Government Resources for Entrepreneurs
By Karen E. Klein | BusinessWeek
Government resources for small business owners have long existed, but they are often poorly understood and underutilized. Several outreach efforts currently under way, some public and some privately funded, aim to change that.
One of the new programs is the community forum quietly opened last week by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business Gateway Program. Hosted on Business.gov, the http://communities.business.gov/bsng, is believed to be the first government-sponsored online community built specifically for small business owners, says Nancy Sternberg, program manger of the Business Gateway site.
It combines discussion threads, blogs, and resource articles and is designed to encourage interaction between business owners and government employees. A press release and formal launch of the community forum is in the works, she says. Her staff is working on getting the word out through social media such as Twitter and Facebook and notifying the 10,000 individuals who get regular e-mails when the Business.gov site is updated. An Obama Initiative
Discussions about adding an interactive forum to Business.gov (founded in October 2006) were under way last year, Sternberg says, but they accelerated after Barack Obama won the Presidency. “After the election, we put the plans into high gear, and we’re very excited to launch it and support President Obama’s directions about visibility in government,” she says.
The goal for the SBA and the 21 additional federal agencies that co-sponsor the site is to open up a dialogue with the public, leverage the expertise that exists in both the public and private sectors, and help government better serve entrepreneurs. “We will benefit greatly by learning what’s on the mind of small business owners. We can prioritize the information on the site based on the questions being asked on the forum,” Sternberg says. “We don’t want that reputation of sitting in a building and not being in touch with our customers.”
So far, a handful of discussions have sprung up on topics such as taxes, starting a business, and home-based businesses. “There’s just a lot of confusion about the tax code. We’re getting a lot of questions on the home-based business deductions. People either don’t take deductions because they’re afraid to, or they take deductions they probably shouldn’t. We’re already seeing places where we can partner with the IRS to make issues clearer and write up checklists for the Web site,” Sternberg says.
She and her staff moderate the discussions, providing expertise and links to information on the Business.gov site and other federal Web sites. They also encourage savvy entrepreneurs to jump in with their own experiences. “People who’ve learned things the hard way offer their fellow business owners great information because people inherently want others to succeed,” she says.