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Business Resources: Low- or no-cost help for your company

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Many entrepreneurs and would-be business owners have heard the grim statistic that four out of five new businesses fail by the fifth year.

What you might not know is that the local area offers a wealth of free and low-cost resources to keep you from becoming one of the four.

You can get help with everything from creating a business plan and doing market analysis to coming up with realistic financial projections and securing funding.

Professionals and volunteers offer personalized advice, direction and new perspectives for both startups and existing small businesses. A variety of organizations run free or low-cost workshops, classes and seminars on everything from record-keeping and legal structures to tax knowledge and communication skills.

The key is to explore and take advantage of what is out there.

Lou Davenport, a 15-year volunteer with the Lancaster County chapter of SCORE, a nationwide nonprofit association of business mentors, says Lancaster County offers a wealth of information and support for small-business owners and entrepreneurs.

His work with SCORE chapters across the country has given him the perspective to say with confidence, "I don't know where you will find a community of our size that is richer."

Cheryl Young, a business counselor with the Shippensburg University Small Business Development Center, says she always recommends getting involved with the local chamber of commerce, as well as networking and marketing organizations.

"Get as much free advice as you can before you go to an accountant or attorney who is going to cost you money," she said.

Martin Brill, a business counselor with Kutztown University Small Business Development Center in Harrisburg, says his job is to scare would-be entrepreneurs out of business if he doesn't think they will succeed.

"It's fairly easy to get into business in this country, but it's hard to stay in business," he says. "Don't waste your hard-earned money going into business for yourself if you are not ready. It's a hard thing, and it's not for everyone."

Here are some suggestions for resources. This list is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive.

Small Business Development Centers

Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, 405 Grove Hall, Shippensburg, 477-1935, www.ship.edu/SBDC

Kutztown University, 3211 N. Front St., Harrisburg, 213-5027, www.kutztownsbdc.org

A staff of skilled professionals offers free consulting to help entrepreneurs develop the planning, management and financial skills necessary for a successful business. The centers also offer free or low-cost courses, seminars, conferences and access to databases for market research.

Free, online learning resources and a tutorial for starting a business are available on the centers' websites.

SCORE

York: 2101 Pennsylvania Ave., York, 845-8830, York.score.org

Lancaster: 313 W. Liberty St., Suite 231, Lancaster, 397-3092, Lancaster.score.org

Harrisburg: 3 Penn Center, Room 3-145, 349 Wiconisco St., Harrisburg, 213-0435, Harrisburg.score.org

This nonprofit association of volunteer business mentors has chapters across the country that offer free business counseling and advising services.

Small Business Administration

1 Penn Center, 2601 N. Third St., Suite 503, Harrisburg, 782-3840, www.sba.gov

The Harrisburg branch office connects entrepreneurs to a wealth of information on regulations, laws, contracting, resources and funding.

Pennsylvania Women's Business Center at Community First Fund

30 W. Orange St., Lancaster, 393-2351, www.commfirstfund.org/womens-business-center

The center focuses on training, business counseling, loan capital and advocacy support for existing small business owners. Although men can use the services, the focus is on the needs of women business owners.

BF TechCelerator@Carlisle

453 Lincoln St., Carlisle, 249-2356, www.techcarlisle.com

This full-service incubator offers programs that help businesses grow, as well as space for rent and a co-working center.

Assets Lancaster

237 N. Prince St., Second Floor, Lancaster, 393-6089, www.assetslancaster.org

This organization focuses on economic development within under-served racial and cultural minority communities. It offers a 10-week self-employment training, workshops, counseling and consulting at no or little cost.

York Business Academy

843-4948, yorkcity.org/york-business-academy

This program is a partnership between York College of Pennsylvania, the City of York and the Entrepreneurial Support Alliance. Adult business or finance majors at the college teach a series of six- to-eight-week Saturday morning classes each spring and fall that focus on everything from human resources and legal issues to marketing and economics.

Now in its ninth year, there is typically a waiting list to get into the classes. The program costs $35, but that is refunded upon completion of a majority of the classes.

Duke Street Business Center at the Lancaster County Public Library

125 N. Duke St., Lancaster, 394-2651, www.lancaster.lib.pa.us/dsbc

Professional business reference librarians staff this center, which provides the community with access to authoritative and up-to-date business information including directories and licensed business databases. It regularly offers workshops as well as mixers and networking opportunities.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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