By Ed Waters Jr.
The Frederick News-Post, Md.
The Frederick SCORE chapter was an essential factor in the starting and success of Nancy Copen’s business.
Copen, owner of Annabelle Grace & Co. LLC in Walkersville, has created a line of women’s sandals with vintage looks to reflect the company’s name — the first names of her two grandmothers.
“I was initially looking for someone to bounce my idea off of, get independent feedback,” Copen said. “I wanted to talk to entrepreneurs who had been through the process, knew the ropes.”
SCORE is devoted to helping people who want to start a business or have challenges in an existing business.
The Frederick chapter sees about 35 to 40 clients a month, but that number can rise if the economy slumps.
During a downturn, more early stage entrepreneurs come to the organization for mentoring, according to Charles W. Thomas, chairman of the local chapter for three years.
Formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives, the organization now calls itself SCORE, reflecting the diverse expertise available from volunteers who may or may not be retired.
The local SCORE chapter has 27 members, from CPAs to marketing professionals to those with legal and management backgrounds.
The chapter typically have three types of clients, Thomas said: early stage entrepreneurs, start-ups and established small businesses.
The mentors prefer face-to-face meetings but can do telephone or email mentoring.
Mentors can meet clients at accessible places such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, libraries or at the SCORE office in Frederick.
Clients contact SCORE by logging onto scorefrederick.org and are matched with mentors who fit their needs.
The group also provides workshops on such topics as financing for small businesses, sales strategies, social media, franchise opportunities and how to deal with difficult employees, Thomas said. “We have found that these workshops can save small businesses time and money.”
A successful client
Copen, whose background was in event and meeting planning, wanted to take some courses at Frederick Community College.
She applied for a SCORE scholarship — the Chris E. Olson Endowment for Entrepreneurs — and won it. She was then able to take courses in how to write a business plan and how to start a business.
It took about four years from the initial idea until Copen opened her business, but that included a six-month period when she gave up on the idea, but then started over again.
Her main contact at SCORE in Frederick was Jan Makela, a certified business trainer, but Copen talked with other SCORE mentors for finance and legal help.
“After I did a business plan, I talked with a mentor who had a background in banking,” Copen said.
“He told me I needed an attorney to trademark my product. He picked up the phone and connected me with an attorney. I could have wasted who knows how much time finding the right attorney, but there it was. That afternoon, I had an attorney and still use him.”
Her financing was not a traditional bank loan, Copen said, as she primarily used her own money to start the business.
Copen recommends SCORE for anyone thinking of starting a business.
“Their resources and connections are a great asset, and it is all free,” she said.
Copen took her initial idea to a shoe designer in New York, and he connected her with a manufacturer in Brazil.
She set up a website where customers order the sandals, which are made in Brazil and shipped to her house in Walkersville.
From there, she ships them to the customer.
“It was scary and exciting at the same time,” Copen said, but SCORE helped her reach her dream.
The objective for SCORE Frederick mentors is to help clients reach their goals, said Thomas, who was CEO of Mid-Atlantic Credit Union for 32 years.
This can include letting them know they are on the right path for starting or expanding their business, suggesting a financing source, helping develop a business plan or giving accounting advice, he said.
“These principles are the same no matter what the economy brings,” he said.
Examples of what SCORE mentors have been doing recently:
-Helping a woman who makes ethnic sauce to complete a business plan and establish a commercial kitchen
-Providing management advice to a telecommunications business owner who was having operational issues
-Working with a naturopathic physician who wants to start his practice
-Helping a client create a business plan to buy and operate a laundromat
-Mentoring the owner of a heating-cooling business that resulted in hiring another employee
-Working on funding and organizational structure for a non-profit for recovering addicts