It's part of the American dream: Taking your good idea, building a business around it, and driving it to success. But getting started on this journey doesn't happen overnight – it takes knowledge, dedication, and careful planning to make it a reality. And when you take that first step, you'll likely have more questions than answers. So where do you start?
Questions like this are what Tom Hughes loves to hear.
“We meet with local people who want to take their business or idea to the next level, and provide them with tools they need to get there,” Tom said.
Tom is the greater Seattle area Chapter Chair of SCORE , a nationwide nonprofit. Through mentoring and education, SCORE helps people bring to life their dream of owning their own business. The organization also provides people with a variety of free tools and resources, whether they're looking to write a business plan or manage financial statements for their existing (or thriving) business. With a huge online library of webinars, blogs, podcasts and other materials, SCORE can confidently address a business or prospective business with help on virtually any topic.
“There are two categories of clients we typically get,” Tom said. “The first is the in-business client. They usually need help finding the financing to grow their business. The second category is the startup – people looking to execute their business plan, or even draw it up for the first time. The divide between the two types is just about fifty-fifty.”
But what makes SCORE truly unique is found in its philosophy of mentorship.
“We've got about 11,000 volunteers spread out across the country,” says Tom. “These volunteers are generally successful business people who want to give back. When a business contacts us for help, we assign a volunteer to them, who will act as their mentor and give them direction on their request.”
Guiding people through this process, Tom said, is what makes SCORE what it is.
“Our tagline is ‘for the life of your business,' and when we match you with a mentor, the relationship isn't just one-and-done. They continue to act as a mentor to you as your business grows.”
Speaking of growth, the Seattle area has been no stranger to the concept in recent years. With that growth, SCORE has seen its clientele – and reach – expand.
“We saw about 25 percent more clients [in 2017] than the year before,” said Larry Spelhaug, SCORE's District Director for Washington State. “We're definitely growing in that sense.”
Larry added that due to rising costs of living in Seattle, a lot of the growth has come from SCORE's other locations throughout the state, including not just the greater Seattle area but South Seattle/Tacoma, Bellingham, Vancouver, Central Washington and Spokane.
“Of the new mentors we have, the majority are now in the outside branches,” Larry said. “We really needed to move out to where our clients are. Because of this, we've attracted a lot of new volunteers who can't make the drive to Seattle.”
Outlying areas have also felt the success brought on with the help of SCORE's volunteers. Mud Bay, the popular Washington-based pet supplies retailer, had a store in Olympia some years ago that was teetering on the verge of failure. When the store's management turned to SCORE for a mentor who could hopefully provide some direction, they were pleased to discover they weren't barking up the wrong tree.
With SCORE's help, the Olympia store was able to build a business plan to get them out of the red. The store took that plan and used it to find success, saving the future of the store in the process.
“They've been one of our greatest success stories,” says Tom. “The store still meets regularly with the mentor we paired them with.”
As the business environment continues to increase its reliance on technology, the process of pairing a mentor with a business has become easier for SCORE. If there's no local mentor that's a great match for a business in the area, Tom said, they can reach out nationally to a network of over 11,000 volunteers. “Either way, they'll be able to match you with a mentor who's a perfect fit for the needs of your business.”
“Most people who begin all this just want to be their own boss and succeed on their own,” says Tom. “Growth can be scary, and we know that. Helping people take their business to the next level has been very rewarding for us.”
To contact SCORE, visit https://seattle.score.org/ and click “Find a Mentor” on the top-right of the screen. Or, call them at 206-553-7320.