SCORE Counselors Share Life Lessons With Business Owners
By Gary Kauffman
The one thing you can’t buy as a business owner is years of experience. But there is one group that is giving it away for free.
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) started in 1964 as a way for retired business leaders to mentor others in business and give them the benefit of the lessons they learned over the years. Aiken has thrived with an active chapter of SCORE for years and in 2017 was named the National Chapter of the Year for Small Cities.
But across the river, neither Richmond nor Columbia counties has a SCORE chapter. There are five SCORE counselors, who work under the Aiken chapter. And counselors from South Carolina have mentored businesses in Augusta.
Now, though, retired Augusta businessman Jeff Annis and others are hoping to kick off the start of an Augusta chapter at the end of February. Annis said an Augusta chapter is needed because already about 40 percent of those being mentored are in Richmond and Columbia counties.
The Small Business Administration issued a grant to fund the start of the Augusta chapter but it takes more than money.
“To be effective we need about 15 counselors,” Annis said. “But it’s hard to find counselors. Too few people know what a rewarding experience it is to counsel entrepreneurs.”
Although the name of the organization contains the word retired, Annis said that is not a requirement for a counselor.
“It’s OK if you’re completely retired from business life, but you could be a well-established 49-year-old who wants to give back to the community,” he said. “If you have the time to give, then give it. You don’t have to be gray headed or bald headed to be a SCORE volunteer.”
It is also not necessary to have been an executive. SCORE counsels all types of businesses, so volunteers can come from a wide variety of occupations.
They also come from a wide range of backgrounds.
“One of the best things in the world is when you can have a 50-year-old white woman and 35-year-old black man and a bald headed man like me, all with different challenges in our past, come together to serve,” Annis said.
SCORE counselors can dedicate as little as three hours a week to serve, and counseling can be done via phone, email or Skype, as well as in person. Much of the process of connecting with clients is automated – many of those seeking counseling sign up through the internet.
SCORE also mentors through seminars. The Aiken chapter puts on about 50 seminars per year in Aiken and North Augusta. Plans are to soon have at least one per month in Columbia County. The seminars cover a gamut of business subjects, from finances and human resources to marketing and social media.
“A lot of what SCORE mentors do is tell where the land mines are,” Annis said.
Some businesses use SCORE counselors on an ongoing basis while others may only need a push in the right direction.
“Sometimes it’s one one-hour session that’s all they needed,” Annis said. “One little checkpoint to get them going in the right direction.”
But for many small businesses, sitting down with an independent advisor every three to four months helps keep a business flowing smoothly. Annis said the problem for many small businesses is relying on advice from friends or from people they are beholden to, like banks or accountants, whose advice may not be unbiased.
“You can get a SCORE advisory board where we put two or three people together to give you an independent, competent and unbiased opinion of what you should or shouldn’t be doing,” Annis said.
SCORE counsels all types of businesses, from the entrepreneur researching a business startup to an established business with dozens of employees.
“A lot of people think it’s just for startups, but it’s for everybody,” Annis said.
Annis said that mentoring, through SCORE and other organizations, is vital to the entire community. Even some of the largest manufacturers in the area rely on small businesses to supply parts. Annis said there is one small business in the area that makes a single part that is vital to John Deere’s ability to make tractors.
“The health of the small business ecosystem is vastly, critically important to everything we do,” he said. The Aiken chapter of SCORE has shown that mentoring works to create healthy small businesses, and Annis think it will be beneficial to Augusta area businesses as well.
“We live in a society where everyone can succeed with a little bit of blood, sweat and tears and the grace of God,” he said. “But if you can sit down every 90 to 120 days and have someone give you an unbiased opinion, you’ll be way ahead of everyone else.”
For more information about the new chapter of SCORE, contact Annis at email@example.com or call 706-941-8140. For more information about SCORE, visit score.org.