SCORE Offers Free Business Consulting

By Lindsey Adkison The Brunswick News, Ga.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) SCORE, a national non-profit which has been around since the 1960s is based on business mentors who volunteer to help businesses realize their full potential. With four mentors now on board at the Brunswick, Georgia chapter, entrepreneurship is thriving throughout Southeast Georgia.

The Brunswick News, Ga.

Like many entrepreneurs, Linda Fuller had an inspiring idea -- she wanted to build a business around olive and other natural oils. What she didn't have, however, was a business plan or even a foundation to start.

"I was in the medical business for 25 years and my partner owned a chain of tire stores. We moved down here to Savannah and wanted to do something different. I'm a foodie and a health coach so I thought about doing an oil tasting room," she said.

"But we really didn't know anything about putting together a business plan. In the medical field, it was all very cut and dry. This was completely different."

Unsure of what her next step would be, Fuller was speaking with friends who suggested she contact a group named SCORE. The national nonprofit which has been around since the 1960s is based on business mentors who volunteer to help businesses realize their full potential. They are also able to help start-ups get their idea off the ground.

Fuller decided to give it a try, after all, the program is entirely free. It seemed as though there was nothing to lose. "We were looking for everywhere for information and I spoke to someone who highly recommended that I talk to Gary Johnson at SCORE. So I did. He was a wealth of information and just fantastic to talk to so we decided to work with them. They were almost like guidance counselors," she said.

"They helped us make a business plan which was new for me. And it wasn't just that. They helped us set own our goals and showed us, step-by-step how to meet them. But they made it more functional for us. It gives you a really good foundation. They were really a great help."

Now, almost a year later, Fuller's business -- LaTerra Natural Oils, located at 1520 Bull Street in Savannah -- is thriving.

That's precisely why Gary Johnson does what he does. A longtime volunteer with SCORE, he spent many years in the business world and holds a master's of business administration in marketing. He owned and operated his own business -- Strategic Systems which pioneered the use of multimedia training programs. Johnson joined SCORE in order to help others navigate the often murky waters of business.

"Our mission is to help people who want to start a business -- a budding entrepreneur or maybe an older person -- we want to help them. We also want to help those in business grow our business. That's our official mission and what we stand for. It was founded in the 60s and it stood for the Service Corps of Retired Executives but we dropped that and now it's just the name, like IBM."

The group aims to help as many people as possible. That's why they have recently expanded through Southeast Georgia, bringing SCORE to the Brunswick area roughly a year ago.

"We began this year, in February, we formed a new chapter in the Golden Isles," Johnson said.

The group currently has four business mentors including Johnson. They are already busy, meeting with local businesses who are looking for direction. Those mentors include Jay Martin, Bernie Villemaire and Al Suto. All have a long history in business and and have found joining SCORE to be an easy way to give back.

"I want to use my business legal skills to help community businesses," Suto said.

"I just think it's a matter of giving back. I've been in business for 30 years and worked in the corporate world before that and none of us got to where we are without help from other people," Martin said.

"Either in the corporate world or in business, we had help along the way. And we realize that. We want to be able to help those people who need it now. It's our responsibility to help." Johnson agrees.

"In my case, it gives you a chance to keep your hand in business and to help other people get into business. I started my business in '86. And I wish I would have known about SCORE then," he said.

"But I didn't. I made it but I wish I would have had SCORE. I like to help people to get past obstacles that they run into. It's a great source of satisfaction when you help someone start a business."

Villemaire also has extensive experience in the business world, albeit a bit different. "I worked with the Small Business Administration in Vermont for 37 years. My specialty was finance. What you do working for SBA in that job is to look at thousands of business proposals that are coming in for loan guarantees and the banks send them in to see if the business is viable," he said.

"When I finally retired and moved here, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to use my experience to help businesses here. It's a beautiful area and an area that's primed area for business development."

Now that the chapter is growing, it has partnered with the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce to offer its members and the business community the assistance they need. And they are looking to broaden their reach even further. They are currently reaching out to non-profits as well as for profit business to offer their expertise.

"We like to partner with other organizations and we recently partnered with the Chamber. We want to be a resource for their members," Johnson said.

He adds that it is incredibly easy for those interested to get involved. The group offers online business courses for participants to take at their own pace.

"We have a lot of courses online and we've done some in classrooms but it's easier for them to use the online courses," he said.

Johnson also invites local entrepreneurs to set-up one on one meetings or mentoring programs.

"All they have to do is give us a call and we can set up a meeting. Right now, we've gotten a lot of clients just by word of mouth but we want to let everyone know that we're here to help and it's absolutely free," Johnson said.

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