SCORE volunteers are available to help start-up or existing businesses
By Sarah Smith
New businesses, unless conceived under ideal conditions and launched perfectly, can have a miserable success rate.
But a volunteer organization in Park Rapids is trying to ensure that commercializing bright ideas can be a rewarding venture, both monetarily and theoretically.
Formerly known as the Senior Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE provides free coaches to guide small businesses, either start-ups or existing enterprises.
“We’re really underutilized,” said Bob Berdahl, one of two dozen area mentors. “There’s a lot of people we haven’t served.”
The program, run through the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Office, would like to recruit more expertise.
“We’re looking for quality and variety of backgrounds in volunteers,” said HDREDC executive director David Collins.
Berdahl said although most businesses need help with an overall business plan, financing and establishing a market, niche experience is extremely valuable, too.
Say you want to start a restaurant. Wouldn’t you like advice from someone who has owned or operated one, he asks.
“We’re pretty good generalists,” he said of the volunteers. But having expertise in retail service, home-based businesses and a knowledge of social media is a valuable addition, Collins said, finishing Berdahl’s sentence.
The group occasionally teams up to assist businesses, Berdahl said.
A national nonprofit group of thousands of business counselors, the Park Rapids group is part of a larger organization based in St. Cloud.
“SCORE helped nearly 400,000 people last year and nearly 4.5 million small businesses since 1964,” its brochure said.
Volunteers provide entrepreneurship and leadership skills, but don’t run businesses.
A small business needs to want help and be open to the advice, Berdahl said, otherwise it’s a waste of time on both ends.
“We give them ideas and direction based on what they’re willing to take,” Berdahl said.
An initial meeting, after a call for help, usually starts the process. Business owners, whether they have a bright idea or an invention, have varying needs.
“It can be a specific issue to address or develop into a long-term relationship,” Collins said of the expertise sought.
All businesses need to know about human resources, accounting, finance, sales and marketing, Berdahl said.
And SCORE counselors sometimes don’t see a business owner after that initial meeting.
“It can be intimidating,” he said. Some would-be entrepreneurs are not educated in business or give “no thought to the market for the things they’re trying to make or sell.”
SCORE counselors don’t formulate that business plan or procure financing. That’s up to the business owner. What are you selling and who are you selling it to, are basic questions.
“It’s amazing how many of these people don’t know if they’re making money or losing money,” Berdahl said.
“We hear that from the bankers in town,” Collins agreed.
And sometimes the to-do list business owners need to procure help from SCORE is daunting enough that they never come back.
“The biggest problem most people aren’t really aware of is the capital requirements they need to get into a business,” said Mark Hewitt, president of Northwoods Bank and a SCORE volunteer.
“That and having the right idea at the right time,” Hewitt added.
But the advice is invaluable if a business owner is willing to listen.
Since formulation in 2007, SCORE has assisted 73 local businesses, Berdahl said.
Volunteers would like to help even more succeed, especially existing businesses that want to reach the next plateau.
The group can be reached at 732-3359 or firstname.lastname@example.org.