Thursday, May 24, 2012

Startup America -- Real Tools and Resources to Help Your Business Thrive

Nobody will argue too hard with the commonly held belief that small businesses make up the lifeblood of our economy. Or that government should either encourage their growth or at least eliminate the annoying obstacles that tend to stifle it. But the sticky question is how can government make itself most effective in seeing to it that fledgling startups are able to make that crucial leap to becoming successful companies---or that small businesses can transform themselves into thriving businesses? Traditional thinking might go something like this: target certain entrepreneurs and then use taxpayer dollars to provide direct assistance in the form of subsidies, grants, benefits, or the like. But this approach very often proves as ineffective as it is costly. The Startup America Partnership, sponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA), is taking a different approach, and the early results look promising. Instead of targeting the entrepreneurs themselves, the program is identifying the resources these entrepreneurs will need and the obstacles they will face. And then instead of solving the problem with taxpayer dollars, the program brings together an alliance of the country's most successful private corporations, universities, and other entities, which can contribute many of these resources and/or reduce many of the obstacles.

So what are some of the details of this program and how can an everyman business owner take advantage of it? Well, first let's see if you qualify. If your company has at least two founders or employees and has been around since 2006, you qualify. Or if your company has been around since 2001 and has at least six founders or employees, you also qualify. So the first thing you will want to do is use this link to apply for your free membership. Once you become a registered member, you get free advertising right away. Your company name, description, logo, and website will immediately be displayed in the organization website's Startup Directory. Your company name and contact information will then be sent to Startup Region leaders in your state, so that they can get in contact with you about local assistance available in your area.

But the most significant benefit you will see is your immediate access to thousands of resources that suddenly become available right at your fingertips. And the list keeps growing all the time. These resources can provide help to your business in any of several areas. And you can discover them and categorize them simply by searching and sorting on the organization website's Resources Section. Here are just a few examples of the types of free or discounted resources you will find available to you:

  • Talent recruiting: Need to find the best and the brightest to work for your company? If so, you can get:

    • Free or discounted recruiting software;
    • Free training seminars, either online or on-site;
    • On-demand access to advisors or library resources
  • Planning and accounting: Every business, no matter how small, needs good business planning and accurate accounting. Among the offering in this area are:

    • Free business planning advice and consultation from experts;
    • Free or discounted payroll management software;
    • Free analytics tools
  • Materials:

    • Big discounts on computers and peripherals;
    • Free computer office software;
    • Free online web conferencing/meeting software;
    • Big discounts on office furniture
  • Legal assistance:

    • Discounted legal counsel services;
    • Free incorporation packages;
    • Free patent or trademark consultation
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Would you like more free publicity for your company? The Partnership will promote guest blog posts and will provide materials for your website and give you help in managing and promoting your social media accounts. It can also get you free or discounted advertising for your company's website. Do you want to tap the experience and knowledge base of people in your business area? The Partnership's community of high-growth startups will connect you with other entrepreneurs so that you can share experiences and collaborate with them. In addition, the Partnership is continually working with top experts to provide free webinars and training sessions. The schedule of these sessions is continuously being updated. The Partnership also provides a continually-updated list of contests, events, and conferences aimed at helping small companies like yours scale their businesses successfully.

The Startup America Partnership is still fairly young. It was launched in January of 2011 and is still growing. New corporate partners are being added all the time. Is it succeeding? In terms of interest and enthusiasm, the answer is a resounding yes. But in terms of success as measured by how robustly startup companies are growing and how many jobs they are creating, it's still too early to tell. The impact of the program will be more easily measured as the SBA tracks member companies over longer periods of time.  As they do this, they are also tracking which tools and resources are being used the most and which are working the best. In this way, the program itself will continuously improve and so will the member companies.

But to a qualified small or startup business owner, the decision to join seems like a no-brainer. When you consider the cost (zero), the effort to sign up (negligible), and the resources you will gain access to (plenty), it's not hard to see why joining the Startup America Partnership can be the boost that gives your young business the vital growth injection it needs.

Christopher Wallace, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, has more than 20 years experience in sales and marketing. At Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of custom pens and other promotional items such as imprinted apparel and customized calendars. Christopher is focused on providing quality marketing materials to small, mid-size and large businesses. He regularly contributes to Promo Marketing Wall blog.

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