Posted on June 16, 2022 at 4:30 am
The SCORE Spokane chapter might be one of the area’s best kept secrets as a useful and enlightening resource for entrepreneurs, established small business owners, and individuals just starting to consider opening their own business.
You might be asking yourself “What is SCORE?”—which proves my point!
SCORE’s name originated from Service Corps of Retired Executives. Today, SCORE is a nationwide network of volunteer business mentors who are experts in their respective fields of work. SCORE’s focus is helping people start, maintain, and grow their small businesses through mentorship and education.
To learn more about SCORE and the Spokane chapter, I talked with local SCORE mentor Ron Barkley about how he and others help entrepreneurs and small business owners every day.
Stacey: How did you get involved with SCORE?
Ron: I was recently retired and looking for something to do. I searched volunteer opportunities and found SCORE. Based on my background, it seemed to be a perfect fit.
Stacey: What’s your background in the business world?
Ron: I spent over 50 years in banking, mostly making loans to small- and medium-sized businesses. I started with a major bank in California and found my way to Spokane with a small community bank. After a number of years in Spokane, I returned to California to be a Chief Credit Officer for a startup bank. I retired from that bank and started my own consulting company working with banks, which led me back to a Spokane bank. I was able to work from home with a monthly visit to Spokane.
Stacey: What exactly does SCORE do and who does it serve?
Ron: SCORE empowers all entrepreneurs. We believe that anyone can start and manage a successful small business. We also know that the road is harder for some than for others. This is why SCORE mentors provide free mentoring to those wanting to start a business and to existing businesses.
In the past year, the local SCORE office helped 34 new businesses get their start, creating over 140 new jobs. The chapter served over 300 clients and provided those clients with over 1,000 hours of mentoring help.
The Spokane chapter serves a large geographical area covering five counties in Washington—Pend Oreille, Stevens, Lincoln, Whitman, and Spokane—and nine in Idaho—Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah, Latah, Nez Perce, Lewis, Clearwater, and Shoshone. Our mentors meet with folks who are just thinking about starting a business as well as those who are operating successful businesses, and everyone in between.
Stacey: How much does it cost to get mentoring help from SCORE?
Ron: All mentoring is free, whether we meet once or a number of times. Workshops are available, both by Zoom and by recorded sessions that clients can review as time allows. The workshops usually have a small fee attached, to help support the SCORE chapter. Our workshops offered through the library are free to attend.
Stacey: What does a typical mentoring session look like?
Ron: Once the client has entered the SCORE system, they are contacted to determine what kind of mentoring they are looking for. Once this has been determined, they are assigned a mentor who will set up an appointment to meet.
The first session may be more of a “getting to know you and what you need help with” situation. After that, sessions are booked based on the needs of the client. Most sessions last less than an hour and can be scheduled in person, by phone, or using an online platform like Zoom. Many times, there may only be one session between a mentor and client, but mentors are available for ongoing meetings. I have clients that I have met with 10–12 times, and we are continuing beyond that.
Stacey: What are the most common questions or requests for help you receive from clients?
Ron: Probably the most often asked question is: “How do I write a business plan?” followed by “Why do I need a business plan?”
Another frequent request is for help with QuickBooks. We also get a number of individuals who don’t know what they want to do exactly, but they know they want to start a business. You could say a common first client interaction is with someone not knowing which question to ask first!
Stacey: What are some of the most popular SCORE workshop topics?
Ron: Our most popular workshop is probably “How to Write a Business Plan,” followed by topics related to funding your business.
If we don’t have a live workshop on these topics coming soon, you can access a library of recorded workshops on the Spokane SCORE website. You can search for specific topics like business plans, or you can browse all available workshops with or without limiters (such as by industry or topic) to manage the results list.
For example, What You Need to Know about Business Plans is available to view anytime via the Spokane SCORE website. It will ask for some basic information from you, such as name, zip code, and email address, but it’s free to view. This workshop covers the key components of a successful business plan and what you’ll need to do to complete your own plan.
When you have questions about how to get money to start your business, you can browse over 50 workshops within the Financing and Capital category to find the one that is most relevant to your circumstances.
Stacey: What is your favorite workshop to present, and why?
Ron: As a retired banker, my favorite workshops to present revolve around financial statements and getting ready to talk to your banker about a loan. When I ask a client how they are going to do their accounting, a large number of them haven’t thought about it—but it’s a critical part of running a business.
Stacey: When should someone contact SCORE for help?
Ron: At any time! We have people who call saying that they don’t have an idea about what kind of business to start, but they know that they want to start a business. Others know what kind of business they want to start but don’t know where to start. SCORE mentors are prepared to work with clients regardless of where they are in the cycle.
Stacey: How does someone reach out to SCORE?
Ron: It is easy to get started with SCORE. You can just do an internet search for “Spokane SCORE” and our information will come up. Our website is spokane.score.org.
Once you’re on the website, click on “Find a Mentor,” or you call 509-353-2821 and leave a message. Our offices are currently closed to in-person appointments, but we reply to all online requests and voicemail messages.
Stacey: What’s your favorite thing about mentoring?
Ron: The thing I enjoy most about being part of SCORE is helping people realize their dreams of becoming business owners. Seeing a client move from an idea to selling a product is very rewarding! And even though clients are not always successful in getting a business off the ground, they still appreciate the opportunity to talk to someone about it.
Stacey: In addition to SCORE, what are other resources you’d like prospective owners and entrepreneurs to be aware of?
Ron: There are a number of places for people to reach out to for help. The Small Business Administration has excellent online resources, as does the State of Washington’s Department of Revenue and the Secretary of State. Local city planning departments are also great resources, especially with licensing requirements.
SCORE Spokane, in partnership with Spokane County Library District, presents free workshops on the third Thursday of every month at 12pm (noon). You can register for upcoming workshops on our events calendar.