New Year, New Entrepreneurs: Five tips for supporting early-stage entrepreneurs ​

Every January, the number of people who Google “how to start a business” jumps to hundreds of searches a day. This year in particular, many of these searches are coming from the millions of Americans who quit their jobs in 2021.

While starting a business is a common new year’s resolution, soon-to-be entrepreneurs make the leap for a variety of reasons. They could be seizing upon an opportunity to make their business ownership dream a reality, exploring an idea that creates positive social change, or they may be acting out of necessity because of a change in circumstances such as the loss of a job.

To effectively support any entrepreneur, you must develop an infrastructure of resources in your community. Identifying and connecting the resources in one central network makes it easier for entrepreneurs of all types to find assistance for the hurdles they face.

Early-stage entrepreneurs, like all entrepreneurs, have their own set of unique needs. After working with over 100 communities, we know that resources tend to cluster around the type of entrepreneur served and stage of business. Here are five tips  to consider when engaging and supporting new business owners in your community—read on to learn more.

Include resources that specialize in supporting new entrepreneurs

Knowing the needs of entrepreneurs change as they go through different stages of their business, make sure that your ecosystem includes resource partners that specialize in early-stage support for new business owners.

Some key organizations that fill the needs of startups which you should seek out and invite into your network include:

  • Your public library, a vital and often overlooked resource for free access to business databases, education, equipment and internet access
  • Incubators and coworking spaces offer programing services and are an affordable and efficient alternative to full-scale offices
  • Your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which can provide assistance with business planning, access to financing, counseling services and classes
  • University entrepreneurship and innovation centers that partner with the community to provide tools, facilities and education to local business owners

Cultivate an inclusive network with culturally competent support

Everyone should feel comfortable asking for help with their business. Starting a business is no small feat, but often there are additional challenges faced by diverse entrepreneurs. If they don’t have access to networks of support, they might not move forward with their business idea.

In 2020, we convened industry experts for a SourceLink Affiliate Quarterly Conversation, Inclusive Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Building: Moving into Action to discuss insights and best practices around providing inclusive entrepreneur support. The conversation introduced a new framework for inclusive community development that incorporates cultural understanding, talent development and new venture creation.

Take a close look at your entrepreneurial ecosystem building work and make sure you’re doing it with an equitable mindset. Invite culturally competent resource partners into the network and build out capacity for partner organizations that are equipped to support diverse entrepreneurs. As community leaders, economic developers and ecosystem builders, we must go beyond just championing entrepreneurs of color and seek to help our communities achieve racial wealth equity for all.

Go beyond a quick impersonal referral

Entrepreneurs’ time is valuable, and if they spend too much time researching dozens of organizations and hoping they find one that can help them, their businesses can suffer. This loss of time is exacerbated for new entrepreneurs, who are often unfamiliar with the resources available in their community.

Help these entrepreneurs benefit from your expertise and knowledge of the network by making a warm introduction: learn as much as you can about their business, and introduce them to the appropriate network resources. Chanté Keller, KCSourceLink network navigator, recalls one client who she took time to get to know in-person. As a result of Chante’s support, the client shared that she felt she had the resources she needed to pivot her business when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “Sometimes that is all someone needs, is somebody to care,” Keller said.

This personalized, human connection gives new entrepreneurs the best support possible, and creates a stronger relationship between that entrepreneur and your network. What’s more, building your ecosystem upon trust and strong relationships can help your whole network thrive.

Lean on advice from others who’ve been there before

Here at SourceLink, we partner with many amazing communities across the U.S. The organizations that are part of our network continuously lean on each other for advice and benefit from hearing about the experiences of entrepreneurs who have overcome similar challenges.

Kyle Coogler, IASourceLink program associate, has worked with many early-stage entrepreneurs and shared one common issue he sees:

“Starting a business can be confusing, especially if you haven’t done it before. There are a lot of misconceptions of what sort of registrations and licensing are required, and that probably deters a lot of people from ‘jumping in’ to entrepreneurship. At IASourceLink, we try to help our clients overcome these struggles by condensing the information they will need to know in order to make it a little less intimidating.”

Join them on their journey

Your work may not be finished by connecting an entrepreneur to one resource. They will likely need ongoing support as they work on building their new business, so it’s important to check in with entrepreneurs periodically and see if they need additional support.

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems have features that can help you follow up with business owners thoughtfully and strategically. At KCSourceLink, Keller follows up with each client by sending them a survey. “Surveys not only track our client’s experience with our organization or our partner organizations, but it also provides a touchpoint to nurture the relationship between our program and the client,” she said.

By continuing to offer a listening ear and a helping hand, you can help new entrepreneurs stay on the path to success. “Showing support and being a sounding board may be the only thing needed for the entrepreneur to build something amazing,” said Keller.

New entrepreneurs make a big difference

Supporting early-stage entrepreneurs doesn’t just benefit them—new businesses solve problems, enhance the quality of life in your community and continue to drive economic success.

As ecosystem builders and network connectors, it’s our responsibility to make sure we are creating an inclusive, welcoming and supportive environment for all entrepreneurs, especially the ones just starting out. Our team would love to help you support new entrepreneurs in your community. Reach out to me at [email protected] to start a conversation.

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