FAQ

About the TSBDC

What does the TSBDC do?

The TSBDC assists existing and prospective business owners to start or grow a business by providing one-on-one consulting, offering a wide variety of training, conducting economic development related market research, and providing technical assistance. The TSBDC also offers expertise in international trade and specialty programs. Working with a TSBDC consultant improves chances for success; on average, TSBDC clients achieve higher sales and employment growth rates than the typical Tennessee business. For more information, contact your local TSBDC.

How do I meet with a TSBDC consultant?

All meetings with SBDC consultants are by appointment. Walk-ins are welcome to each office but will be scheduled for an appointment. If you plan to start a new business, we highly recommend that you take a SBDC pre-business planning class prior to meeting with a consultant

What can I expect when I meet with a TSBDC consultant?

Most initial and follow up meetings generally last between thirty minutes and one hour and are usually scheduled in advance. The initial meeting is important because it affords the TSBDC consultant the opportunity to obtain background information about your existing or proposed business, make specific recommendations and develop a plan of action in terms of what will be required to meet your expectations. Follow up meetings allow consultants to review and monitor the progress on recommendations and the plan of action developed during the initial meeting. Before each meeting it would be helpful to write down a list of concerns you want to discuss and goals that you hope to achieve. In some cases, you may have to provide your consultant with information in advance. There is generally no time limit in terms of time spent with a consultant, but it is equally important that you schedule your meeting based on need. You will also have an opportunity to provide feedback about your SBDC experience.

How much does TSBDC charge for its services?

The TSBDC provides confidential one-on-one business consulting at no charge. Some services, such as classes, have a nominal fee.

How is the TSBDC funded?

The TSBDC is a state and federal partnership program, funded through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and our Host Institutions.

How can I find the TSBDC office in my area?
Are the TSBDC and SBA the same thing?

No. The TSBDC receives a portion of its funding from the US Small Business Administration and works closely with the agency in its delivery of services. For more information about the SBA, click on reference.

I'm already in business. Can the TSBDC help me?

Yes. The TSBDC provides many services that can help existing businesses of all sizes cope with growing pains, expand to new markets and plan for the future. Confidential consultations are available to small business owners covering all the basic business functions including business planning, loan proposals, marketing, financial analysis, recordkeeping, and procurement Other special services available through our local offices include website critique, social media assistance, international trade assistance, and much more! Our local offices offer a myriad of training classes directed at helping businesses grow and improve their bottom line at every stage of the growth process, including our newly launched on-demand Knowledge and Training Portal.

I have a nonprofit business. Can the TSBDC help me?

No. Because the TSBDC Network is an economic development arm of the state of Tennessee and relies on tax-supported state appropriations, it is mandated to work only with for-profit companies. For information on assistance for nonprofit companies, reach out to your local TSBDC for a list of local resources.

Does the TSBDC offer classes for entrepreneurs?

The TSBDC offers a wide variety of training programs to help educate and inform entrepreneurs at all stages of business development. Programs range from short seminars on specific topics to multi-session, in depth programs.

Is what I share with the TSBDC confidential?

Yes. The SBDC program operates under ethical practices similar to your attorney or your accountant. Any information you share with us is held in strict confidence to the extent permitted by applicable law. Clients may be asked to sign waivers for release of images or information for purposes of social media or submission of information to the SBA.

What are the qualifications of TSBDC consultants?

TSBDC consultants must have a Bachelor’s degree in Business or a related field as well as a minimum of 5 years of business experience.

How do you recognize client success?

The TSBDC recognizes client success in several different ways. With the permission of the client via a release, the TSBDC may share client success via social media, publications, recognition to the SBA or ASBDC (America’s Small Business Development Center), or through our Rising Star Award.

What are success stories?

Every office within the TSBDC regularly reports client success stories to the state Lead Center office. These stories are in turn shared with the SBA for reporting purposes. Additionally, each office chooses one success story on an annual basis that is featured in our TSBDC Annual Report Summary publication. This features a spread of each business, including photos and a write-up about the business and their work with the TSBDC. Clients submitted for success stories should be clients that have had success working with the TSBDC. This is typically seen in the form of starting their business, obtaining funding, or expanding into international trade or government contracting.

What is the Rising Star award?

Annually, each TSBDC office celebrates one client that they deem as a “Rising Star”. This is an opportunity to celebrate a business that has a high potential for success and impact in either their local community or their field. What are SBA awards? The majority of offices celebrate this selected business on SBDC Day (the 3rd Wednesday of March) via an award ceremony and presentation of a TSBDC Rising Star plaque. This is also typically featured in social media, and offices are encouraged to share the information with their local news/media outlets, host institutions, and stakeholders. This is also an opportunity to shine a light on the work that the TSBDC offices do every day to support their local small business communities.

How do clients get featured on social media or in TSBDC publications?

This is at the discretion of each TSBDC office, in conjunction with the state Lead Center office. All clients featured must have completed a waiver of confidentiality or an information release form.

Finding Money
How do I know how much money I need?

Monetary needs are generally determined by adding the amount of money needed for upfront costs such as buildings, equipment, inventory, etc. to the expected operating expenses for a period of time, such as six months or a year. These operating expenses should cover the owner’s salary as well as the debt service on any loans. From this data, develop a detailed monthly cash flow projection covering one year and an annual projection covering three years. This process helps ensure the borrowed money can be repaid and the business will prosper. The TSBDC Network will be happy to help you with this procedure as part of our no-cost consultation services!

Is my credit score important when applying for a loan?

