We all know that anything you get for free, especially advice, is usually worth about what you pay for it: next to nothing. But a few exceptions exist, like free concert tickets given away on the radio, a great find at a garage sale, a referral from a happy client, being someone’s guest at an important business function, and the free advice you get from SCORE — the nation’s leading nonprofit business consulting group with chapters all around the country, including Santa Barbara.
What better time to explore “free” possibilities than right after the expenses of tax season?
“We’re celebrating SCORE’s 50th year ‘in business’ this year,” Santa Barbara Chapter Chairman Bob Vitamante said, “with local companies who are taking their businesses to the next level under SCORE’s guidance. SCORE is composed of a cadre of volunteer mentors who have been profitable former business owners, top-level executives and consultants, who’ve retired or just want to help others succeed ‘for free.’”
Organized around wealthy retired and semi-retired entrepreneurs and executives — founders, owners, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CMOs and others who’ve already been successful — with high levels of expertise in finance, managing, running and growing businesses, marketing, sales, advertising and more — SCORE Santa Barbara attracts some of the best “free” business counselors in the country because successful business people tend to retire in the Santa Barbara/Montecito area.
The name initially stood for Service Corps Of Retired Executives at its founding in 1964, but it has evolved to include many active business men and women willing to donate their time to help others succeed. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these are “old rich men and women” who may somehow be out of touch with the current world. They’re not! SCORE Santa Barbara’s consultant pool has attracted some of the highest paid business experts in the country who have served companies like Mattel Toys, General Motors, Neutrogena, Noah’s Bagels, Gillette, Best Foods, Carrows Restaurants, Baskin Robbins, Bank of America, Balance Bar, Jamba Juice, Macy’s Department Stores, Levi Strauss, and Columbia Pictures. And some have been their top executives!
In their past and present lives, these counselors have restructured financial plans, boosted advertising and sales revenues by millions of dollars, developed marketing campaigns that have grown businesses by more than 50 percent, raised millions in IPOs, reduced accounts receivables with targeted information systems and collection processes, successfully grown and trained staffs, helped business owners understand the process of incorporation, helped people assess how to buy a business, and more.
One SCORE client, the owner of Bailey’s Handcrafted Fine Art Framing and Gold Leaf Services in Santa Barbara said he had a complex set of issues related to buying the business.
“My meetings with SCORE counselors proved to be important for my decision making," he said. "I have enjoyed working with SCORE for over five years.”
“One key to the success of any business is finding the right business mentor for your company,” said Gary Kravetz, the chapter’s Marketing Committee chairman, who built and sold Santa Barbara Staffing for a tidy sum of money a few years ago. “Why spend unnecessary cash on a proficient business counselor/consultant if you can get the same quality advice and guidance for free?”
SCORE asks this question of companies on a pretty regular basis, much to the chagrin of their competitors who charge money for similar services.
SCORE’s long-term clients agree. About six of them, including Dons Net Café, a student-run social entrepreneurial business located on the campus of Santa Barbara High School, recently exhibited their businesses at the Santa Barbara International Women’s Festival to a large crowd of attendees. Several also exhibited at the 2nd Annual Santa Barbara Business Expo.
“The Dons Net Café is a successful learning environment and a profitable business at Santa Barbara High School-ROP/CTE that is recognized locally, nationally and internationally,“ Lee Knodel said. “We owe this to our SCORE counselors who guided us through the challenging and rewarding world of entrepreneurship.”
One of SCORE’s core strengths is helping business owners who’ve grown their companies and employee pools to a certain point and need some help getting their business to the next level.
“Some people want to stay with their businesses until they can pass them on to an heir,” Kravetz said. “Others want to build it just big enough to sell it for a profit and retire comfortably. The good news is that those who consult for SCORE have already rolled up their sleeves and done it themselves, so they’re in command of what it takes to get to wherever a client wants to go. We also help start-ups, but not before they’ve got their funding and can actually move forward. The better share of our ‘business’ per se is small to mid-level companies who have been in business for awhile.
“What can we say? Some of us may be retired, but we love business!”
— Jonatha King is a publicist representing SCORE Santa Barbara.