Where there’s a united interest in a cause, there’s a community for it. Small businesses are no stranger to community and there are many organizations available today that help entrepreneurs connect, become noticed and learn valuable insight from peers. These organizations have their roots in small business and if you’re not aware of them already, you should be.
SCORE (“Service Corps Of Retired Executives”)
SCORE is a non-profit organization with 364 chapters nationwide focused on advising small businesses and entrepreneurs. According to their website, they counsel over 20,000 businesses a year and have been credited for known businesses like Vermont Teddy Bear Co. and Jelly Belly, among others. SCORE offers a library of resources and helpful information online including the face-to-face community local chapters provide.
Small Business Meetups
Don’t knock this yet! Meetups are the less formal way of hosting themed discussions in your local area. There are a number of small business related meetups going on everyday across the country. Meetups are a great way to find a good organization to connect with given a set of search terms. (Examples include WordPress, Social Media, SEO, Marketing) and just plug in your ZIP code and you’ll see what Meetups are happening locally.
Local Chamber of Commerce
The local Chamber of Commerce (in your area) is a great place to meet established and aspiring entrepreneurs. Chambers provide a sense of unity because they often desire to link small business initiatives to the growth and expansion of the local area. Some chambers are more tech-savvy than others, so definitely check them out to diversify your meetings and ideas for your business.
Kiva is a must if you’re interested in helping other entrepreneurs – globally – start and grow their businesses. We’re talking people in third-world countries who are given the opportunity to start a small business that can take their families out of poverty, and into a self-sufficient way, all through “loans” as small as $50. Infusionsoft is among thousands of “teams” who contribute to their micro-lending efforts. Be a part of this organization and give back. You’ll feel better knowing you’re supporting men and women abroad who are trying small businesses abroad.
Social Media Club
While not directly aimed at small business, the emerging group, Social Media Club, has become the local thought leader in many local areas on social media. Between DC and Phoenix, I can assure you that plenty of small businesses attend and the topics are beneficial for every small business owner to understand. This niche group has grown to a larger organization spanning the globe on the interest of discussing new-age online media.
SBA Local (“Small Business Administration”)
Lately, the government gave the Small Business Administration website a makeover and has provided local resources to help small businesses across the States. While the SBA doesn’t regularly host in-person meetings, knowing your local SBA will prove helpful to connect with their SBA leaders as they are aware of regulatory changes, tax codes and just about anything related to operating a business. The SBA website has online training and resources so business owners can formulate their business plans and leverage helpful tools to make sure they’re up to code with federal requirements.
American Express OPEN Forum
Non-profit isn’t the first thing you think of with the largest financial services company geared towards business, but hold on a second. American Express has put together the best of the best resources in this online forum that keeps small business owners coming back for more. The site is informative, but not interactive if you don’t have an American Express card … but if you’re a member, you can participate with the online community, their discussion forums and comment on blogs posted by top contributors. Topics are diverse including marketing, sales, financing, lifestyle, management and much more.
StartupNation is a growing online community with live events. Their online community, blog and community resources are constantly growing. Aimed at the entrepreneur and people starting a business, the community is there to help you kick-start your “great idea” into a “great business.” Infusionsoft is a proud supporter of StartupNation. They provide a useful email newsletter that provides a digest of highlights found on the site.
Business.Gov is the new authority from our federal government on small business resources. As noted in a comment from one of our readers, Caron Beesley, “Business.Gov is an official site of the U.S. Small Business Administration. The site (and its user community) connect business owners and entrepreneurs with information and resources they need to comply with laws and regulations, and to take advantage of government programs and services to help them start, expand and run their businesses. It also includes essential guides on starting-up, getting financing, managing employees, marketing, taxes, loans and grants and more.” They can be found on Twitter as @BusinessDotGov and Facebook.
eight nine organizations, groups and clubs offer a lot of expertise and connections for small businesses. Just like anything else, they will only prove helpful for you if you’re active and attend. These groups don’t take impersonal pitching lightly, so go there to meet and talk with other people, not push your products or services.
I don’t want to neglect a few other opportunities for you to connect with like-minded small businesses. Twitter is a great place to listen to the latest buzz — just search for the keyword you’re interested. Location is huge for relevance, so try checking the latest buzz from your three-letter airport code (e.g., PHX for Phoenix). Discovering what others care about is a great place for you to casually insert yourself without becoming a nuisance.
LinkedIn has grown very noisy lately, so I recommend signing up to only a few relevant groups so your email inbox doesn’t get inundated. On that note, it’s always a good idea to keep your LinkedIn profile current with your current ventures.
Do you know of a great small business group? Share it in the comments and let other small businesses know about it.
Updated 5/4/2010: Thanks to Caron Beesley who commented and let me know I totally forgot about Business.Gov. Thanks!
[Image credit: woodleywonderworks]