It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here about the value of the local Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), a network of about 1,000 locations in the United States, generally a great place to go for frontline, street-level small-business advice.

The SBDCs offer classes and one-on-one counseling sessions on practical topics related to starting and growing a business. The details vary by state and specific office, but usually you’ll find a good selection of specific classes on topics such as bookkeeping and employee management, offered in a mix of evening classes over several weeks, workshops for half a day or less, one-on-one counseling and longer-term programs.

The SBDCs are financed by three mostly public sources: the federal government (through the SBA), state governments and local education. Details are slightly different from state to state. The fees charged are surprisingly low.

SBDCs are strongest when asked to provide hands-on, ground-level practical advice to people who want to start or grow local businesses. You don’t go to the SBDC for high-level advice on getting millions of dollars in venture capital; you do go to the SBDC for practical advice on dealing with banks, local investors, local regulations, regular business tasks, local marketing, bookkeeping and administration.

Where I live, in Eugene, Ore., a lot of small businesses have been through our SBDC’s two-year, comprehensive night school management courses. The alumni group raves about the results.

This comes to mind because I’m traveling this week to attend the annual conference of the Association of Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC) in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve been a regular at the conference since 1995.

This year I’m going to present a three-hour workshop on teaching entrepreneurship using business planning, an introduction to a complete curriculum we’ve made available to teachers. That happens tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the conference in San Antonio.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.