SCORE – Growing Small Businesses with Education, Mentorship
We interviewed Don Weil, Chairman of the San Francisco chapter of SCORE. He has mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs over the past two years. Prior to SCORE, Don spent his career leading the growth of various small and mid-sized manufacturing companies. Don is a graduate from Harvard Business School and the US Naval Academy.
The latest info & advice to help you run your business.
What is the mission of SCORE? How do you help small business owners?
SCORE is a non-profit organization made up of seasoned business veterans who volunteer their time to mentor entrepreneurs. Our mission is to help startups and small businesses by offering free, one-on-one mentoring sessions and low cost workshops. There’s no limit to the sessions – entrepreneurs can use as many as they need. We offer both online and in-person workshops as well. A list of upcoming events can be found on our website at SanFrancisco.Score.org.
What do you do as a SCORE mentor? What is a typical session like?
I am just one of over 40 mentors in the San Francisco chapter and there are 360 chapters nationwide. Mentors have a wide variety of experiences but all are well-versed with handling general business plans and problem solving. Sessions are usually an hour long and we meet with the client to discuss his or her specific problem.
The clients come with a long list of questions so we let them talk first to get an understanding of what help they are looking for. Much like a career counselor we’ll ask probing questions to help the entrepreneur open up and uncover underlying challenges they’re facing. For example – that’s an interesting idea, do you have competitors in this space? Or, that’s a pretty ambitious project, what experience do you have in that field? Some entrepreneurs are so passionate about their work they have a hard time seeing where their true weakness lies. Without understanding that, it’s impossible to come up with a viable solution.
When should an owner seek mentorship from SCORE?
Sooner, rather than later. Don’t wait until you’ve maxed out all of your credit cards while looking for funding or have been expanding so quickly you can’t remember what day it is. Come see us at the first sight of an issue, or better yet, before there is an issue. Almost any business can be improved by the guidance of a qualified mentor.
What’s the most common question you get asked by business owners?
We get lots of financing questions, which is probably the most complex part of running a business. Our recommendations depend upon many factors – in particular, how much the client needs and what assets they have available to them. Most clients do not have enough cash to self finance, so for the most part, the next step is to ask family and friends. This involves a lot of personal relationship risks in addition to the financial risks, but these are the people that believe they will succeed the most.
Often, we have to look at sources other than banks. A bank typically wants the client to have at least one-third of what is needed in cash and even then, the bank will likely seek a Small Business Association (SBA) guarantee for the loan.
What advice do you give business owners who need help with running operations like bookkeeping, payroll, HR and benefits?
If these are not core functions for your business, I advise companies to outsource back-office processes as much as possible to professional organizations. The entrepreneur should be focused on the core mission of their business, not trying to deal with the complexities of operations. There are plenty of great service providers and technology solutions available these days to make it easy for businesses to outsource effectively.
What trends are you seeing from business owners in San Francisco?
One of the great things about San Francisco is the abundance of technology companies looking to solve problems near and far. With all of this activity, comes the need for capital and tech startups are all looking for investors. The downside is that traditional brick and mortar businesses are also looking to grow and in need of capital. They’re faced with more competition for financing than ever before and it’s proving challenging for them to secure the investment they need.
To find a SCORE chapter in your area, visit SCORE.org.