If you’re thinking about starting a small business, it can make a big difference to get advice and guidance from folks who’ve been there. The same goes when you’re trying to boost the performance of your existing company.

But consultants are expensive, and how-to books can only take you so far. What’s a budding entrepreneur or veteran businessperson to do? The answer: Score with the help of SCORE San Diego.

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Take advantage of SCORE San Diego’s free and low-cost business counseling and education services.

For 50 years, the local chapter of the national nonprofit association SCORE has helped small businesses get off the ground and achieve its goals through education and mentorship. Thanks to support from the U.S. Small Business Administration and a host of supporters in the local business community, SCORE’s services are offered at little or no cost.

“We’re one of the biggest and most active chapters in the nation, and we cover the whole county,” says Tom McGurn, a retired Encinitas corporate executive who serves as a local SCORE mentor. “We have 90 volunteer members, all devoted to using our backgrounds and experience to help other people succeed in the business world.”

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Here are five ways that SCORE San Diego gives a helping hand to businesses:

1. SCORE Helps You Get Started

Have you been dreaming of starting that T-shirt store, computer repair shop or dry cleaning outfit? SCORE’s online resources and in-person mentoring services will give you the insight you need into the basics of beginning a business.

One-hour counseling sessions are available Monday-Friday at SCORE’s downtown office, 550 W. C Street, and on various days of the week at Chambers of Commerce and other locations around the county. Sessions can be also held at a mutually convenient location like a coffee shop during the day or after work. Sessions can be on the phone or via email, and all of SCORE’s mentoring is confidential.

“The meetings at SCORE’s fixed locations are a great way for a client to get introduced to SCORE” McGurn says. “We prompt them with questions that they’ll need to answer and help them make decisions. It’s great fun to meet people and diagnose their needs.”

After the initial meeting, most client engagements feature a combination of meetings, email exchanges and phone discussion. “Helping is rewarding, and we get a lot of satisfaction when we see somebody grow,” McGurn says.

Tri Huyhn, one of SCORE San Diego’s success stories, understands just how much mentors can mean to a fledging businessperson. He told his story during a deeply emotional speech at SCORE San Diego’s 50th anniversary party earlier this year.

He brought his business plan to a SCORE San Diego mentor, and he waited anxiously for a response. The mentor read it for 20 minutes and shook his head. Huyhn was ready to run.

Then came a response that changed his life. “You know what, Tri,” the mentor declared, “I think this might work. It was at that moment that everything changed for me. That was exactly what I needed.”

Armed with the confidence gained from his mentor, Huyhn was able to open his first business, a North Park yogurt shop called Yog-Art. He has since moved into the architecture and real-estate development fields. “I can’t honestly say that I am successful yet, but I can say that I’m not afraid to pursue my dreams.”


 2. Services Are Free or Inexpensive

Most of SCORE’s services are free, including one-on-one confidential business coaching. The Templates and Tools section of SCORE’s website offers free resources on topics like business licenses, intellectual property, franchising, insurance, sales of businesses and small business loans. Free webinars are also available.

Interactive local SCORE workshops are just $20 for three-hour sessions each and held throughout the month. They encompass about 40 topics such as business plans, employee hiring, search engine optimization, social media, financial software and more.

Other events are inexpensive. SCORE’s Women’s Networking Breakfasts, for example, cost just $12 or $62 for the breakfast program plus an exhibition table. Exhibitors showcase their products and services to 100+ attendees at each breakfast, and they get the chance to describe their business to the entire group. The program features a speaker who focuses on a subject important to small business.

 3. Reality Checks Are Included Too

Not every business is destined to survive and thrive. That’s why SCORE mentors try to be honest about prospects for the ideas that entrepreneurs present to them.

“Sometimes, people are in love with an idea, but if you look at it objectively, it doesn’t have as much potential as they’d think,” McGurn says. “They may not understand the dimensions of skills, activities and money that are required to successfully launch a business. That’s why it’s so important to have a reality check from those who have more experience, to get a view from another set of eyes.”

An unbiased, independent viewpoint is crucial, agrees SCORE mentor Lex Lyon, an events consultant for more than 40 years of experience. “They need someone with no skin in the game to tell them if they have a good idea or they need to go back to the drawing board.”

4. Executive Leadership Forums Provide Guidance

For just $120 per month, SCORE offers Executive Leadership Forums that bring together eight to a dozen business owners from non-competing fields for monthly gatherings. The four-hour meetings are designed to promote a discussion about each person’s ongoing experiences, goals and challenges.

“Someone might talk about a new regulation and how it’s affecting businesspeople,” McGurn says. “Or someone will come and talk about how their market share has fallen and ask the others about their experiences. It’s a great opportunity for peer learning and accountability, and it gives you a big safety net.”

5. SCORE Is In It for the Life of Your Business

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Join SCORE’s 13,000 volunteers across the nation.

SCORE has a remarkable group of mentors. “Our folks are a hugely successful and experienced corps of people who are eager to share their knowledge,” says Lyon, who serves as SCORE San Diego’s Vice President-Marketing.

These mentors don’t just teach businesspeople a thing or two then disappear. They’re in it for the long haul.

“We have ongoing relationships,” McGurn says. “I have one client who I met with individually on marketing strategies and as part of a two-member advisory board.  My background as a communications person in a large corporation is combined with other mentor’s financial and operational experience. We meet with her every other month.”

At these meetings, the trio will talk about the businesswoman’s progress and brainstorms ideas about how to meet her challenges. “We help her move forward,” McGurn says, “and it’s very rewarding.”

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