Let Your Fingers Do the Asking

Got a problem with your business? A hotline for entrepreneurs in the hot seat is just one of the places to seek help

Worried about wilting revenues? Your star employee resigned? Get the cold shoulder from yet another banker? You could try calling the new Entrepreneurs Hotline, sponsored by the business networking and support organization, Let's Talk Business Network (LTBN). The new toll-free number (800 694-3803) is being answered during business hours by LTBN staffers, all entrepreneurs themselves. At other times, LTBN promises that you'll get a call back within 24 hours if you leave a message.

These marketing-savvy entrepreneurs don't just want to answer your questions, of course -- they would also like you to visit LTBN's Web site, radio show, and membership organization, which has branches so far in New York, New Jersey, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.

"We want to attract people to LTBN to know they are not alone, that there's a support environment to help them be more successful," says LTBN Chairman and CEO Mitch Schlimer. "Running a business alone is very isolating and lonely, and that's in good times." Although plans for LTBN's hotline were laid before the current economic downturn, Schlimer concedes that the timing is opportune.

You can also get support and advice from the nonprofit Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) at www.score.org. Just e-mail a business question or problem, and a SCORE counselor will e-mail you some virtual counseling. (In-person counseling is available, too, through your local SCORE office.) For more routine and basic business questions, you can also contact the SBA's Answer Desk () or phone 800 UASK-SBA to speak with someone in person. Be warned: You may have to wait for a response.

If hotlines or support groups don't suffice, business coaches can provide hand-holding and one-on-one advice, often through telephone and e-mail sessions. (Most charge an hourly or monthly rate). Try the International Coach Federation (www.coachfederation.org) for information and referrals. The Federation of Coaches (www.IFC.org) also gives referrals.

By Robin D. Schatz in New York