Know the score: help for Arizona entrepreneurs

If you are not afraid to ask for advice, the Small Business Administration (SBA) can help you navigate through the seemingly uncharted and highly competitive waters of small business entrepreneurship in Arizona.

by Bruce Hodgman — 

Aspiring entrepreneurs often wonder where they can turn for help with their small business idea or problem. What are the first steps I should take? How do I market this product? How should I handle this problem? What is the best way to grow a business? If you are not afraid to ask for advice, the Small Business Administration (SBA) can help you navigate through the seemingly uncharted and highly competitive waters of small business entrepreneurship in Arizona.

SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives), known as “counselors to America’s small business,” has the best source of free, confidential small business advice to help you build or grow your business — from idea, to start-up, to success. The SCORE Association, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a resource partner of the SBA. This nonprofit association is dedicated to entrepreneurial education and the formation, growth and success of small businesses nationwide.

SCORE’s extensive, national network is comprised of thousands of retired and working volunteers who are experienced entrepreneurs and corporate managers/executives. These volunteers provide free business counseling and advice as a public service to all types of businesses, in all stages of development. Nearly 200 small business counselors in 22 statewide locations volunteer their expertise to help Arizona entrepreneurs.

SCORE matches volunteer business management counselors with clients in need of expert advice. With experts in virtually every area of business management, the organization maintains a national skills roster to help identify the best counselor for a client. Volunteer counselors share their management and technical expertise with present and prospective small business owners.

The key qualification these counselors bring to clients is practical, real-world experience. All SCORE counselors receive specialized training in counseling and mentoring, and all have some form of general management experience. However, the real success of their counseling is their invaluable industry experience. This specific industry knowledge can benefit a business by offering solutions or answers that have proven successful in the past.

For example, say you want to start a civil engineering business. It would be very valuable to have a SCORE counselor with experience in this highly specialized field review your business plan for feedback before you begin operations. Being able to tap into this knowledge base at no cost is an invaluable opportunity for anyone trying to resolve today’s business problems in our fast-moving, high-technology economy.

SCORE volunteers can help prospective and established small business owners and managers identify problems, determine the causes and find solutions. They are well-versed in developing effective business plans and creating strategies for business growth.

In addition to one-on-one counseling, SCORE also offers low-cost workshops and seminars with real-world, practical experience. Topics are planned to help address interests specific to Arizona business owners. To see a list of available workshops, visit www.sba.gov/az, and click on the Training Calendar link.

Any small business can obtain help from SCORE. The approach is confidential and personal. You do not need to be applying for or to have an SBA loan to participate in the program. In fact, the only prerequisite for consultation and counseling is that you have an idea.

Counseling also is offered online with a Web site created and managed by volunteers. Visitors choose from a list of counselors with expertise in the business area that interests them. Next, they write a question to the counselor who is the best match for their business or industry, and get an answer by e-mail. Site users can keep the dialogue going as long as they have unanswered questions. Visit www.score.org, and click on the “Ask Score” link.

To find the nearest SCORE chapter or access upcoming training, visit www.sba.gov/az/az_counselingt.html, or call SCORE at 1-602-745-7200.

 

Bruce Hodgman is the deputy director of the SBA in Arizona and can be reached at bruce.hodgman@sba.gov.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 5, October/November 2006.

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