The Small Business Administration offers a variety of assistance, including online workshops, seminars and classes. The agency also has step-by-step instructions for starting a business, including tips on market research and creating a business plan.
The main national website has links to local SBA district offices throughout the country. Try them at http://www.sba.gov. Click on the tab labeled Small Business Planner for tips on what you may need to know before you start.
If you have hit a snag in developing your business or need advice from someone who's been there, try an organization called Score. Formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives, Score offers free business counseling and mentoring. Help can be found online at http://www.score.org.
Tips on government contracting and regulations and general advice are available from the federal government's business site at http://www.business.gov.
Many community colleges and universities host small-business-development centers. These nonprofit organizations help entrepreneurs get started and assist business owners who are trying to obtain loans or recruit investors.
In Southern California, such centers are located at Long Beach City College, Santa Monica College, College of the Canyons, El Camino College, Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corp. and the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County. The program is organized by the Long Beach Community College District and can be found online at http://www.lasbdcnet.org.