biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: microenterprise development organizations

by Grace Bonney

today’s first biz ladies post comes from jeanette park, an attorney who specializes in non-profit and small business law. this morning jeanette is going to share a bit about low-cost or free training courses that are available to independent entrepreneurs. these courses cover a lot of ground, from how and why to draft a business plan to how to manage business growth so they’re definitely worth checking out, no matter how seasoned a biz veteran you are. thanks to jeanette for taking the time to share her tips! be sure to click here to check out all of the biz ladies archives on their new archive page.

CLICK HERE for jeanette’s full post after the jump!

Small Business 101: Check Out the MicroEnterprise Development Organization Near You

So you’ve started your own business or you have a business idea that’s ready to launch. Congratulations! Things may look scary out there, but there’s plenty of help if you know where to look for it.

Today I’m going to write a bit about low-cost or free training courses that are available to you, the independent entrepreneur. These courses cover a lot of ground, from how and why to draft a business plan to how to manage business growth (lucky you!). Your mileage may vary, but looking for a good organization that helps you develop and grow your small business is definitely a worthwhile endeavor, as I’ll further discuss below.

First, some terminology. If you own a business that has five or less employees and is capitalized at less than $35,000, then you own a microenterprise. The non-profit microenterprise development organizations (“MDOs”) that are interested in helping microenterprises provide self-employment training. The best way to find a microenterprise in your area is to do a quick Internet search of “microenterprise”, your town and “training”.

Now, you may be thinking, “I run my own business, I don’t have time to add anything to my to-do list!” That’s fair. And honestly, if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, you may not learn anything new from self-employment training. A good MDO will help you assess where you are in the business development/growth stage and let you know whether you can benefit from self-employment training.

On the other hand, if you’ve ever wondered if you even have an effective “to-do” list, self-employment training might come in handy for you. At Women’s Initiative, the MDO with which I’m affiliated, the initial screening course helps potential clients articulate their goals, their existing assets and their existing liabilities. Based on additional questionnaires, Women’s Initiative will recommend their 11-week Simple Steps training course. The goal of Simple Steps is to have all graduates leave with a bank-ready business plan that graduates can bring to potential sources of loans.

En route to drafting your bank-ready business plan, you will take courses in basic bookkeeping, pricing, marketing and other topics relevant to the small business owner. The training course not only forces you to be very specific about the reality of your vision for your business but also brings you into a community of other entrepreneurs who are struggling through the same issues with their own businesses. We’ve seen that it’s the power of this community that facilitates learning, future networking and development of microenterprises.

What about for the seasoned entrepreneur? You should still check out your local MDO to see what kind of programs it offers in terms of loans/grants and networking, because it’s a rare business that can’t benefit from either. Networking often appears in the form of business seminars, where experts in various areas of business come and present a topic from their field. There’s time before or after to meet your fellow attendees. Many MDOs also offer one-on-one consultations with volunteer businessfolk as well as referrals to other non-profit organizations that may be useful to you.

The fees associated with various programs will depend on the MDO, so be sure to receive clear answers before enrolling in any course or program. Women’s Initiative’s one-day business action plan class is free, but it does charge a nominal $100 fee for its 11-week course because studies have shown that clients who pay for a course are more likely to commit to the course; the $100 barely begins to cover even the cost of renting a chair. MDOs generally have various sources of funding – the government, private foundations and individuals, all of whom strongly believe that small, local businesses are a key to community economic development.

And of course, as with any other endeavor, do some research on the MDO prior to enrolling in a course. You’ll want to know things like what kind of success rates their graduates have, how much time commitment is required and what you can expect to gain from the course.

Starting and running your own business takes an admirable amount of courage. It also takes a lot of support, so I encourage you to take advantage of all the resources that are out there. And just to get you started, here are a few:

AEO: Association of Enterprise Opportunity

Look under the “Members” section to find an MDO near you


CAMEO: California Association of Microenterprise Opportunity

Lists MDOs specific to California


FIELD: The Microenterprise Program of Aspen Institute

A good resource for small business development on a broad level


SBA: U.S. Small Business Association

A plethora of information related to federal programs for small businesses


New York City Business Solutions

NYC’s small business support office


Jeanette Park is an attorney who specializes in non-profit and small business law.


Women’s Initiative for Self Employment is a Bay Area non-profit which provides high-potential, lower-income women the training, resources and on-going support to start and grow their business. The business management training, technical assistance, and financial services we provide — in English and Spanish — improve the quality of life for the women we serve, their families and our communities. To either make a donation to support our work to find out more about our services, please go to www.womensinitiative.org.

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  • I went through the program at Women’s Initiative a few years ago to get some skills for my massage therapy business. It was such a tremendous learning experience and a great opportunity to connect with a huge network of inspirational ladies! In fact, the tools I gained have given me the confidence to start my own crafty business (launching later this summer!), something that I never thought would be possible. If you are in the Bay Area, I highly recommend that you check out this organization!

  • I love these biz ladies posts! They have truly inspired and helped me as I fumble my way through starting my own business. THANK YOU!

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