If you own a small business or you’re considering a new venture, you might want to keep the phone number to the nearest SCORE office on your speed dial. Established in 1964, SCORE is a national organization (a partner of the Small Business Administration), with more than 360 chapters around the county and four local offices, that offers free counseling to anyone who wants to start or grow a business. “Our experience, knowledge and the fact that it’s all free makes SCORE appealing to any small business owner,” says Bob Boles, a volunteer with the nonprofit.
SCORE’s 13,000 nationwide volunteers are all retirees who have had successful careers and are now offering their advice as a way to give back. “What do we bring to the table? Well, we’ve been there and done that,” Boles says. “I had my own small business for many years, and I experienced peaks and valleys, so I can advise as to what not to do, along with being able to advise what to do.” Boles adds that working as a counselor with a small business owner is tremendously rewarding. “To make a couple of suggestions that creates a light bulb moment for them is wonderful! And we do that all the time at SCORE.”
Locally, SCORE serves an estimated 3,000 clients each year at offices in Kirkwood, downtown, St. Peters and its newest office on the campus of Saint Louis University. Along with Boles, volunteers in St. Louis include Fannie Bohlen, 40 years at May Department Stores; Larry Ross, 35 years at Bank of America; Pete Von Minden, a retired VP from Boeing; Gregory Christofel, a former partner/business attorney at Green Jacobson; Sam Simler, former owner of a retail store for 35 years; and Paul Greenberger, who owned Chesterfield Media Group for 30 years. And with no criteria to be met, getting help from SCORE is as easy as picking up a phone and asking for a counselor, Boles says. “When someone comes in, we look to pair them with a counselor who has related experience. But there a few things that I always recommend no matter what the business is: First, never stop learning. You’ve got to be a reader, and if you’re not, become one. Also, service your customers to death! If you don’t, someone else will. And be financially aware. Get the money, count the money and keep the money! Lastly, there are four sacred people that every small business owner should have on their team: a CPA, banker, insurance agent and attorney.”
In addition to counseling, SCORE also offers workshops and seminars throughout the year, including all-day workshops that cover topics like legal, finance, marketing and sales. “The volunteers at SCORE just want to share what they know,” Boles says. “The small business is the lifeblood of our country. These businesses are the future of our nation, and they always have been. We started out with small businesses—we didn’t start out with Boeing and Anheuser-Busch. So by helping them to be successful, we feel we are helping our country to be successful, as well.”