By Sally Broff
When one thinks about what drives the economy of San Diego County, the highly visible contributions of defense, biotech, medical, communications technology and tourism quickly come to mind. Small business is often overlooked, possibly because the products and services provided by these entrepreneurs are such an integral element in the fabric of the region.
Starting and operating a small business carries the same risks, rewards, challenges and dynamics as major corporations or industries, but without the benefit of the size, scale, and resources enjoyed by the big players. That’s why SCORE was established here 50 years ago.
SCORE is a national nonprofit volunteer organization with a clear mission: Use the hands-on business experience of our members to help small business owners succeed. SCORE is a resource partner of the Small Business Administration with 320 chapters and 11,000 volunteers across the country. The national organization started in 1964.
What does SCORE’s mission look like in practical term in San Diego?
Let’s imagine that you are thinking about starting an apparel business or are looking for advice on how to market to premium customers. Would it be valuable for you to get advice from someone who was one of the original six employees of Tommy Bahama?
Interested in doing business with the government? One of our mentors sits on the board of the major supplier council and can guide you through DUNS numbers, NAICS, CCR, ORCA, and the other acronyms used in that world to develop plans and make contacts.
Are you more comfortable discussing your business needs in Spanish, or want advice from someone who has experience in Mexico? SCORE has bilingual mentors who have operated businesses on both sides of the border.
Financial questions? Applying for a SBA loan? How about meeting with a former Big Eight accounting firm partner, or an officer of a bank that served the needs of small businesses every day?
That’s a snapshot of who SCORE is in San Diego County—90 volunteers, a mix of women and men, current and retired business owners and corporate executives, and a selection of ages spanning six decades. Collectively, the members have worked in virtually every industry and can share experience in all business functions.
SCORE volunteers are busy. During 2015 SCORE San Diego worked with 9,091 in mentoring sessions and workshops, and played a role in starting 751 new businesses and creating 1,044 jobs, according to research conducted for the SCORE Foundation by Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
Counseling is free, confidential, and customized to the needs of the client. We match the experience of our members to the client—whether he or she is thinking about starting a business or wants to improve the performance an existing business. Counseling continues as long as it is beneficial for the client. If a client wants assistance on several fronts—say marketing, expense control, and systemization, for example—a team of mentors can be assembled. SCORE members often serve on advisory boards for small business.
We’ll meet with people at our fixed locations—chambers and our downtown office—over the phone, via e-mail, or in person at a mutually convenient location. We do a lot of coffee shops.
“Having SCORE as an on-call resource has been incredibly important as my business successfully evolved over several years from an idea, through prototypes and manufacturing to active sales,” says Yana Mohanty, founder of Geometiles, an innovative tool for math education. “I use SCORE mentors for reality checks and regular advice and specialized topics including manufacturing, finance, packaging, and sales and marketing. They are consistently accessible and helpful.”
SCORE also presents workshops on about 40 topics, ranging from exploring the basic question “Do you really want to start a business?” to topics including how to write a business plan, tax considerations for small businesses, intellectual property, and tools like QuickBooks. There are five workshops on different aspects of the wild world of e-commerce and social media.
Finally, we believe it is important to bring entrepreneurs together to use their experience to share and learn. SCORE conducts bi-monthly Women’s Networking breakfast meetings that feature a guest speaker, entrepreneurs displaying their products and services, and a structured networking opportunity with the 100 or so participants.
The power of networking and the potential offered by small group dynamics is best experienced in SCORE’s Executive Leadership Forum program—a program than can help every existing small business. The Executive Leadership Forum brings together eight to twelve non-competing business owners or nonprofit executives for a monthly four-hour meeting. The members set the agenda by identifying business issues, challenges, and opportunities of common interest. The members learn from one another by sharing their experiences and perspectives, by challenging one another, and through group accountability. Two SCORE members act as facilitators.
Paul Needelman of Cleanology Housekeeping Personnel Service reports, “My experience in the Forum program is invaluable. The topics discussed at the meetings always provide me with at least three to five new concepts or information that I can immediately incorporate into my business.”
SCORE San Diego is celebrating its 50th anniversary by telling the success stories of its clients who have contributed so much to San Diego County’s vibrant small business community and the region’s economy. If you can benefit from SCORE’s unique and valuable approach to business success, or think SCORE would be a great volunteer opportunity, please visit www.sandiego.score.org or call us at 619-557-7272.
Sally Broff is president of SCORE San Diego. She has 35 years of experience in the electronics industry.
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