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SCORE Looks For Younger Counseling Help

Recognizing the important role technology plays in establishing and promoting small businesses, SCORE Los Angeles is changing its emphasis in the type of volunteer counselors it wants for the San Fernando Valley. Once primarily retired business people who used their free time to give advice to people wanting to set up a small business or with existing business owners, the organization now wants to attract younger volunteers with expertise in technology. According to Al Portnoy, co-chair of the Los Angeles chapter, it is important for SCORE to attract volunteers who could bring a new set of skills. “An organization such as ours has the obligation to keep current and offer services to those operating in today’s business environment,” Portnoy said. SCORE is a national organization established in 1964 to assist small business owners and is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. The organization has 65 counselors serving 30 offices throughout Los Angeles County. The main Glendale office has three counselors available daily, while at other locations, including the Valley, the counselors are available through appointments only. Counselors are required to give a half day once a week to meet with small business owners or those who have an idea for a business who want to talk about it with an experienced businessperson, Portnoy said. With many of their counselors in the age range of their late 60s to early 70s, attracting potential volunteers in their late 40s to early 50s is a change in emphasis from using retirees although counselors don’t necessarily need to be full-time business people, Portnoy said. “You don’t have to be retired you just have to be willing to give some time,” Portnoy said. “The more entrepreneurial they are the better they can work with budding entrepreneurs.” Rochelle Scott had already been running her Woodland Hills wig business Godiva’s Secret for six years when she hooked up with SCORE counselor Don Doner to determine the course she wanted to take her business. Creating a website for her business was one of the projects she and Doner worked on together, Scott said. Although the website does not necessarily translate into additional customers, it does help create credibility for her services, said Scott, who works primarily with cancer patients going through chemotherapy. “People can start to investigate on their own from their home,” Scott said. “The client can start to look at the wigs and read the testimonials before they come in.” Karen Gadson, owner of Joyful Gifts by Karen, designed her own website more as a visual brochure than as a way to transact business for her gift basket company. Gadson is now redesigning the website after receiving a critique by an Orange County SCORE counselor. “He was great,” Gadson said of the advice she received from the counselor. “He told me to add animation characters and redesign it in a way to catch the eye more.” Having counselors with knowledge of the Internet and how it can be used for sales, distribution, advertising and promotion is important as those skills are especially helpful in setting up home-based businesses, Portnoy said. “It’s a low-cost entry (to starting a business) as opposed to signing a lease and finding a location,” Portnoy said. But a SCORE counselor such as Doner who has helped along 30 to 40 successful businesses in his 15 years also gives advice that can’t apply to a computer screen. In meeting with a prospective business owner, Doner said he has them write out a vision statement of what they want to do and where they want to be in three to five years. He uses examples not only from his own life when he owned service stations and car dealerships but from other successful businesspeople, such as Ray Kroc who at age 53 started the McDonald’s Corp. to franchise fast-food restaurants. “I tell them they are never too old and they need to be healthy in mind and spirit,” Doner said. “I target the passion in their belly and if I hit that passion, I know I have a customer for life.”

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