If you’re finding yourself reading the phrase “technical assistance” more often lately, that’s no surprise. Although it may also describe teaching someone in your life how to use a piece of technology, it’s not actually that specific. Technical assistance means providing targeted support to an organization or individual with a need or problem. Because this term is not always easily understood, it might provide a confusing obstacle for business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. Now that you know the technical (there’s that word again) definition, let’s take a look at how technical assistance can support small business here in the Berkshires.
While technical assistance (TA) can take many forms, in the Berkshire business and entrepreneurial support community, it most often takes the form of workshops, training opportunities, and one-on-one support from experts to help businesses overcome a specific challenge, reach a goal, or make the most of an opportunity. For example, this could mean helping build a business plan, teaching the key elements of web development or social media marketing, or walking an entrepreneur through reimagining their business after years of operation to become more efficient and resilient. Whatever the specific need is, there is very often a resource out there in the form of TA.
Here in the Berkshires, the entrepreneurship and small business support community recognizes TA as a vital resource, and has invested/channeled the investment of millions of dollars through a wide range of resource providers and partners. This includes (but isn’t limited to!) the Southern Berkshire Community Development Corporation (SBCDC), Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (MSBDC), Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation (PERC), Berkshire Black Economic Council (BBEC), Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, EforAll Berkshire County, Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires, Blackshires / Team R3SET, North Adams Chamber of Commerce, and any number of specialized industry entities offering targeted opportunities for their specific sector. All of these agencies have invested human capacity and have aggregated critical funding to hire consultants, build expertise, and reach entrepreneurs and businesses so they can get the support they need to recover, thrive and prosper.
At 1Berkshire, we have greatly enjoyed being one of the pantheons of TA providing partners in the region. We have been able to periodically assess the needs of the business community, and tailor support accordingly. We match those needs with the mentors, experts, and consultants we have vetted and built relationships with, and weave that connection into high-impact and high-touch TA opportunities. Over 90 individual businesses have utilized our TA over the past three years, helping them access over $500,000 in subsequent awards and crowdfunding efforts, reach thousands of new customers, and grow.
In each of these instances, we met businesses where they were in their entrepreneurial journey. Our TA providers do a deep duty of care to learn about the business and the business owner, then tune their approaches to those specific needs. To date, our workshops have ranged from social media marketing, to business redesign best practices, public communication strategies, branding, crowdfunding, accounting, and even several workshops run entirely in Spanish to support the Berkshires’ Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.
While resources for these programs ebb and flow, we are constantly on the hunt to discover and access the funding and expertise needed to meet the moment. This fall, 1Berkshire was fortunate to win a United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development Grant. This grant allows us to continue our highly-successful cohort-based technical assistance series. In December, we will kick this series off with a cohort facilitated by Francesca Olsen focused on Social Media Marketing and Branding. In January 2024, we launch our popular Crowdfunding Primer, in which up to seven small businesses will participate in a two-hour workshop with our Crowdfunding expert Laura Christensen. Participants will then meet one-on-one with Laura for up to two hours of direct TA to help design and/or launch their own crowdfunding campaign to start, sustain or grow their business or project.
These technical assistance opportunities are worth more than the money we or other providers invest in them. Sure, the per-person value might be somewhere around $700 in free support, but the actual benefit could really be considered priceless. How do you put a numerical value on something that could save you hours and hours of self navigation? Something that could help thousands of new customers discover you organically? Something that creates efficiencies that shrink your time “in the weeds” and maximize your ability to actually do what you love doing in your business? These TA programs do more than support your business; they teach critical skills and methods to increase your ability to create a quality of life, decrease wasted time, prevent redundancy, and foster systems and processes that can positively impact your work and business in perpetuity.
So that’s what technical assistance is all about. It’s a wellspring of support that you, your business, and your community of peers can and should take full advantage of, and we can’t wait to see how the investments made on the front end will benefit your business and the regional economy for years and years to come.
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