What is the SBA?

A group of female small business owners plan their business strategy on a whiteboard.Image: A group of female small business owners plan their business strategy on a whiteboard.

In a Nutshell

The Small Business Administration, or SBA, is a U.S. government agency that supports small businesses and entrepreneurs. The SBA offers resources like training and educational materials for small business owners — and it has a service that matches SBA-approved lenders with small businesses in need of financing.
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The SBA is a government agency designed to support the growth and advancement of small businesses and entrepreneurs. The SBA provides resources to help small businesses start and grow their operations. It also has a loan program that connects small businesses with different financing options.

Over the years, the SBA has helped entrepreneurs all over the nation with loans, contracts, counseling and other types of assistance.

What does the SBA do?

The SBA assists small businesses in four main areas: financing, education and training, government contracting, and providing a voice in policy matters. These programs are aimed at helping entrepreneurs start their businesses and keep them thriving.

Business financing

When small businesses need money, they can find information from the SBA on various funding options, including loans that are guaranteed by the SBA (the SBA’s backing can make loans easier to get, with more flexible lending requirements). The SBA aims to connect small businesses with affordable lending options that are suitable for different needs.

“When business owners are ready, they can access SBA’s LenderMatch at sba.gov/lendermatch, a free online referral tool that connects small businesses with participating SBA-approved lenders,” says Jessica Mayle, spokesperson for the SBA Illinois District.

Education and training

With an emphasis on technical assistance and specific support for planning, managing and growing your business, the SBA offers online courses as well as in-person consultations that can help strengthen a business owner’s entrepreneurial skills.

Government contracting

According to federal law, the government has a goal of giving 23% of contracting dollars to small businesses. The SBA helps to connect small-business owners with government contract opportunities, and offers guidance on how to win contracts.

Giving small businesses a voice

The SBA aims to give small businesses a voice in today’s marketplace through its Office of Advocacy. This arm of the agency does independent research on key areas of interest and speaks up for small businesses before Congress and other policymakers.

How the SBA can help you start a business

Have a business idea but don’t know where to start? The online and personal consulting resources offered by the SBA can help you put together a business plan. The SBA can also offer valuable tools for a strong launch.

1. Writing a business plan

Having a full business plan is a must if you’re going to try to get financing for your small business. A business plan can also help you map out future expansion opportunities and outline the development and financing you’ll need to make it all happen. The SBA has a course that walks you through a detailed business plan.

2. Data statistics and market research

From market research and competitive analysis to helping you calculate and scope out funding for your startup, SBA resources can assist you with the statistics and info you need to develop your idea and act on it.

3. Classifying a business and finding funding

Besides helping you decide which business structure to use, the SBA may be able to connect you with specialized funding opportunities depending on your situation too. There may be specific opportunities for veterans, women and minorities that the SBA can help you find.

Knowing which business structure to use and understanding all the funding options may influence how you finance your startup.

4. Tax resources

Your small business will likely have certain tax obligations to meet. State and local tax laws vary, and tax treatments differ according to business structure. The SBA can help connect you with info and advice on how federal and state taxes affect your particular business.

Growing your business with the SBA

The SBA is a valuable resource even for experienced business people, when they want to expand their businesses or make changes. If you’re an established small-business owner, here’s what you can find.

1. Learning center

The SBA has an online learning center with free courses that can help prepare you to take your business global, write government contract proposals and get insights into the needs of your customers.

2. Business analysis help

Knowing how your business compares with its competitors in your industry can help you build a long-term winning strategy. The SBA’s Analyze Your Business tool is designed to benchmark your business, help you map your customers, competitors and suppliers, and uncover opportunities for advancing your company.

3. Marketing

The SBA has info online to help you organize and map out a marketing strategy to grow your business. There are also courses in the learning center to boost your marketing know-how.

4. Local events

The SBA has many local district offices throughout the U.S. The agency also contributes funding to Small Business Development Centers, which are often hosted through universities and provide networking and training opportunities.

Next steps

If you run a small business or are planning to start one, the SBA’s support can give you a leg up. With district offices throughout the U.S., in addition to what you can access online, finding support from the SBA is easy.

By taking advantage of all the programs, training and resources, you can gain valuable insight to start and grow a successful small business.

About the author: Aja McClanahan is a Chicago-based writer and blogger who covers topics on personal finance and entrepreneurship. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champai… Read more.