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SCORE helps focus small-business startups

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Travis Andrews, left, chats with David Grant, chairman of SCORE in Raleigh, N.C,, and mentor Dan Carro at her firm CrossFit Smithfield. (Virginia Bridges/Raleigh News  Observer/MCT)

Travis Andrews, left, chats with David Grant, chairman of SCORE in Raleigh, N.C,, and mentor Dan Carro at her firm CrossFit Smithfield. (Virginia Bridges/Raleigh News Observer/MCT)

RALEIGH, N.C. – Travis Andrews had an idea to expand her and her husband’s CrossFit Smithfield gym by offering wakeboarding classes.

To do this, however, she needed the help and advice of someone who knew how to see her idea through.

So she turned to SCORE, a national nonprofit organization that offers free counseling and low-cost workshops to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

Her first meeting with Raleigh SCORE included volunteers David Grant and Dan Carro, who asked questions about her anticipated revenue, expenses, marketing and competition.

Andrews said she walked away a little bit dazed by all the information.

“I feel like I did a lot of thinking” before the visit, she said. The conversation, however, helped show her where she should focus her attention.

“They definitely put everything into realistic terms,” said Andrews, 31.

Since its inception in 50 years ago, SCORE has helped about 10 million entrepreneurs across the U.S. SCORE depends on volunteers and financial assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration and private organizations and has more than 350 chapters across the country.

Its volunteers include working and retired business owners, executives and managers from small and large companies.

Carro, 71, is a veteran and retired federal contracting officer who helped small businesses garner government work. Grant managed manufacturing operations at Nortel Networks for more than 20 years and helped reorganize repair operations for a major airline.

Grant, 66, is also the chair of Raleigh SCORE and works with about 10 clients a month.

In recent years, SCORE has worked to improve the outcomes of the businesses it serves by better engaging owners and being more proactive in its follow-up process, Grant said. Other recent improvements include expanding its workshop offerings to include social media marketing and financing options for small businesses.

The organization is also enhancing its volunteer training in an effort to improve its mentoring and screening processes, Grant said.

The SCORE process often starts with a one-hour meeting between a client and two mentors. After the initial session, the volunteers give the client homework and establish a follow-up plan.

Some clients don’t return because they are overwhelmed by the process, Grant said. But some continue to work with their mentors for years. Grant’s oldest client relationship goes back five years.

“(Mentors) migrate from one role to another role,” Grant said.

Chasta Hamilton Calhoun, 28, of Raleigh, opened the dance instruction company Stage Door Dance Productions in June 2009 after meeting with SCORE mentor Jack Barto in October 2008.

Barto’s role evolved from helping Calhoun and her husband, Willis, understand and launch the business to providing a sounding board for the couple’s ideas and plans.

Julie Burris and business partner Jenny Beaudin turned to Raleigh SCORE in January 2013 when they considered opening a blow-dry bar in Raleigh. Mentor Jim Walsh helped the former school teachers work their way through their business plan.

“We met with Jim probably in the beginning once a week, or every other week,” Burris said. Walsh was always positive, she said, and helped them conquer the inevitable speed bumps and challenges that come with opening a business.

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