SCORE Offers Free Help to Small Business Owners

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If you've considered hanging out a shingle for any length of time, you may have heard of SCORE, the program offering free mentorship to people who are starting small businesses.

Sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 11,000 SCORE
volunteers operate in more than 300 chapters across the country. The SCORE website can help you track down the chapter nearest you. Online webinars and counseling by email are also available.

Among the services SCORE offers are business plan fundamentals, marketing and financing advice, and peer support.

All Score mentors and meetings are not alike, cautions Zahra Amanpour, founder of Indiegrove, a co-working community in Jersey City, N.J. Before launching her business, Amanpour created the comprehensive NYC Business Solutions program under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"It's an amazing free service, but it's hit or miss," Amanpour says of SCORE's offerings. "If you have a motivated group with a good leader it can be excellent. Other groups are not so motivated, or the retired senior executive is not the right fit. Then it can be pretty awful."

SCORE volunteers, because they are retired, tend to be older and sometimes have large corporate perspectives that don't mesh well with the needs and business challenges of small business owners.

If you connect with a group and don't like it, don't give up, Amanpour says. Go find another one because the experience could be 360 degrees different.

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