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How the SBA Can Help Your Small Business

Karen Mills became the 23rd Administrator for the Small Business Administration in 2009. Under her lead, in 2011 alone, the SBA supported more than $30 billion in lending to 60,000 small businesses across the country.

Recently, Mills took the time to speak with us and answer some questions from members of our LinkedIn SUCCEED community.

Can you tell us a little bit about the SBA and the benefits it offers small businesses?

People have said the SBA is the best-kept secret of the Federal Government, and what I say is “we are a secret no longer.” We want to make sure all small businesses know about the SBA and how to reach us. And one of the ways we are doing that is by increasing our online and social presence.

We do four basic things at the SBA to help small business. First, we offer guaranteed loans, and we do quite a few — $30 billion worth every year.

The second thing we do is give access to counseling and mentoring. We have a vast network of 900 small business development centers and 110 business centers. I’m pretty sure there is a mentoring opportunity within 45 minutes of most small businesses.

We also run the contracting operation for small business for the Federal Government. That’s a tremendous opportunity for some small businesses that are in the supply chain. And lastly, if, heaven forbid, there is a disaster — a hurricane like Sandy or a tornado — we are on the ground to help small businesses and homeowners recover.

How can the SBA help small businesses secure funding?

Most of our ability to put capital into businesses is around our loan program. About 5,000 banks have made SBA loans — small banks, big banks. We’ve added about 1,000 banks back to SBA lending.

This year, we are going to have a special on our loans under $150,000 — we are actually going to be eliminating our fees as of October 2013. It’s in the President’s budget that went to Congress, and we’re doing that because we know lots of small businesses are still having trouble finding a bank that will make one of these smaller loans.

Learning from others is very important to small business owners. How can they take advantage of the mentoring opportunities you provide?

If you are a small business owner and you do not have a mentor you meet with on a long-term basis, regularly, and talk about your business plan, you should. We have data that says that if you have this relationship, you have better sales, more profits and more longevity, and you hire more people.

And the best news is that at the SBA, it’s free. Go to the Local Assistance section on SBA.gov, put in your zip code and you will get the name and number of one of the centers that’s near you. We can make sure you’re matched with a SCORE mentor, a small business development center or somebody who can help you with long-term planning and growing your business.

Can you share a challenge you’ve faced and the lesson you learned from it?

One of the most challenging times I’ve had in my career was when I came into this job and the credit crunch had hit. It was actually really terrible for small businesses, and most folks remember it because it was only four years ago. Small businesses just could not get loans, and things were frozen. I knew we had to step in immediately, and what I realized was the importance of building a team out in the field and listening to what small businesses told us.

As a result, we took about 100 pages of paperwork out of the SBA loan, we brought banks back to SBA lending and we were able to really turn around access to credit in the SBA portfolio. We did it by all stepping up and acting as a team, and listening to the concerns of small businesses and responding to them.

Whether you are looking for mentorship, a small business loan or other resources for your business, the SBA can help you move your company forward. Learn more at the SBA Web site

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