking about starting one.
If you’re just thinking about starting your own business, they offer concept assessments, pre-business plan workshops that address issues of self employment, business plan prep, and feasibility analyses to predict your likelihood of success.
And once you’ve got a business up and running, they offer counseling, training on entrepreneurial skills necessary to keep a business growing, mentorship from experienced individuals, and access to services like international trade, online marketing, accounting, and franchising.
Better yet, it’s currently led by Barbara Carson, who herself has 20 years of military experience and who has been an entrepreneur since 2006. She’s someone who’s been there & done that in all aspects of being a military veteran and an entrepreneur, so she’s got your best interests at heart.
In Conclusion: Awesome, Free Advice is Just Waiting for You
So basically, as you can see, awesome, free business advice from kind people who’ve “been there, done that” is out there just waiting for you. All you have to do is take a little bit of initiative to uncover where it’s sitting in your city.
I’ve been floored about how forthcoming and nice people are about helping me when all I do is simply ask for it. And it’s definitely helped me see the bigger picture of my business outside of my own perspective, which has been crucial to planning smart next steps that make sense for growth and not just my own personal comfort.
If you’ve ever used any of these free resources, what did you think about them? (Personally, I think SCORE is my favorite from the list because the people are just so knowledgable and helpful.)