Helping Businesses SCORE a Success

by Sharon Amdall
SCORE Peoria

Starting, growing and achieving goals through education and mentorship…

Do you have a great idea for a new business, but don't know how to get financing? Are you struggling to grow your existing business in a tough economy? Would you like to start using social media for your business, but don't know where to start? Entrepreneurs working to start or grow a business often need new or upgraded skills, and SCORE Peoria can help.

A Network of Mentors
SCORE is a national nonprofit association of more than 11,000 volunteers in more than 330 chapters across the country dedicated to helping small businesses get started, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. It was founded by the Small Business Administration in 1964, and the Peoria-area chapter launched the following year.

One of the best chapters in the country, SCORE Peoria was named Illinois Chapter of the Year in 2012 under the leadership of outgoing chair Bill Axelrod. It serves 10 counties in central Illinois—Peoria, Fulton, Knox, Mason, Woodford, Putnam, Stark, Tazewell, Warren and Marshall. A 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of area residents who came to SCORE for mentoring or workshops found that 47 new businesses were started and 37 existing businesses grew by a total $5,649,263 in revenue.

SCORE Peoria offers free, confidential personal mentoring to help people thinking about starting a new business, as well as small businesses that are facing challenges or trying to grow. In addition, it offers targeted workshops on specific topics that small businesses need to help them succeed.

“The core of what we do is to help a small or startup business develop a written business plan—a plan that describes products/services, operational plan, marketing plan, financing and so forth,” says John Amdall, current SCORE Peoria vice-chair and incoming co-chair. “Writing a business plan is critical to the success of a small business, because this requires the entrepreneur to think about questions such as financing, overhead costs, startup costs, attracting customers, competitive advantage, cash flow and other elements of the business that may not come naturally to a new business owner.

“Some entrepreneurs try to run a small business out of their checkbook, just like they manage their personal finances. This often means the owner does not know where the money is flowing out, whether the business is profitable, and actions that could be taken to improve profitability… We offer templates for free to help small businesses write their business plans, then we meet with the business owner in person to review and offer feedback on their plans. Sometimes clients come to us with nothing more than a great idea—the written business plan is the tool to help them develop this idea into a successful business.”

Real-World Expertise
SCORE volunteers are real-world professionals with reputable knowledge who donate their time to help small businesses succeed. Mentors have backgrounds and experience in areas such as accounting, finance, marketing, manufacturing, management and business plan preparation to help the entrepreneur.

Jim Peugh, incoming co-chair, had a successful career in marketing before retiring and joining SCORE Peoria as a mentor. “The marketing portion of the business plan is very important and often overlooked,” he explains. “[It] describes how new customers will find your business and how you will describe the benefits of your product/service in a way that compels new customers to choose your business instead of your competitors. Your business might be serving different market segments, each requiring different messages. The marketing plan is vital to help the entrepreneur plan for these issues before the business spends money to produce products/services that no one will buy.”

Sometimes a person will have a great idea for a new business, but not know how to get started. SCORE mentors can help this person think through the pragmatic issues around the startup of a new business—before spending money—to increase the probability of success. Financing is often a challenge for a new business, and mentors can explain available options and their requirements.

Workshops are also very popular, with a variety of topics such as “Simple Steps for Starting Your Business” and "Social Media for Business." Jannise Bush, another incoming co-chair, reports that SCORE conducted 47 workshops last year, with even more planned throughout 2013. “Some people have daytime responsibilities, so… we offer workshops both during the day and in the evening.”

Bush notes that SCORE Peoria currently has about 25 volunteers. “Most of our volunteers are serving multiple clients, with in-person mentoring, answering questions by email and talking through issues by telephone. Volunteer training, provided through online learning and an apprentice phase, means that both clients and volunteers can feel confident in the interaction.”

Some entrepreneurs have reported that large organizations that provide services to businesses sometimes have difficulty serving small businesses. To help with this challenge, SCORE Peoria provides links to local organizations that specifically provide small business expertise and financial assistance on its website under the “Marketing Partners” tab.

SCORE offers a myriad of online resources to help small and startup businesses, as well as the ability to search the extensive resources of the national organization at score.org for articles and webinars. SCORE Peoria also helps nonprofit organizations—be sure to read next month's iBi that will focus on nonprofits. iBi

For more information, visit scorepeoria.org.

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