CLOSER LOOK: Small-Business Mentors Offer Free Advice Through SCORE

Posted on Thursday, July 13, 2023 by Billie Wright, Marya Morgan

(K-LOVE Closer Look) – Your idea for a great small business needs a good plan. You need seed money and cashflow. If you already opened your shop you may be stumped on how to grow. SCORE offers free, one-on-one advice for turning a profit.

The personalized program is funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration and brings together “two of our nation’s greatest ideals -- entrepreneurism and volunteerism,” says CEO Bridget Weston. “What’s great about SCORE volunteers – they have been where the small business owner is -- they have seen the failures and learned how to overcome them.” 

Whether an entrepreneur is starting with a dream on a cocktail napkin or running a shop for 20 years, Weston says a SCORE mentor can be a friend who helps you see opportunities or make improvements. “Just outside perspective, a different set of eyes, someone who gets what you’re trying to do – someone who doesn’t have any other motive other than to make sure you are successful.” 

SCORE Chicago client Iyobasa Ero with mentor Steven Lome.
[Photo Credit: SCORE] SCORE Chicago client Iyobasa Ero with mentor Steven Lome.

Clearly trust is key, as entrepreneurs sometimes need to share sensitive product or accounting information with their mentor. SCORE mentors complete many hours of training before they are matched to clients and must sign a code of ethics every year. The program strives to find the right advisor for every client to ensure a mutually enjoyable relationship. “We have 10,000 SCORE mentors across this organization – if it’s not a good vibe or chemistry -- we’ll get you someone from one of 230 chapters nationwide.” If a business owner is concerned about competition, their SCORE mentor can be deliberately located 1,000 miles away -- or even come from a completely different industry. 

The most common question for mentors is how to get funding to start a new business. “We won’t just answer your question and send you on your way,” Weston explains. “We really want to peel back that onion layer-by-layer and get under what it is you are really looking to do...there may be alternatives to the typical funding sources out there that small business and startups haven’t considered.” Mentors also stay up on current trends, promote networking, help new owners navigate the online Start Up Roadmap and suggest education like webinars for marketing and social media. 

SCORE helps any entrepreneur who asks for help, but finds getting a business off the ground tends to be more challenging for women owners. “Women are less likely to try to secure a loan,” for example, says Weston, and adds other groups like racial or ethnic minorities and veterans also tend to struggle to grow. Even prisoners who are soon-to-be-released can be matched with a mentor for entrepreneurial support proven to reduce recidivism.  SCORE also assists established business owners trying to decide whether to stay in or sell. “Even if you are looking to exit for any reason,” she says, a mentor can help with things like business valuation. Mentors “ask the right questions, navigate the resources that we have available, and make sure they are testing and trying ideas.”

SCORE has assisted thousands of business owners since it was first established in 1964, and healthier bottom lines are proof this specialized mentorship makes dollars and sense. 

“What we have seen is that when someone meets with a mentor for 3 hours or more, they are 5x more likely to increase their revenue and stay in business.” 

Man high-fives woman after discussing business plan
[Photo Credit: Unsplash/Kraken Images]



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