SCORE: Volunteer problem-solvers work to help small businesses
For a small business owner, getting help through the experience of others can be key to overcoming challenges -- whether they are in a startup operation or a 30-year old family business.
A group that started in Minnesota to do just that has grown to work with businesses across the nation, lending mentorship and assistance to help small businesses be successful, handle hurdles and overcome challenges. Founded in 1964, SCORE, which stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives, offers help from volunteer mentors who work confidentially with businesses for free. SCORE counts more than 10,000 volunteers amid its ranks, including a Central Minnesota Brainerd Lakes Chapter.
“We bring experience and skills to help the small businesses,” said Dick Jordan, SCORE certified mentor. “We’ve been there.”
Jordan sat down with a group of mentors to talk about the process and what they gain from giving their time. The group universally expressed finding the effort rewarding and enjoyable and Jordan said most of the mentors have gone through the same things the small business owners are facing. “It’s a give-back period in our life and we are using our talents -- and the give back to us is that we get to work with wonderful people and help them hopefully.
“I know we help them because we hear that we help them. They tell us that. It’s a great group and we’d like to have more of an impact here in the Brainerd area through getting more mentors and getting more clients, making more clients aware.”
Jordan said SCORE is here in the community because of an invitation from Greg Bergman, director of the Small Business Development Center based at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.
“We’ve been good partners,” Jordan said.
Clients have included retail operations, health care providers, startup entrepreneurs, and family businesses with decades of years in the business trying to grow or pass the business to the next generation.
Tom Anderson, CEO at Integrated Retirement of Baxter, is a newer member of SCORE. Anderson said everyone has had different experiences in business but the nice thing about SCORE comes with working with other mentors and the information available for mentors to tap into, such as resources and statistics on particular industries, webinars and training.
Sherry Watland, SCORE certified mentor, said they all have certain abilities and gifts and can complement each other. The mentors are there to help teach and guide clients.
“Everyone brings a nice asset to the table as far as solving a problem,” Watland said.
Volunteer mentors, with a host of business experience themselves, work for resolution to help clients solve an issue.
“I always look at business as almost like being a chess match or a puzzle or something,” Anderson said. “ … People have different talents. How do you make it all work and what are they missing? How do you help solve that for them? I always approach it as there’s got to be a way to make them successful and what do they need and how do we get them there -- and that’s the fun part. It’s really a fun part to try to figure it out.”
Mentors use questions to draw out the goals and aspirations of the people involved. They noted the people who know most about the business are the clients. Mentors can help act as a sounding board, provide advice and offer view from outside the organization -- an objective eye. Clients might need help with a distribution problem, with marketing, or directing the passion they have for their business into a focus.
“The truth of the matter is the clients know the answer it’s a matter of working with them to find it,” Jordan said.
Anderson said the small business is doing a lot more with a lot less than say a large corporation so having access to resources can help them. “I think it is fantastic for them to reach out to say that ‘I don’t know all the answers and I could use some assistance and I could use some advice.’”
Jim Hawley, SCORE certified mentor, had that experience himself when he left 3M to work on smaller company and suddenly didn’t have the resources or the experienced co-workers just down the hall.
As a mentor, Watland noted she isn’t trying to sell the clients anything so her sole motivation is trying to help them be successful other than the reward afterward in helping a client get to the other side so they are off and running.
“We have an unbelievable amount of resources of talented people that they just want to support these businesses to be successful,” Watland said.
Jordan has been a mentor to Brandon Andersen, owner of Lonesome Cottage Furniture Company, Pequot Lakes, for about seven years.
“Dick has helped me personally work through a lot of human resource type issues where you need somebody that can listen and ask good questions and really help me reach some conclusions so I can move forward properly with personnel stuff.”
Andersen said he reached out to SCORE after hearing a radio ad. He remembered feeling frustrated and as a leader of his company noted he didn’t have anyone he could talk to about the issues.
Jordan’s clients go back even 12 years.
“The thing we want to do is keep the businesses here,” Jordan said. “I think part of our job is to help build the economy -- keep the businesses here. There is a lot of talent, a lot of good small businesses and if we can grow them, we can help the community a lot and that’s what we are after.”