The United States governments wants to help you start a business and will give you the money to do it. At the very least, they can back up your loans. As part of my research for this story, I attended multiple webinars hosted by the Small Business Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. I highly recommend them, and especially the Q&As after where would-be entrepreneurs just like you ask surprisingly insightful and honest questions.
Most of these webinars offer myriad links to government websites and nonprofits, and for this story, I thought I would share some of them. I was blown away by the sheer breadth of material available for the business-minded American. For the most part, you need not be a veteran to take advantage of these services, though this list will lean heavily on veterans resources. (Note that most things offered through the SBA have a civilian counterpart, so do not fret if you never wore a uniform.)
One thing I’ll say right up front is that isn’t listed here is that you should get a good accountant when starting a business. Not H&R Block or such, but a local accountant who can go through all your old H&R Block tax returns and find the thousands of dollars you are likely owed by the federal government, and file amendments to get you money. A good accountant can also give you advice to start your business off right—everything from corporate structure to basic record keeping, because if there’s one thing you do not want, it is a surprise involving the Internal Revenue Service. And the IRS love surprises.
10 Ways the Government Can Help Your Small Business
Here are 10 things the government and nonprofit organizations offer to help get you out of the cube farm and go into business for yourself.
1. Plan It, Start It, and Fund It
The Small Business Administration website is a gold mine for would-be entrepreneurs, with information on everything from the basics—how to write a business plan—to next level things like how to contract with the federal government. The SBA also offers a “lender match” program to help you find a government-backed loan up to $2 million to start your business.
All across the country, Boots to Business holds seminars that teach you to “reboot” your career to that of an entrepreneur. The curriculum centers on foundational knowledge—particularly for how to access startup funds, and how to win government contracts.
3. Need a Filing Cabinet? A Crate of Hammers? Acquire Federal Surplus Property Here
This was one of the interesting finds I learned from the entrepreneur lecture series that I never expected. We all know that the federal government is constantly disposing of old supplies as they acquire new ones. What you might not know is that they set aside a good bit of this for veteran-owned small businesses. And the stuff on offer gets pretty wild. If you are starting a STEM consultancy helping students, for example, you can get, free of change, old Space Shuttle tiles and astronaut food packages, as a way of bringing the American space program to people who might never have experienced it.
Like the SBA, the U.S. General Services Administration also runs a Federal Surplus Personal Property Donation Program, wherein you can acquire used government gear. Are you starting to see the lengths to which the government is going to help you get your business off the ground?
A few years ago, I wrote about an earlier version of this program, in which the government certifies that your business is, in fact, veteran-owned, and that it meets the criteria for doing business with the federal government. I said it then and I’ll say it now: This is a pretty intense process, and involves a lot of paperwork, records, and explanations for the hows, whats, and whys of your business. Once you are in, however, you have a lot of new opportunities at your disposal.
The Federal Contracting page can be pretty intense simply because of the vast amount of things and services the government needs to keep running. But the thing most stressful is the sense of the impossibility of it all. How do I, a carpenter, compete against multi-billion firms? This website tells you literally everything you need to know. And remember: the government sets aside a nice percentage of work specifically for small businesses. So the odds are more in your favor than you think.
There is a lot of truth to the “old boys network,” which can oftentimes leave women entrepreneurs without the support they might need to get a business going, and grow it to be successful. The Association of Women’s Business Centers aims to help with that. Note that the SBA’s Ascent program aims to achieve the very same goals, and can be found here.
Look, setting up a company is hard work, and especially if you want to do business with the federal government, it can feel overwhelming in the extreme. Thankfully, there is a nationwide network of training services designed specifically to teach you how to run a business and make it a success. The important thing to understand about these services is that they know the answers to questions you never even thought to ask, and they know where to find services you never knew existed.
Step 1 for any business is to take the “Business Idea Quiz,” which allows you to organize your thoughts in black and white and find the flaws in your startup idea, and correct them. Once you’ve done that, if you live in the Midwest, a service called VetBiz can offer guidance and support to veteran-owned businesses at any stage, from planning to growth. It also offers networking opportunities and a CEO round-table.
Those veteran certifications I mentioned previously? The ones so difficult to get? The SBA can help you get your paperwork in order. The SBA has a national network of offices pretty much everywhere that can offer you one-on-one guidance for how to get things done. Your tax dollars already paid for it, so make a call and get on their calendar. It could change your life forever.