Small businesses have plenty of reasons for considering small business consulting—small business consultants can help you save time and money, provide specialized advice, navigate changing workloads, and plan for the future, among other things.
Some consultants are more like mentors and advisors, who work with small business owners on broad planning and strategy work. Others provide more specific, specialized services as subcontractors. According to Forbes, “rather than hiring for a position that may be just part-time, like a marketing strategist or legal counsel, instead, consider retaining a consultant that is an expert in their field.”
But if you’re just beginning the search for small business consulting, where do you start? There are a number of general and specific resources for small businesses in need of small business consulting, and we’ll walk you through the best of those options below!
The U.S. Small Business Administration supports a great 50-year-old organization called SCORE, a nonprofit “dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.”
They offer free virtual or in-person mentoring, online business tools and templates, and low-cost workshops. In 2016, their mentors helped over 50,000 businesses. But the guides on their website, such as “3 Great Ways to Bring Your Business Online,” may be what you need to get a project off the ground with the help of a consultant.
SCORE is perfect for businesses that are just starting out or need specialized advice. They can also help point you in the right direction for more specialized services. Go to the SCORE website to request a mentor or search for mentors with specific skills. Search their database of hundreds of pre-recorded webinars on topics such as “How to Write A Business Plan” and “Marketing to Millennials.” You can also contact your local SBA District Offices to learn about how you can take advantage of all the consulting resources they have to offer.
Several online marketplaces can help you find experts and small business consultants in your area. HourlyNerd is the most direct marketplace to connect consultants with businesses. Thumbtack lets consultants and other professionals bid on your projects, and Upwork operates like Yelp for consultants.
Any of these sites offer a wide range of professionals with ratings and user reviews so that you can search for exactly what your business needs—from sales and marketing to pitch decks and staffing. A new company called Prefer can also provide professionals based on referrals and recommendations from your contacts. Make sure to get quotes from various professionals to make sure you’re getting the best rate.
Managing taxes as a small business can be tough—an accountant can alleviate many of your financial obligations, not only by handling taxes but by acting as a trusted advisor to your business’s financial health.
But you don’t necessarily need to hire one full time. The SBA claims that referrals from other business owners are often the best way to find accountants, and you can also reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center. Your state accounting society can also connect you to CPAs.
According to Ampure Capital, “small businesses often do not have high-level financial talent in-house. Nor should they—an experienced CFO is expensive and is only needed at certain times in a startup’s life.”
Though you may have a part-time bookkeeper or accountant who keeps track of your books prepares the tax returns, it’s sometimes not enough to maximize your financial potential. Fortunately, small business financial consultants like Ampure Capital exist to act as small business CFOs on an as-needed basis to help with things like capital acquisition and operating budgets. And there are many companies like this all over the country.
Banks and capital management companies are also a good place to start for this kind of resource, but be wary of institutions that are only interested in pushing you toward financing a loan from them. Your local Small Business Development Center can assist you with finding the right match.
The American Bar Association has noted an emerging trend of legal consulting practices, but a lawyer in your town could charge you anywhere between $350-$550 an hour.
SmallBizTrends.com recommends using cheaper, online resources like Rocket Lawyer or Nolo to get you started, and then have a lawyer review your work—as opposed to having them do all the work for you or fixing a mess later! You can also use Nolo’s Lawyer Directory to find an attorney by specialty and location.
Crunching the numbers is a big part of running any business, and according to Forrester, “insights are the new currency of business.” Some consulting firms, like QuantumFBI, specialize in optimizing data to help you run your business better. You can also find data specialists in online marketplaces specific for engineers such as Toptal or Remote.com.
Engaging with customers online is often an essential business growth strategy, but not everyone is a millennial digital expert. That’s where social media consultancies come in—companies like Marketing360 offer a range of services, from strategy consulting to managing your social media platforms for you altogether, and can work with you wherever you are.
Other social media management platforms offer education and consulting, such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social. But you can also find individual consultants on the online marketplaces or through the SBA offices.
Need to pitch investors? You can hire pitch deck experts from the online marketplaces above or make use of specialized services such as Unicorn Pitch or Promoshin. These providers can help you take your pitch deck to the next level and often offer free consulting on your pitch and presentation.
Looking to run an eco-friendly business? According to the SBA, “successful green businesses not only benefit the environment but also use green business practices as a means to market their products.” Certified Eco-consultants can help you get there. Firms like Green Consultants exist around the country for this purpose.
Higher education business programs sometimes offer pro-bono small business consulting with teams of students from the program dedicated to your business needs. Columbia Business School is one such program: “Student teams usually meet their clients 2-3 times per month” and “continue until the final deliverable is due.”
You can search for similar programs in your area—though student consulting teams certainly aren’t as experienced as a certified professional, they can still offer fresh and sound advice or services.
Organizations such as SBA’s 8(a) Business Development program or the Minority Business Development Agency can help qualifying minority-owned firms develop and grow their businesses through one-to-one counseling, training workshops, and management and technical guidance.
They are designed to assist with needs specific to minority-owned businesses, such as obtaining a loan and operating in underserved areas. The 8(a) program also provides access to government contracting opportunities, allowing these businesses to become solid competitors in the federal marketplace. See our full list of resources for minority-owned businesses.
The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership’s mission is to “enable and empower women entrepreneurs through advocacy, outreach, education, and support. Through the management and technical assistance provided by [women business centers], entrepreneurs, especially women who are economically or socially disadvantaged, are offered comprehensive training and counseling on a vast array of topics in many languages to help them start and grow their own businesses.”
The SBA has a national network of over 100 educational centers to assist women in starting and growing small businesses. Find one near you.
Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a GM at NerdWallet.
Meredith launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014. She has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending and financial management.