America’s SBDC Positions Small Businesses for Success By Equipping Them with Tools and Guidance

Americas Sbdc Positions Small Businesses For Success

In a Nutshell: Managing a small business can be a challenging endeavor. Small business owners may excel at one aspect of operating their business but struggle with another. America’s SBDC oversees Small Business Development Centers that advise businesses to position them for long-term success. America’s SBDC partners with universities and state agencies to reach businesses across the country.

Anyone who’s attempted to start a business knows that the difference between the success or failure of a new business often comes down to the details. Entrepreneurs need more than a great product or service to offer their customers — they need a business plan that addresses every facet of running their business, including how it will adapt to market conditions as it grows.

America’s SBDC oversees the country’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), which provide guidance and tools to help small businesses succeed. We spoke with Charles “Tee” Rowe, the President and CEO of America’s SBDC, to learn more about the organization’s strategy for guiding small business owners.

America's SBDC logo

Rowe said America’s SBDC began in the mid-1970s as the brainchild of U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker. Rowe said Weicker started the program to bring insights taught in business schools to main streets across the country. He said America’s SBDC operated as a pilot program before President Jimmy Carter signed it into law in 1976.

America’s SBDC is a nonprofit organization partially funded by the U.S. Congress. Rowe said SBDCs operate in every U.S. state and territory. He said SBDCs provide counseling and advisory services to small business owners that can help them overcome obstacles.

Rowe said the mission of America’s SBDC is to reach as many small businesses as it can to assist them with their business practices. He said SBDCs help business owners navigate numerous subjects, including business planning, cybersecurity, search engine optimization, finance, trade, regulations, and human resources.

“It’s a heavy task because we’re trying to offer services to many businesses,” Rowe said. “We’ve developed a system over the years, and we have an accreditation process. Essentially, each of our regions performs a self-assessment to develop their services based on the needs of their community of small businesses. For example, Michigan probably has more services for manufacturing businesses, and Iowa has more value-added efforts centered on agriculture.”

Partners Expand the Reach of America’s SBDC

Many clients that consult with SBDCs have only been in business for one or two years, Rowe said. They engage with SBDCs to learn how to grow their businesses and gain a better understanding of the challenges they encounter. SBDCs consult with approximately 325,000 clients each year and help them access lending opportunities to finance the growth of their businesses.

Charles “Tee” Rowe
Charles “Tee” Rowe is the President and CEO of America’s SBDC.

SBDCs also help clients in need of capital to strengthen their accounts receivable practices, which can improve their cash flow and, in some cases, negate their need for a loan. Rowe said business owners feel comfortable sharing information about their businesses with representatives of SBDCs because of the centers’ commitment to confidentiality.

Small business owners can attest to the importance of organizing their business records. Rowe said SBDCs help businesses organize their bookkeeping efforts and use accounting software. SBDCs also assist companies in developing marketing plans that can help target their customer bases and increase traffic to their businesses, whether they operate solely online or maintain a brick-and-mortar presence.

America’s SBDC partners with a mix of universities, private partners, and state agencies that specialize in economic development. Rowe said the organization engages with schools such as the University of Georgia and the University of the Virgin Islands and works with community colleges in some states, including Arizona and New Mexico.

“We partner with economic organizations and folks who are involved in working with their communities,” Rowe said. “We’re always trying to reach into communities through our partners. And that’s why we have partnerships with Howard University in Washington, D.C., and a lot of other HBCUs. We work with them and other institutions that serve minorities to make sure we’re reaching everyone we can.”

Helping Entrepreneurs Launch Their Businesses

Businesses that develop a world-class product or service aren’t guaranteed success — they have to notify people of their existence and persuade them to purchase their offering. Rowe said America’s SBDC doesn’t have significant resources to promote its services through advertising. Instead, the organization relies on word-of-mouth and its partner network to notify small businesses of its services.

Rowe said America’s SBDC frequently works with chambers of commerce to ensure small business owners are aware of the organization and its resources.

“An amazing silver lining to the pandemic was the number of small businesses that found out about us,” Rowe said. “Our number of clients almost doubled then, which meant we had that much more work to do to help small business owners.”

America’s SBDC is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and the Small Business Administration (SBA) serves as the organization’s program host. Rowe said he collaborates with the SBA to manage and oversee America’s SBDC and ensure it’s progressing toward its goals.

SBDC search tool
Individuals can search online for an SBDC near them.

Individuals interested in starting a small business need a viable and sustainable plan for how their business will earn a profit. Rowe said SBDCs meet with prospective business owners to assess the viability of their businesses.

“Sometimes the best advice you can give someone is not to pursue their idea for a new business,” Rowe said. “We’ll tell someone if it isn’t worth them taking out a second mortgage on their house to finance their business idea.” 

Small business owners must prepare for the costs of establishing and operating a new business venture, and SBDCs offer free advising sessions to help them with that, Rowe said.

“Almost everything we offer is free,” Rowe said. “We try to provide our services at no cost to our clients. There are some specialized services we provide that cost us time and money to develop, and we’ll charge a nominal fee for that. But we keep those costs low. By statute, we’re not allowed to charge fees for our advisory services.”

Small Businesses are the Backbone of the U.S. Economy

Rowe said America’s SBDC has developed relationships with banks and other lenders, but the nonprofit is careful not to direct small business owners to specific institutions for their lending needs. He said the organization recommends that small business owners engage with lenders that specialize in providing financing that will meet their needs.

“The goal for us is helping a client access the best possible funding package for them,” Rowe said. “And that may or may not be an SBA-backed loan. It may be from a private lender or an angel investor. It all depends on the client and their situation.”

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. They create new jobs and drive innovation in the business space. Rowe said as the business world becomes more complex, small businesses require additional assistance. He said businesses with an online presence need to be mindful of best practices in cybersecurity to protect their businesses from bad actors.

Part of being a successful entrepreneur is being open to learning new methods of conducting business. Rowe said entrepreneurs can often run into unforeseen challenges, but every crisis can be a learning opportunity.

“Small business owners should take advantage of the services available to them and get help when they need it,” Rowe said. “They can be successful. Our clients are a testament to that.”