I started writing this column not long after USA TODAY launched USATODAY.com, back in 1995. A lot has changed in the last 20 years in the world of small business and most of it has been the better.
For instance, back then (although it is hard to believe today), I used to lament the lack of attention that small business received from folks generally, and the media in particular. Most of the business news at the time dealt either with the Dow or the then-emerging dotcom boom. Today of course it seems like everyone is a smallbiz expert, but that quibble aside, that there is so much small business information readily available today is a much needed and welcome sea-change.
Similarly, back then, when you launched a business, in many ways, you were on your own. But today? That too has changed, and again, for the better. These days, there is no shortage of people, organizations, websites, and tools designed to help the small businessperson succeed.
One of my favorites is an organization that has been around for the long haul, certainly a lot longer than this column. I first profiled SCORE and its CEO Ken Yancey in 2005. SCORE, as I said then and still know to be true today, is one of the best friends your small business can have. I have worked with SCORE on and off in the years since, and recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ken again and find out what's new. (Below is an abridged version of our chat. You can hear the whole thing on my podcast.)
Q: Great to catch up, Ken. For those who don't know, could you tell us what SCORE is and your vision for it?
A: You bet, Steve. SCORE is an organization of business men and women who volunteer their time in their communities to help small business owners, and people who would like to start a business. We do that really in two ways. The first is one-to-one counseling and mentoring that's available to anybody, for free. It works really well as our ten and a half thousand volunteers have substantial business experience and business knowledge and they're willing to share that to help others.
We also do a lot of workshops and seminars on a variety of topics, both online and off. (SCORE has 300 offices around the country and also a robust website at SCORE.org.)
Q: I love this idea of free mentoring. So often, people may understand one part of their business, but maybe not another. I always tell them to get a SCORE counselor.
A: We help in the neighborhood of 200,000 people every year. Last year alone we helped clients start more than 50,000 businesses. Our volunteers are incredible – they consist of entrepreneurs, educators, former generals and admirals, and even Fortune 500 executives.