SCORE provides help for small businesses

By Brandon Martin

The economic strain in the fallout due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), has left some business owners looking for a helping hand to remain afloat during the pandemic and SCORE is one resource.

According to Gary Poehler, a volunteer at the Richmond chapter of SCORE, the nonprofit organization’s name initially stood for the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Now, simply going by SCORE, the organization “provides free and confidential business mentoring services to prospective and established small-business owners.”

They currently have more than 13,000 active and retired business professionals that volunteer their time. The services available to clients typically falls under one of four main categories, according to the nonprofit’s website.

The main service being their mentor services. SCORE mentors like John Tile are available to give advice during mandatory closures via email, phone and video.

“First thing is know your numbers,” he said. “Of course there are revenues and costs. There are some businesses doing well with revenues remaining greater than cost,” adding that the majority of calls at this time are because certain businesses aren’t doing as well.

He suggests doing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis.

“That way you can identify those things in your business that are causing you issues and what you need to do,” Tile said. “Also if you haven’t already, look at expanding online.”

He said SCORE has helped clients in New York and Harrisburg, that are “just mom-and-pop shops” who did not offer online options which is vital during the era of social distancing.

Tile also said that now is the time to reignite “your entrepreneurial spirit when you got into this,” by reimagining your business.

“It got you to where you are at now in your business. Don’t forget that,” he said. “I know you may be running a business now for several years but you have that spirit that you can turn things around.”

Another unavoidable reality is cost and “the things you must and can cut,” Tile added. He suggested negotiating and working minimum payments, as much as possible.

“This is a business, not time for emotion,” he said. “Some decisions need to be made”.

Another vital point made to small business owners was the importance of communication. Tile said it was “critical” if you have issues communicating with your customers and whoever you owe money.

To help with communicating, he said to document every conversation and keep a log of dates, times, people you talk to and agreements that were made.

“That way you have that record,” he said. “And I would follow-up with that document saying here is what we have discussed with your board–key points, key factors. And of course communicate with your employees regularly. If they are on furlough, send an email, get emails from your employees. We have clients that still have some people at home they are paying.

Tile urged those seeking help to reach out to a local SCORE mentor.

“We are in business and we are here for you doing videos, zoom, mentoring sessions,” he said. “ The (Small Business Administration) SBA, and the small business development centers are there for your use. Any chambers of commerce, economic alliances, seek them out as well.”

One complaint lauded towards the rollout of loans from the SBA was that it took forever to hear back about the status of the application. For that, Tile said it largely comes down to nature and timing of the business.

“It depends on the business and when you fill out the forms,” he said. “So we tell our clients to get the forms in as soon as possible. I think it’s taking anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks.”

Tile said that if businesses still don’t hear back during that time that they could also call the SBA but to “make sure you have the application number.”

Poehler said that in addition to mentoring, SCORE also offers free and low-cost educational workshops each year, both online and in-person.

The topics range from startup strategies to marketing and finance. Attendees can watch webinars live, or view recordings online on their own time. SCORE also offers interactive courses on demand, where their clients can walk through each module at their own pace.

The nonprofit also offers access to their online library as well.

Business owners can access templates, checklists, blogs, videos, infographics and a variety of other resources.

Once social distancing guidelines have been lifted, SCORE also offers free or low-cost in-person workshops and roundtable discussions covering a range of topics.

All of the online workshops are free of charge and clients can register for a live webinar presented by a business expert, view a recorded webinar or take an interactive course on demand, according to the organization’s website.

Instructor-led workshops, roundtables and events in the community are available for free or for a nominal fee. All funds received from the local workshops support the chapter and development of new workshops, handouts, materials and other business resources.

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