For many small business owners or hopefuls, the process of starting and maintaining a business can be daunting, to say the least.
Once the challenge of launching the business has been met, small business owners are then tasked with growing the company, or perhaps one day passing it on.
It’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed.
Fortunately, that’s where the U.S. Small Business Administration (U.S. SBA) comes in.
As a federal agency with an administrator who sits on the presidential cabinet, the U.S. SBA’s goals come from as high up as Congress and the White House.
Objectives are developed from U.S. census information, as well as the small business census, and are built around launching, growing, and transitioning businesses.
With 68 district offices across the nation, each state is equipped with myriad helpful resources.
“Small businesses are the pillar of the economy,” said Jaime L. Wood, newly appointed director of the U.S. SBA’s South Dakota District Office. “It’s quite a pool of folks we’re trying to serve.”
Wood, a Mobridge, SD native, recently took over the role of District Director in the South Dakota office, after working in both the North Dakota District Office and the U.S. office in Washington, D.C. Prior to her career with the U.S. SBA, Wood worked in the U.S. Department of the Army, in addition to serving in the military as a broadcast journalist.
In the South Dakota office, Wood leads a team of seven, six of whom are based in Sioux Falls, and one who works from Rapid City. The role of the district office, says Wood, is to extend the U.S. SBA’s reach to the local environment.
South Dakota is part of the SBA’s Rocky Mountain Region, which covers South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Montana. According to Wood, there are some differences in how programs are implemented both by state and by region, based on the areas’ needs.
Wood says the office has four main areas of concentration when it comes to helping out small business owners. These are small business counseling and training, lending and capital, access to federal contracting, and disaster assistance.
In order to extend the reach of these services, SBA also works with and funds partner organizations within the state of South Dakota, most of which are non-profits.
These include the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Women’s Business Center (WBC), the Veterans Business Outreach Center of the Dakotas (VBOC), and SCORE.
Explore the SBA’s service areas
The SBA is committed to breaking down barriers and assisting underserved populations.
Through VBOC, they’re able to serve veterans, a demographic Wood says is often behind as far as earning capital or building credit goes. They also face an array of other challenges, from PTSD to health setbacks, and more.
Women and minorities are also focus areas for the SBA, as they have historically faced many challenges in the small business landscape.
Additionally, the South Dakota office is charged with serving both urban and rural populations. In more isolated, rural areas, small businesses are truly crucial to the community, says Wood.
“If Mobridge, South Dakota has two grocery stores and one closes, that’s a really big deal,” said Wood. “Or if a tractor supply shop closes and a farmer has to drive 100 miles to get the tools he needs, that’s an issue. We have to figure out how to combine federal resources for support for these small communities.”
Through their focus areas and services, the SBA seeks to empower business owners and communities to achieve economic success.
Counseling & Training
Meeting with an SBA counselor can provide a powerful base for someone just starting out.
“Small business isn’t for everybody,” said Wood. “When you get in front of a counselor, they’ll lay out the reality, and sometimes the timing and conditions aren’t right. They’ll help you take the steps to get prepared.”
Wood likens the SBA counselors to professional coaches for athletes.
“None of those players do it by themselves,” she said. “They have talent, but they also have constant coaching. Our SBA resources provide that coaching.”
An SBA counselor can help flesh out your business idea, and create a business development plan. Having a structured plan makes it easier for lenders to commit to a business.
In addition to counseling sessions, the SBA offers online training as well. These include everything from managing your business taxes, to insurance, to digital marketing, and the legal ramifications of owning a business.
Beyond the initial stages, SBA counselors are available to guide you as your business grows and even help plan for retirement, whether that means selling the business or passing it on to a family member.
Lending & Capital
When it comes time to seek out lenders, the SBA is a great place to start.
While they don’t offer direct lending, the SBA has a selection of loan products that they back, including microloans ($50,000 or less). These are designed for people who haven’t developed much credit yet, often new business owners.
According to Wood, these microloans help small businesses navigate the lending ladder.
“As you build your credit and go up the ladder, you’ll be eligible for larger loans as you grow,” she said.
They also offer an online Lender Match program that functions as a referral tool for banks and investors. When businesses submit an application to the program, it’s automatically sent out to lenders across the nation. Typically, interested lenders will respond within 24-48 hours.
As time goes on, a business owner may be interested in pursuing a government contract, and the South Dakota office has a specialist who deals with that process.
“We help get small businesses ready to apply, bid, and accept federal contracts because there’s a specific process that has to be followed,” said Wood.
When disaster strikes, the SBA offers low interest loans to help businesses recover. Regionally, they work with FEMA to monitor the levels of damage caused by disasters like tornadoes or flooding.
If a business suffers damages or setbacks, they can submit requests for assistance to the SBA via their local district office.
Getting started with the SBA
If you’re ready to start taking advantage of all the resources the SBA has to offer, a great first step is meeting with a counselor at the South Dakota office.
The office is located at 2329 N Career Ave #105, Sioux Falls, SD 57107, and its hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Walk-ins are welcome, but you can also call 605-330-4243 to make an appointment.
All services available through the SBA are free of charge, and Wood encourages registering online before coming in to gain access to even more resources.
If timing or location pose an issue for you, the SBA offers virtual counseling sessions in addition to its wide variety of online resources. Resources are also available in Spanish, and a translator can be requested for counseling sessions, whether in-person or virtual.
Two Things You Can Do This Week:
- Browse the catalog of online classes at the SBA Learning Center, and take one—they’re free!
- Stay up-to-date on SBA happenings by following the South Dakota office on Twitter, or signing up for email updates from the U.S. Small Business Administration.