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Know the score: Small biz basics for entrepreneurs

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Aspiring small business owners and entrepreneurs often wonder where they can turn for help with their small business idea. What are the first steps to take, how should a product be sold and what is the best way to grow a business. If you’re not afraid to ask for advice, the SBA can help you navigate through the seemingly uncharted waters of business startup.

SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Business is the best source of free and confidential small business advice to help you build your business — from idea to startup to success. The SCORE Association, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. It is a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneurial education and the formation, growth and success of small businesses nationwide.

SCORE’s extensive, national network of 10,500 retired and working volunteers are experienced entrepreneurs and corporate managers/executives. These volunteers provide free business counseling and advice as a public service to all types of businesses, in all stages of development.

SCORE matches volunteer business management counselors with clients in need of expert advice. SCORE has experts in virtually every area of business management and maintains a national skills roster to help identify the best counselor for a particular client. Volunteer counselors share their management and technical expertise with both present and prospective small business owners.

The key qualification SCORE counselors bring to clients is real-world experience. SCORE business counselors have general management and specific industry experience that can benefit your business. SCORE business counselors may be working or retired business owners, business executives or operations managers. All SCORE counselors receive specialized training in counseling and mentoring.

SCORE volunteers can help prospective and established small business owners and managers identify problems, determine the causes and find solutions. They are well versed in developing effective business plans and creating strategies for business growth.

In addition to one-on-one counseling, SCORE also offers low-cost workshops and seminars at the local chapter level. Topics are planned to help address specific interests in a given community. Workshop topics have included: developing your business plan, starting and operating your own business, getting financing for your business, basic business accounting, expanding your business and marketing — a do-it-yourself approach for small business.

Any small business can obtain help from SCORE. The approach is confidential and personal. You don’t need to have or be applying for an SBA loan to participate in the program. In fact, an idea is all that is necessary for consultation and counseling.

SCORE offers counseling online with a Web site created and managed by volunteers. Visitors to the site choose from a list of counselors with expertise in the business areas that interest them and write a question to the counselor who is the best match for their business or industry, and get an answer by e-mail. Site users can keep the dialog going as long as they have unanswered questions. Online counselors handle more than 60,000 e-mail inquiries each year.

To get free and confidential business advice, and to find the nearest SCORE chapter, visit www.score.org, or call SCORE toll free at (800) 634-0245. SCORE’s online counseling gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to send their small business question by e-mail to a SCORE counselor anywhere in the country. Contact San Diego’s SCORE Chapter 140 at (619) 557-7272 or visit www.score-sandiego.org.

Small Business Success

Before import businesswoman Yi Ping Mohyi connected with SCORE, her giftware and decorative accessories business, specializing in silk butterflies, bees, dragonflies and flowers, was marginally successful. But after attending one of SCORE’s regular workshops on Internet marketing and being taken under the wing of instructor/counselor Marty Weiss, it was as if the silk butterfly business, Heart to Heart Gifts Inc., based in Oceanside, (www.butterflycraze.com) suddenly underwent a stunning metamorphosis, sprouted wings and literally took off.

Mohyi learned about SCORE’s small business resources by picking up some literature about the organization where she registered for her business license. As the owner of a successful Internet business, Weiss used his extensive contacts to put her in touch with top photographers and Web site designers who helped make her products look highly professional. She refined her business plan, took additional business skills workshops in sales and marketing, and sent employees for QuickBooks and bookkeeping training.

“Sales had been relatively flat,” she said, “but after working with the SCORE team of counselors, things seemed to change literally overnight. Sales steadily increased week after week, and within five months of working with SCORE, they had jumped an incredible 1,900 percent.”

Her uniquely designed products have since been featured on ABC-TV’s Extreme Home Makeovers program, Discovery Channel’s Party Show and MTV’s Spring Break at Disney World, and are in demand by some of Hollywood’s hottest set and costume designers. “There’s no question that SCORE changed my life and direction,” Mohyi said. “Finding SCORE was the turning point for me and my business.”

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