Business owners of all stages of business have the same question when looking to start or expand their business: what’s the next step?
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is where to go to find that answer. There are over 60 SBDC networks across the nation, including one in North Dakota and one in Montana, who work to provide free, 1-on-1 business advising and low to no-cost training for business owners. Each network has a Lead Center, often located in a higher education institution, as well as several advisors in offices across the region. Paul Smith (Fargo and SE ND Center Director) and Chad Moore (Montana State Director) shared with us more about the SBDC and how they can help business owners on their journey to success.
Paul Smith – Fargo and SE ND Center Director
North Dakota SBDC
Chad Moore – State Director
Q. What is the Small Business Development Center?
Moore: The national SBDC program began over 40 years ago as part of the SBA’s Small Business Development Act of 1980. The MT SBDC opened in 1989, with our Lead Center located at the MT Department of Commerce in Helena. We have 10 centers and 16 small business advisors located across the state.
Smith: North Dakota’s SBDC program started in 1986, with our Lead Center located at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. We have 10 business advisors located in eight service centers across the state. I am the Center Director for the Fargo and SE region, which covers 11 counties in this area of North Dakota.
Q. What makes the SBDC unique compared to other resource partners?
Smith: The SBDC provides 1-on-1 business advising with full-time, credentialed business advisors who are experts on a diverse range of business topics…all at no cost. We also have access to licensed business planning, industry and market tools, and financial projection software that can help clients determine whether there is enough demand or a large enough market for their business to be successful, as well as financial projections to show them what it’s going to take to get there.
Moore: The SBDC is the only SBA resource partner that’s accredited, meaning that we have to meet a national standard to be a Small Business Development Centers. The program exists across the U.S. which allows us to share best practices, explore new opportunities, and collaborate on similar issues related to small businesses across the nation. When entrepreneurs and business owners work with our advisors in Montana, they are working with knowledgeable and experienced professionals who are certified and experts in a variety of topics.
Q. What areas of business can the SBDC provide assistance on? And is it for anyone?
Moore: What’s great about the SBDC is that we can help businesses of all stages…from pre-venture all the way through business succession. There are so many topics we can help with, including registration, business plans, strategic planning, financial projections and analysis, feasibility, cybersecurity, buying and selling a business, marketing, exit strategies, market research, and so much more.
Q. What is the most common misconception you hear about the SBDC?
Smith: People often think we are a bank or financing institution, or that we are the SBA. They also assume that we charge a fee for our services. When we are able to explain to them that we are aa SBA partner that provides free, 1-on-1 business advising and trainings, they often tell us that we are one of the best kept secrets in the business world.
Q. What is most rewarding about what you do at the SBDC?
Smith: I love what I do. It’s really gratifying to work with a client from conception all the way to commercialization, attend their grand opening, and then reconnect to help them with some financial analysis after they have been in business for a year or two. I enjoy helping them achieve their goals and realize their full potential. There’s nothing better than seeing that success and getting to play a small part in it.
Q. What words of advice do you have for small business owners?
Moore: Being a small business owner isn’t easy, so don’t try to do it on your own. Seek help when you need it. Find a mentor and reach out to programs like the SBDC for guidance. Even if we don’t have the answer, we often operate as a front door to other programs and partners and can help find someone who does.
Q. How can business owners connect with you or get started?
Smith: The best way to contact us is through our website. That’s the entry point, and someone from our Lead Center will follow up and connect you with the best advisor.
Moore: We recommend that business owners reach out to us on our website, where they can contact a regional center or representative in their area, or give us a call at our Lead Center and we can point them in the right direction.
Contact your local SBDC:
North Dakota – https://ndsbdc.org/ or 701-777-3700
Montana – https://sbdc.mt.gov/ or (406) 841-2747