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Central Pennsylvania SCORE Helps Boomers Drive Economy

February 1, 2010

By Beth Fowler, Central Penn Business Journal
January 28, 2010

Many economists believe baby boomer entrepreneurs will drive the economy toward health. 

Surprised? SCORE volunteers throughout Central Pennsylvania aren’t. The largest age group of our population also is the most entrepreneurial. 

Compared with their predecessors, people born between 1946 and 1964 are experiencing increased longevity and better health as they age. Those trends — combined with a reputation for being socially conscious, productive and having a positive effect on society — help explain the forces compelling baby boomers to start their own businesses. 

Of course, a drop in the number of so-called “lifetime” jobs provides motivation to run one’s own enterprise, too.

Tom Burgum of Lancaster SCORE and his counterparts at the other local chapters want to clear up a misconception about the nonprofit organization. “Many people seem to believe SCORE focuses only on emerging businesses,” Burgum said. “SCORE counselors mentor existing small businesses as well as start-ups.”

As the economy showed signs of stalling, many businesses significantly reduced their budgets and can’t afford to hire consultants and experts in sales, marketing, management, costs, etc.  SCORE offers many free and low-cost services dealing with those very issues to help businesses remain successful.

York’s Mike Atkins said he noticed a change in the type of clients coming to York SCORE  a couple of years ago.

“We started seeing more clients who had been running successful businesses for several years,” he said. “They were facing tough problems — fewer contracts in the pipeline, funds drying up.”

For that reason, Atkins knew it was important to get the word out to the business community that SCORE’s programs aren’t only for new businesses.

“A visit to SCORE isn’t a one-shot deal,” Harrisburg SCORE ‘s Andy Green explained. “Our business advisers can become ongoing mentors, an unbiased team of professionals who will listen and help business owners separate the trees from the forest.”

About half of the face-to-face and online sessions between SCORE advisers and clients are follow-on cases in which the clients are not new to SCORE, but are returning for more guidance, more brainstorming, more tools and techniques for survival.

Typically, on-going mentoring takes place at the client company’s site. It was described by the owner of an office equipment sales and service company as being “like a board of advisers that I don’t have to pay.”

Running a business always involves risk. SCORE CEO Kenneth Yancey said, “You’ll have to continue to keep a sharp eye on expenses and pay close attention to collecting your receivables to stay afloat. Even in a flush economy that’s how small business should operate to stay on the positive side of cash flow. Today’s economy just makes the challenge a bit tougher. But I know you can do it.”

SCORE is here to help small businesses do it.

Lancaster SCORE, for example, conducted 13 roundtables at which participants shared issues, solutions and best practices geared toward specific industries. 

Last year 1,776 people attended the business planning workshops hosted by Central PA SCORE chapters.  SCORE chapters sponsored new workshops on topics such as marketing on the Web, search engine optimization and QuickBooks. Lancaster SCORE offered the Kauffman Foundaton’s FastTrac(R) First Step series of workshops funded in part by the  Economic Development Company of Lancaster  .  York SCORE in cooperation with York County Economic Development Corporation organized the timely seminar “Struggling with Sales?”

Chapters have developed strategic partnerships to strengthen services to clients. For instance, to see the range of alliances Reading SCORE  has forged, visit http://www.reading008score.org/.   Each chapter has its own content-rich, user-friendly Web site with links to other sites important to start-up and existing businesses.

Capital is harder for business owners to get, so SCORE chapters responded in a variety of ways: initiating micro-loan programs, having bankers provide insight into sources of capital and requirements for obtaining it, making clients aware of the Community First Fund and of SBA-guaranteed loans.

“The counselors found that sometimes just asking the hard questions to reorient thinking was a great help to our clients,” Burgum said.

Knowing that today’s entrepreneurs prefer laptops over three-ring binders, Pottstown SCORE, to name one, offers online workshops and several chapters e-mail newsletters to clients and strategic partners.

Because the skills and tools needed to succeed in business are ever-changing, National SCORE decided years ago to recruit volunteers who are actively employed. Today, nationally and locally, nearly 40 percent of Score’s volunteers are employed. The author of this article is a case-in-point. Grateful for the role SCORE has had in her success as a business owner, she became a SCORE volunteer as well as a SCORE client.

More than 170 volunteer business counselors keep the local district SCORE Chapters running smoothly. They are current and former business owners. They are professionals from corporations and nonprofit organizations. Some are retired, some are semi-retired and some are enjoying their second or third careers. The men and women range in age from thirty-something to ninety-something.

It’s no surprise that many of the volunteers at SCORE, like many of the entrepreneurs they advise, are baby boomers. People ranging in age from 45 to 63 have the highest volunteer rate of any group of Americans, according to a 2005 study by the Corporation for National & Community Service.

SCORE has numerous services to choose from to meet entrepreneurs’ needs. Counselors with real-world experience in whatever issues you’re tackling are available.

“Even if you’re doing well in business, a mentor can confirm that or suggest changes,” said a client who received ongoing help from SCORE before buying out her partner’s portion of their business.

According to a recent Kauffman Foundation study, baby boomers are in the driver’s seat of our country’s economic recovery. If you know someone whose business idea needs a tune up, tell him or her about Score. Whether you’re a baby boomer, if you own a small business or are thinking of starting one, you don’t have to drive alone.

Beth Fowler is a SCORE volunteer in York. To find out more about SCORE in York go to http://www.yorkscore.org/   In Harrisburg, go to www.panetwork.com/Score.

To contact Lancaster SCORE visit   www.scorelancaster.org  or call (717) 397-3092

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