Peers Offer Free Help to Business Owners

By Bradley Osburn

SCORE is a national nonprofit, with a mission to mentor and grow the small businesses of the United States through counseling, seminars and workshops in communities around the country.

 

SCORE offers free mentoring services to small business owners and entrepreneurs and charges a small fee, typically from $30 to $40, for certain workshops, depending on the scope of the program. It is staffed almost entirely by volunteers found in its 370-plus chapters and offers extensive online workshop resources at score.org.

 

SCORE was originally started in 1964 as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, and has since grown to a nonprofit that is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration with over 13,000 expert volunteers — some retired, but many still working in the business world — based out of Herndon, Va. Gainesville’s branch opened in 1977, and serves Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Dixie counties.

 

According to the SCORE website, in 2012 SCORE volunteers donated 1,158,220 hours of their time to help 37,054 businesses, and helped to create 82,206 jobs, increase the revenue of 50,791 clients, and mentor and train 140,391 small business owners and entrepreneurs. Volunteers in the program offer a wide variety of business expertise, ranging from marketing and social media presence to securing investments or even starting a business from scratch.

 

“Most of the individuals who come to us are entrepreneurs who need help with all aspects of their business,” said Doug Crotty, a Gainesville volunteer, writer and business consultant. “Lots of people don’t realize when they start a business how all of these things come to bear, even if they were schooled in it. It’s interesting to see how many people approach us with a background in marketing who have no idea how to market their own business.”

 

About 40 volunteers of all adult ages, races and genders in the area serve clients in all stages of their business development, he said. Some clients have millions in revenue, he said, and need help in specific areas, while some are looking to strike out on their own and need guidance in forming an LLC, dealing with tax issues or renting an office space.

 

Volunteers are put through an in-depth training program, according to Crotty, in order to become Certified Mentors, and at the end they must sign the SCORE Code of Ethics (renewed annually), which requires that mentors honor client’s rights to confidentiality, and is important, he said, because many of the volunteers are still involved in their own business, so volunteers need to be able to separate their own business interests from those of their clients.

 

Volunteers must have experience in some aspect of business management or ownership, knowledge of contemporary business practices, the ability to relate to a diverse client base and the time to actively participate in events and mentorship.

 

Mentoring can take place either face-to-face or online, Crotty said, and clients can take advantage of a whole business-plan program or just speak to mentors in the areas they need help with. SCORE offers workshops covering topics like how to deal with legal issues, the basics of a startup and financing. Interested businesses have access to a preliminary assessment guides and SCORE even offers a “Simple Steps for Starting Your Business” program to help craft a business plan, Crotty said.

 

“One reason SCORE is so important, especially in this community, is that Gainesville is a thriving hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, and we offer a myriad of free services, not just to start a business, but to help maintain it,” he said.

 

The Gainesville office of Chapter 408 is open on Mondays, from 12 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., or by appointment during the rest of the week. It is located at 101 SE Second Place, Suite 104, in the Sun Center. It can be reached at 352-375-8278, or at northcentral.fla@scorevolunteer.org.

 

SCORE has an event coming up on Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. at the Santa Fe CIED titled “Social Media Marketing for Growing Your Business,” which will help explain how to use services like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to grow business. To register for workshops online, please go to northcentralflorida.score.org.

 

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