In Philadelphia, Small Businesses Get Plenty of Support

Where the city's entrepreneurs can find help.

One thing people don’t realize when they start a small business is that it’s a cold and lonely world out there. Where once you were getting a paycheck, eating lunch with your officemates and tossing 10 bucks into the March Madness pool, you’re now sitting alone in an office with a rent bill coming due, a huge customer receivable that just went past 60 days, and a contractor performing critical work for your client who’s been AWOL for the past week. Welcome to small business ownership!

But there’s help. There’s therapy. And yoga. And Jack Daniels. And there are people and organizations all over the Philadelphia area that can provide assistance—very low-cost (and free) assistance that will make your job as CEO, Chief Collections Officer, HR Manager and Lion Tamer a little easier. I’ve been running a small business here for the past 20 years that currently services about 600 other small businesses in the area. I’ve had experience with many helpful local organizations that support the small business community.

Wharton Small Business Development Center. The center, part of Penn’s entrepreneurial hub, provides free educational programs and consulting for startups and existing small businesses. A few years ago, a client of mine took part in a Wharton SBDC program where a bunch of Penn undergrads (supervised by professors and grad students) helped them with a marketing research study. All businesses can take advantage of the Center’s technology consulting and financial advice and programs conducted by the Center’s team of instructors from Penn and the local business community.

SCORE Philadelphia. SCORE is a non-profit association funded in part by the Small Business Administration. Our local office provides seminars, consulting, research and services to any small business that raises its hand. Historically, the organization has been made up primarily of retired business people and professionals. I have had clients that enjoyed the consulting advice, and others who found it completely worthless. It all depends on the consultant. If you’re going to use SCORE, remember that there are many members who contribute their time, so be choosy and take your time to find the right consultant for you.

Small Business Administration. Our local branch of the SBA offers workshops and other similar assistance, but let’s not kid ourselves: This is a government agency, staffed by government workers. While I’m sure there are some smart cookies there, many of them are about as entrepreneurial as Leonid Brezhnev. I’ve had a couple of dozen clients do business with the SBA without ever really doing business with the SBA. They’ve received bank loans backed by the SBA, which they otherwise would not have received. That said, I don’t know a single client who ever sought advice from the SBA on running their business. If you’re looking for help securing financing, getting a grant or even navigating the world of federal contracts, the SBA as a valid resource.

Tech (and Other) Meetups. I’m linking to the Philly Tech Meetup site, but they’re not the only game in town. This trend has exploded over the past few years, and in my opinion, there’s no better person to get business advice from than another business owner. And there should be no better place to do this than at a bar with Stella Artois on tap. There are dozens of business-based meetups held throughout the area every week, and the clients I know who go to them love them.

Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants. I know, accountants, right? I’m a CPA (and not a very good one, unless you consider a CPA who believes the numbers are “good enough” if they’re close enough, to be a good CPA), which means I belong to PICPA. And to keep my certification, I have to endure hours of classroom certification sitting among countless short, bald guys wearing glasses. Like me. But PICPA offers many classes open to non-members on taxes, business management and technology taught by competent professionals. You walk away with good manuals and other classroom materials. You may just meet the financial adviser who can help your business grow.

Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center. This group, funded in part by the state, provides consulting, training and education services to the region’s manufacturing community. They employ smart, seasoned people (not bureaucrats) and charge lower rates than private consulting firms. My friend and longtime DVIRC employee Harry Landsburg, for example, has helped more than a few of my clients in the area select software for their businesses, figure out better ways to track costs, and determine the best pricing for their products. This is a guy who can teach Ebenezer Scrooge how to save money, and he’s just one of a team of people at the DVIRC available to help manufacturers in the region.

I don’t have the space to mention them all, but there are other great local organizations that I should (and will try to) write about that have helped my clients and me. For example, you can network and learn at the many events held by the Entrepreneur’s Forum of Greater Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Senior Executives Group; look for financing from Ben Franklin Technology Partners; or apply for cheap loans at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.

It’s all about people helping people in the City of Brotherly Love. And just as long as these organizations don’t provide any help to my competitors, I’m completely fine with that.