“I’m from the government and I am here to help.”

Funny, huh? Maybe not.

Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) are both affiliates of the Small Business Administration. They offer free mentoring to small businesses, both existing ones and start-ups. SCORE has a local presence with a branch in Park Rapids.

SCORE is a nationwide organization that provides free and confidential mentoring face-to-face and through email, text and telephone. Additional educational opportunities are provided through local and online workshops and seminars. Its mission is to “foster vibrant small business communities through mentoring and education.”

Certified SCORE mentors undergo training to help them provide assistance. They are taught to listen, learn, provide ideas, test and follow up on progress. Annual retraining keeps them current.

A mentor’s task is to suspend judgment, share knowledge and experience, provide guidance, utilize available tools and offer direction for future action. They are there to provide advice and council, not to direct the client. Sometimes, people just need sounding boards, and they develop new ideas to problems or opportunities on their own.

Another way to get ongoing advice is to form an advisory board. The advantages over a board of directors is that you don’t have to pay them and you don’t have to follow their advice, but you do have to listen to them, respect them and learn from them.

Members of an advisory board can be respected acquaintances, like other businesspeople, lawyers, accountants, professionals and retirees who would be glad to help. People like to be asked for advice, and you might be surprised at the quality of a board that you can assemble. They typically would meet monthly and review your progress on achieving your goals, financial condition, current obstacles and arising opportunities.

SCORE’s national website, score.org, is another helpful resource. Documents available for download there are business plan templates for a startup business or existing business, a marketing cookbook, “How to Really Start Your Own Business,” financial projections and more. It also offers online workshops, covering everything from building a business plan and setting prices to developing competitor and market analyses.

Small business success comes from a combination of hard work and risk taken in the pursuit of your dreams. You don’t have to do it alone. Support, encouragement and tools that you might need are available for the asking.

Lou Schultz is a Certified SCORE Mentor and can be reached by email at cabinlou@mac.com with questions regarding this column.