I grew up in northern Indiana. Elkhart, IN to be exact. We are the “RV Capitol of the World,” so they tell me, and the “Band Instrument Capitol of America.” You may be able to tell by these “lofty” titles that Elkhart isn’t a big town. I spent a semester in London studying abroad in college—but besides that, I’ve always lived in a small town. And that’s good enough for me. I guess it’s kind of like that John Cougar Mellencamp song we Hoosiers love so much.
All in all, it’s a happy coincidence that I like small towns, because my husband’s military career has routinely taken us to small places—without my consent or choice. These towns didn’t boast a lot of 24-hour restaurants or even many open-past-9 pm restaurants—but it’s been in these towns that I’ve learned the ropes of entrepreneurship, worked for myself, and discovered how to stand on my own proverbial feet as a business owner.
Over the years I’ve used a lot of resources. I’ve tried loads of techniques for getting myself up and running every time we’ve moved. Some things have been obvious, some things have been more inventive. Today, I’m sharing a list of seven community resources that have proved helpful to me in the past. These are places you can tap in to, whether you live in a metropolis, or an itty bitty city like me.
1. Young Adults
Young adults (those between 18-28ish) are a great business resource to tap in to. And lots of them have side jobs—I know all kinds of people who moonlight as DJ’s, social media consultants, makeup artists, etc. While they may have a day job, many are interested in earning extra cash by sharing their miscellaneous skills and knowledge (think social media campaigns, design expertise, consulting, and techy skills). Because they are early in their careers they often have time, energy and willingness to share their knowledge and skills.
If you fall into the young adult age range consider joining the Young Professional group in your community. Or check and see if your town offers a Young Adult Facebook page. While the Young Adult Facebook page is more of a social setting, you can plug your events, ask for advice, and post your needs on the page—for free. And you’ll probably meet some fun people too.
If you have aged out, don’t worry. You can still get in touch with either of these groups. Tell them what you are looking for and chances are they’ll be able to connect you with someone who will be able to help.
2. Arts Council
If you have any artistic needs look in to your local arts council. Send them an email or stop by their office. Those that work for this nonprofit will have a pulse on local artists and will be able to direct you to someone who can best fill your needs. Whether you are looking for a web designer, graphic design, photography, or a mural on your office wall—they’ll be able to point you to an artistic professional. Free lance artists can often offer a lower rate than working with a large design firm, they may also be interested in a skills swap in which you trade your skills or services for theirs.
3. Universities and Colleges
A local college offers a host of possibilities to a small business owner. Many students are seeking real-world experience to build their resumes and portfolios. Additionally some professors are looking for projects for their classes. Think about your needs and get in touch with the appropriate department head.
I’ve seen video production classes produce commercials and multi-media classes create a small business campaigns. I’ve known students eager to freelance their skills as web designers, graphic designers, social media consultants, photographers, etc. I’ve also known professors who take on free lance work in their specific field. You won’t know what all the possibilities are until you ask around campus.
4. SCORE and SBDCs
SCORE stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives and SBDC stands for Small Business Development Center. Both offer free advice and resources to small business start ups from professionals. Every community I’ve ever lived in has had one or both of these resources. The SBDC in Enid, OK helped me get up and running for the first time. I attended a free tax seminar, had one-on-one mentoring and was advised on laying out my business plan. If you are just starting out, I highly recommend looking in to your local chapters and gleaning all the knowledge you can from the mentors in these organizations. Also check out their websites for blog posts, events and webinars.
5. Public Library
Many local libraries offer free grant finding/writing resources and workshops on all kinds of useful things like Word, spreadsheets, presentations, social media, and taxes. Some libraries have Small Business resource centers. Libraries also offer subscription based databases that give you access to community demographics. And don’t forget shelves full of texts with sample business plans and other written information that can help with business start up.
6. Local News Media
Local media is a free way to tell the community at large about your business. If you are preparing to open, having an event, or doing something unique—get in touch with your local paper or news station and tell them. Some stations have online submission forms that make it easy to pitch a story. If an online submission isn’t an option, call the news desk and ask how you can submit a story idea.
Additionally, some stations have non-news feature shows (like a morning show or noon show) that focus on community events and businesses. Remember, news outlets are looking for stories to fill up their broadcasts, websites and print editions—so go on and promote yourself.
7. Adult Learning Center
Many communities, even small ones, have adult learning centers that offer a wide variety of classes. While you usually have to pay for classes, they are typically inexpensive and useful for a new start up. Classes may include tax workshops, photography basics, web design, spreadsheets, social media, PhotoShop, and graphic design. If you already have a handle on these basics, consider teaching a class at your local Learning Center. Teaching a course can be an effective way to bring in a little extra income, spread the word about your business and engage with potential customers.