Free Small Business Consulting? Yep!

October 21, 2016 • 5 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


Back to school isn’t just for kids and college students. In fact, our universities offer resources and continuing education for just about anyone looking to learn new skills or brush up on old ones, and small business owners and managers are no exception. Universities and community colleges offer inexpensive ways to expand your skill set and boost your knowledge—even small business consulting!—to make you a more successful business owner.

Want to become your own Quickbooks master? Get some project management skills under your belt? Design a website? Or maybe you just need some art therapy to de-stress? Odds are, if you’re in a city of even modest size, you have a university near your business.

We did a little digging into some of the great resources offered by universities in each our locations: Seattle, New York City, the Bay Area, and Portland.

College and university resources for small business

small business consultingGiven that so many of our institutions of higher learning are state-funded and integral members of the communities in which they operate, most have a mission to give back to their communities. That can include acting as a community resource. Whether it’s offering community members use of the library, the gym, or inviting the locals to lectures, art shows, and continuing education, our universities are cultural as well educational institutions.

The likelihood that your local university offers some sort of resource center or continuing education for entrepreneurs is going to be very high.

Small business consulting and more in Seattle

I’d be remiss to not start with my alma mater, the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Since its founding in 1861, the UW has had community as a core mission. One of the ways the UW realizes this mission is through the UW’s Foster School of Business’s dedication to the local business community.

The Foster School of Business offers a great small business consulting program for local businesses in the Seattle area. So far, the program has rendered consultative services to over 1,400 local businesses. The resource, while not totally free, is extremely discounted for given the high standard of professional service delivered. Once you’ve applied and been accepted to the Consulting and Business Development Center a you can expect to pay between $200-500 for their very robust consultancy program. In it, your business is matched with a business student, or students, who provide business consulting services on a particular challenge you’re facing, for anywhere from 6-8 weeks to a full year.

Another benefit of UW for the local small business community is the (very) extensive range of courses offered through their Continuing Education Program. Whatever, you’re looking to learn, there’s a course offering from UW that covers it. The best part is that these courses and certificate programs are affordable—many even are eligible for financial aid.

Resources for Bay Area small businesses

City College of San Francisco (CCSF) takes the prize for top small business resource in the Bay Area. While there are fantastic resources to be found at other institutions in the area, CCSF goes above and beyond with all the great work they do for the local business community.

Courtesy of CCSF

Beyond offering numerous skilled trade and associate degree programs, CCSF has over 50 unique non-credit courses for those starting, owning, or developing their small business. And get this, each course is free! There are in-depth courses that cover subjects as fundamental as Business Management, as well as more tech-based courses like eBay for Your Small Business or even Technology for Small Business.

Beyond the diverse range of courses available, CCSF even offers a Small Business Certificate Program. The program focuses on preparing “students for a successful start in their own small business and helps small business owners increase the effectiveness and operation of their business in 5 areas: 1) Starting Out, 2) Management, 3) Finance, 4) Marketing, and 5) Export/Import and International Business.”

The Alameda County SBDC offers both in-person small business consulting and online courses. Other local organizations have also partnered with the national non-profit Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to offer advising and other services. Pacific Community Ventures, in San Francisco, offers free small business consulting through their Business Advising program, as does Main Street Launch in Oakland.

University resources for New York City small businesses

When it comes to small business development, New York City residents have a powerhouse of an organization. City University of New York (CUNY) has Baruch, a special college which focuses courses and degrees around business professions. The college has partnered not only with the SBDC, but also with the federal government’s Small Business Administration. These partnerships provide a host of counseling services and educational events to NYC’s small business owners.

All of these great services are offered at no cost to the local business community.

The SBDC also partners with Columbia University on services to small businesses, similarly to Baruch, but focused in and around Harlem.

Given how big NYC is, you’ll likely be able to find a local college in any area of the city that maintains an SBDC support office. You can always find your local SBDC office by searching here.

College resources for Portland small businesses

Portland Community College
Portland Community College

Portland Community College (PCC) is a fantastic resource, with a team dedicated to serving the needs of the local small business community. Portland Community College has also availed itself of the SBDC’s institutional knowledge, bringing a wealth of courses, events, and supportive services to local Portland businesses.

Through PCC’s CLIMB Program (Continuous Learning for Individuals, Management, and Business) and their SBDC partnership, PCC offers learning for every step of the small business journey. Whether it’s through an event, a certificate program, or mentorship, this local college has the Portland small business community covered. To ensure that small business owners are on track for success, PCC encourages new participants to sit in on their free orientation seminar. This ensures that participants are being matched according to their needs and goals. In the event that the program isn’t a good fit (which is rare) staff work diligently to coordinate with a host of other community resource centers to make sure that every small business gets the support it needs.

Portlanders also have access to many other small business resources, many of which work with PCC and the CLIMB program.

Online courses

Turns out you’re not close to a university or community college? There’s no shortage of online courses, free and otherwise, available to help. That’s another post for another day, but here are a few free options to get you started.

Carnegie Mellon’s Entrepreneurship and Business Planning, taught by Renaissance Consulting’s Mark Juliano, is available through TalkShoe.

MIT’s OpenCourseware offers an array of business courses, from accounting through supply chain management, which you can find in their online catalog.

The Open University, in the UK, has a Business Studies section with courses like Entrepreneurial Behavior and Introducing a Framework for Strategy.


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