Resources - Tools

There are numerous online tools and resources to guide entrepreneurs through the process of launching and growing a business. A few of these are mentioned below. These resources includes guides, templates and calculators that will assist in business planning, feasibility and souring financing.

Using these resources will allow the entrepreneur to better understand his/her business, and to be prepared when approaching lenders and investors. By using these tools, it will also help when engaging professional advisors to undertake specific tasks such as raising capital.


IFC SME Toolkit

IBM and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank, launched a new version of a free small business toolkit specifically for small business owners in emerging markets as well as women, Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian entrepreneurs in the U.S., to receive highly developed business information, tools, and training services usually reserved for Fortune 1000 companies.

While small businesses generated between 60 to 80 percent of the new jobs annually in the U.S. over the past decade, they are often hurt by the lack of skills, knowledge and access to the information that larger businesses routinely use to grow and succeed. The same applies to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the developing world who also find that access to best practice and business management tools is a significant barrier to their growth and sustainability.

The SME Toolkit (www.smetoolkit.org) is a free program that enables entrepreneurs and small businesses to learn how to implement the sustainable business management practices needed for growth in areas such as finance, accounting, international business, marketing, human resources or legal.

"Small businesses are the growth engines of the world's economies; yet their success rate is not as good as it could be simply because of a lack of access to good business management practices," said IFC Executive Vice President and CEO Lars Thunell. "Giving small businesses the information and new collaborative technologies they need, will help them grow and prosper."

In the U.S., the SME Toolkit will focus largely on women and constituent-owned businesses. Globally, the IFC has joined with local partners to launch the Toolkit in more than 13 languages in 24 countries, all of which can now take advantage of the new enhanced version.

Among the specially designed free tools are:

Small businesses can also receive business training delivered via classroom workshops and partnerships with local support providers. The Toolkit can also help small businesses go global by providing detailed market access, investment and trade information for the 64 countries most exported to.

Local partners in each of the countries hosting the Toolkit, such as Elite in Nepal, Dunn & Bradstreet in Singapore, and FUNDES in Latin America, are responsible for making sure the more than 500 pieces of content, tools and resources are customized, localized and available in the language of their respective markets. These partnerships provide small businesses with local support, thus nurturing their businesses to improve their chance of survival and to generate more jobs. In the U.S., an Advisory Group will serve this same role to review existing content and identify new tools specifically for Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, and women-owned businesses.

"This truly is one stop shopping for small businesses and it levels the playing field. We know the tools that large businesses use most and we know the role technology can play in leading to growth. Now, every business can have the same chance to succeed. It's vitally important that we help small businesses who are the major employers and growth engines in developing markets," said Stanley Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs. "These are just the kind of tools that can help underserved markets be successful."

The Toolkit was launched by IFC in 2002. IBM has dedicated more than $1.6 million to transform the Toolkit and rebuild it on an innovative open source platform using top talent in IBM research. The Toolkit now includes new Web 2.0 features such as live chat, online forums, business directories and survey capabilities to create a community where small and medium sized business can collaborate -- anywhere around the world. For example, a group of small businesses could gather in an online forum to devise a strategy to bid on a large supply contract rather than as separate bids. The community tools also create an opportunity for peer learning.

In the future the Toolkit will add new partners, markets and languages and is planned to allow users to connect to it using wireless devices, such as cell phones. In developing markets, mobile devices are increasingly becoming the way users connect to the Internet, and sometimes the only way.

The Toolkit is expanding to reach the massive small business market in India, South Africa and Brazil. The Toolkit is available in English and Spanish and translated in 14 other languages including, Nepali, Vietnamese and Urdu, with Hindi and Arabic set for release in 2007.

Small Business Administration

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) is the agency of the US Government responsible for supporting and promoting small businesses. SBA has a range of programs to support SMEs, including a loan guarantee program. However, SBA has a broad outreach program throughout the US with a network of business development centers, where entrepreneurs can get face-to-face assistance. (www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance). There are specifically tailored resources for women, veterans, exporters and disaster assistance. Mentorship programs are also available.

The SBA’s “Business Guide” provides a suite of useful information: www.sba.gov/business-guide.