Credit scores are increasingly becoming a critical decision factor in successfully obtaining a loan. Most financial institutions consider the way a person handles their  personal credit as a good indicator of how business credit will be handled. Prior to applying for a loan you should obtain a copy of your personal credit report along with your credit score. Even with a great business plan, a poor credit score can prevent you from getting a loan. The TSBDC can help you assess the impact of your personal credit score on business financing.

How do I find out what my credit score is?

You can obtain your credit score from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies as well as other independent organizations. You may have to pay a fee to obtain your credit score. Some independent organizations may offer a free credit report and credit score, but there is often a catch. It is important that you check these organizations for references before you provide them with personal information. You can also speak to a TSBDC consultant about reputable agencies for credit scores.

Are there government grants for my business?

Generally, there are no government grants available for small businesses. In fact, the term grant may be a misnomer, since grants simply pay for services the government needs done. Most government grants are awarded to non-profit organizations or local governments, not to private companies. An exception could be the SBIR or STTR programs, which fund the research and development of technological innovation that meets specific government needs. For more information on these programs, speak to your TSBDC consultant.

What documents will I need to apply for a loan?

Typically, you will need the following documents: a credit report, personal financial statement, tax returns for the last three years (if currently in business, both business and personal tax returns), as well as copies of contractual agreements (for example, a copy of a lease). Depending on the situation, lenders will likely want to see a business plan, or at a minimum, financial statements demonstrating how the loan will benefit the business and be paid back. If you are seeking financing for your business, contact the TSBDC for assistance, no matter where you are in the process.

Does the TSBDC make loans?

The TSBDC does not make loans. However, the SBDC can assist you in preparing to obtain financing. Writing a business plan, making cash flow projections, and suggesting various sources of financing (including SBA loans) are all available to you.

Will the US Small Business Administration lend me money?

No, the SBA does not make direct business loans. However, it does provide guarantees which eliminate some of the risk to its lending partners, such as banks, community development organizations and microlenders. SBA partners lend money to small businesses based on the guidelines for each of its three loan programs. (The SBA does make some direct loans under very specific circumstances under their Disaster Loan Program). 

Are there non-traditional loan sources?

Yes. There are several kinds of non-traditional sources of financing such as microlending programs, angel investors, venture capitalists and various other non-bank lenders. For ideas about non-traditional financing sources, contact the TSBDC.

What are angel investors and how do I find them?

An angel investor is a wealthy individual who provides capital for early stage or start up businesses usually in exchange for an ownership stake in the company. Angels often provide funding for businesses that need more capital than is available through personal and family investments but are not large enough to attract venture capitalists. Angel investors often organize themselves into angel networks or angel groups to share research and pool their own capital. Two good sources of information with more details about angel investors and how to find them are www.angelcapitalassociation.org and www.angelcapitaleducation.org.

How can I get access to venture capital?

As a rule, venture capitalists are not looking to fund small businesses because the large amount of dollars they typically invest (millions) are beyond the scope of most start-ups. Also, VC’s invest in companies that they believe will generate huge returns in a relatively short period of time. If you think your company would be attractive to VCs, the TSBDC can help you create the financial projections you will need as well as help you identify interested venture capitalists.

Can I get an SBA guaranteed loan to refinance present debt?

Yes, if the debt is a business debt (i.e. not personal) and the refinance must result in a minimum of 20 percent improvement in cash flow.

Business Plans
Why do I need a business plan?

A well-written business plan improves your probability of success by helping you evaluate the feasibility of your business idea in an objective way. The plan is much like a road map for your business and helps you identify opportunities, avoid mistakes, and develop production, administrative and marketing plans, as well as budget guidelines. The plan also serves as the foundation for your funding proposal and provides lenders and investors essential details about your operation, financial strategy, and the amount and type of financing your venture requires. To see an example of a business plan, visit the SBA page about writing business plans.

What are the elements of an effective business plan?

A business plan includes sections on operations, marketing, management, and finances. For an example business plan outline, contact your local TSBDC. For a number of sample business plans, SBA page about writing business plans.

What is a feasibility study?

A feasibility study is a detailed preliminary evaluation of your business idea to see if it is worth pursuing. A feasibility study includes the assessments of the management team, market prospects, and potential pitfalls.

Will the TSBDC write my business plan for me?

No. The TSBDC can assist you in developing your own business plan.

Who should write my business plan?

You should. Writing your own business plan will force you to think through important issues that you may not otherwise consider. Contact your local TSBDC for assistance in developing your business plan.

Do you recommend business plan software?

The advantage of off-the-shelf business planning software is that it helps you organize your business plan and gives you good examples to help you craft your own document. Most software packages generate charts and graphs from the financial spreadsheets incorporated into the plan. The disadvantage is that these plans often look “canned”. Loan officers receive hundreds of these plans and can instantly recognize them. If you copy the examples from the business plan software into your plan, loan officers will recognize that it is not your work and will probably discount its credibility. All you need to create your own business plan is a word processing program and a spreadsheet program. Your local TSBDC office can provide you with guidelines, examples, individual counseling as well as classes to help you write an effective business plan. We can also utilize tools, such as LivePlan, to assist you in developing a custom plan for your business.

How long will it take to write my business plan?

Writing a business plan is a difficult and arduous task and can take anywhere from 20 hours to several months. It depends on the complexity of the business venture or project that you are planning and how much information is needed to thoroughly complete it.

To learn more about the specifics of starting, growing, and sustaining your business, check out the TSBDC Knowledge & Training portal – a guided tour of 16 business topics featuring over 100 videos filled with knowledge from our team, our local business subject-matter experts, and our host institution faculty.