Open for Business
Big business doesn’t happen overnight. Start-ups begin small, take time, and require both time and monetary investments, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be a successful entrepreneur. The first step is romancing your way out of the grandeur of owning your own business and being your own boss. Like putting down $50 on red and the ball landing on green, it’s not a 50-50 deal, but with the right plan, and the right friends, you could one day sign your own paychecks.
SCORE, formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives, asks the hard questions to prospective entrepreneurs. SCORE is a national, nonprofit organization with more than 13,000 volunteers in the U.S. that offers free mentoring to entrepreneurs and small businesses. The Evansville chapter won SCORE’s Indiana District’s 2010 Chapter of the Year award, and includes mentors in engineering, human resources, international sales, law, marketing, finance, and various other areas of business.
SCORE is accessible to small businesses in any stage — whether it’s in the embryo phase or three years in. The first step is to meet with Howard Southerland, Tom Koetting, or 29 other mentors to assess the specific areas where SCORE can help.
Southerland spent 30 years with General Electric in accounting, distribution, and computer services positions, and now he wants to share some of the things he learned throughout his career. “SCORE acts as a sounding board for our clients, and we check the veracity of their decision making,” he says. These decisions could be product pricing, human resource issues, legal, or general business-related operations. Southerland says it’s important when assessing new business ideas to determine if an idea is viable before someone spends money on it.
“A lot of people say they’re sick and tired of their bosses, or are simply out of work,” says Rob Bonger, chair of the Evansville SCORE chapter. Bonger worked as a mechanical engineer and technical buyer in the Netherlands, then South Africa, Houston, New Jersey, and eventually Evansville for several companies. SCORE mentors don’t make decisions for people seeking their help. Instead, they ask the important questions that eager clients might avoid or have missed. “If an idea is overly complex or unmarketable, it’s important that they understand it’s not worth their time and money before they try to spend what they might not have,” he says. Is the product useful? Is it already on the market? Would it be competitive?
Each new client is paired with a prime counselor who serves as the initial contact. After that first meeting, the counselor determines what kind of additional mentors are needed to help guide the business. Some small businesses need technical assistance, for example, and others need extensive manufacturing or marketing guidance for their product. Once that is covered, meetings are planned with the clients, and the real work begins.
“New business owners need patience, preparation, and proper motivation,” says Bonger. “Don’t quit your day job and lose your medical insurance and salary, or else you’ll be broke before you even start.” The first step is to create a break-even analysis (costs and revenues to see if the product has a future), then a business plan. Bonger, as well as Southerland and Koetting, all say the same thing: new business owners need to be prepared, not be too optimistic, and form a realistic business plan that gives an objective view of their business. A good plan explains what your business does and how it will operate, determines if there’s a need for loans, overviews marketing strategies and competition, and determines the direction of the business. From there, entrepreneurs can begin the process of registering their business, setting up bank accounts, getting proper accounting software, finding employees, and everything that follows.
Around a quarter of SCORE’s new clients are existing businesses, a number they hope to increase. “We look for ways existing businesses can improve their results and efficiency,” Koetting says. Expansion is difficult for successful start-ups, who may be left with the ‘where do I go from here?’ question. Do you hire more employees, adjust your marketing system, expand the product line? SCORE mentors have experience in all of these aspects.
Every start-up is unique and has its own set of challenges. SCORE makes it easier, taking nothing in return except the satisfaction of helping the community grow existing businesses and pioneer new ones. SCORE mentors know where the pitfalls are, and are willing to put forth the time and effort to support entrepreneurs however they can.
“We get clients who come in here who think they have zillion dollar ideas,” says Southerland. “We want them to think big, but realistically. Some people just aren’t ready to start a business, and say ‘Oops, we were wrong.’”
Evansville SCORE’s chapter office, located at Innovation Pointe, 318 Main St., Suite 223, has open doors for new or existing small business owners. Schedule a meeting with a mentor online at www.evansville.score.org, or give them a call at 812-426-6144. SCORE also hosts entrepreneurial workshops.