SCORE passes on business acumen to the next generation
Written by Tiffany Etterling | Photography by Donicio Madrid
Taking up a hobby or two is a perk of retirement. Years of hard work are rewarded with free time to travel, read, paint, or golf. But some former business owners and executives find it challenging to quit the corporate life “cold turkey.” After decades of honing management expertise and skill, some retirees are adding SCORE business mentoring to their slate of retirement hobbies.
SCORE, a federally funded nonprofit, is dedicated to providing free support for local businesses through education and mentorship. SCORE is able to accomplish this goal through their team of local, volunteer business mentors, most of whom are retired businesspeople.
Cathie Fern, chairperson of SCORE Las Cruces, moved to the area in 2007 and became a SCORE mentor in 2010. “I was retired, and I was looking for something to do,” she remembers. “I was in a new town, in a state I didn’t know very well, and I wanted to connect. Plus, I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not contributing somehow.”
A friend recommended SCORE, and she immediately recognized the valuable service provided to the community through the program. “My passion is that everyone has a job,” says Cathie. “SCORE was a place where I could take my own passion and concern and help other people in my community.”
SCORE provides free, one-on-one counseling and mentoring to local residents who are thinking about starting a business, recently opened a business, or who have been in business for many years. Regardless of the industry or field, SCORE matches business owners with a mentor who understands the challenges faced by that business. “We have mentors who are bankers, lawyers, and accountants; and we have a lot of mentors who’ve started, bought and sold their businesses,” Cathie explains.
SCORE volunteers are made up of both Las Cruces natives and individuals who’ve relocated or retired to the area from other parts of the country. “Many of our volunteer mentors are looking for ways to connect with the local community,” Cathie notes. “The average volunteer has lived here at least 10 years. But some have lived here much longer.”
Increasing the number of native Las Cruces mentors is one of the areas Cathie would like to grow. “We need more SCORE mentors in Las Cruces who attended Las Cruces schools and therefore know a lot about the history. That history really does help a lot when you’re mentoring.”
All you need to be a SCORE mentor is a little time, experience in business, and a great attitude. Wil Lamarre has been a SCORE mentor for five years. “All of our mentors are upbeat and stable,” he says. “There are 17-20 mentors at any given time and the average mentor serves for about four years.”
If you’re interested in becoming a SCORE mentor, Wil says to expect to commit a minimum of ten hours per month, or as much as ten hours per week depending on the time you’d like to volunteer.
“Our mission is not to get a paycheck, because we don’t get paid,” jokes Marc Suri, another SCORE mentor with decades of experience in international business. He and his fellow mentors measure success in the eyes of the business owners they serve. “I ran businesses internationally and what really mattered were the results. The bottom line was what was important,” Marc explains. “Business owners who stick with the SCORE program have a high success rate.”
One of the most rewarding cases Marc recalls was a small music store on the verge of bankruptcy. “It took me about a year to help them restructure their business, develop a good business plan, and secure financing,” he recalls. Because of their hard work and sound mentoring, they were able to secure one of the few Small Business Association (SBA) loans being offered at that time. “They implemented the things we discussed and they were very successful. He saved his business,” adds Marc.
Cathie recalls the story of another young man in the construction industry. He’d been in construction his entire life, but because of changes in the economy and his personal life, the business wasn’t doing well. “He worked with Marc and then won a million dollar contract,” says Cathie.
Each SCORE mentor has something unique to offer. Marc and Wil are very passionate about working with high school and college age students to prepare them for the job market and to own businesses of their own. “If you’re going to grow a business in Las Cruces, you need good employees,” says Wil.
The best way to create a strong base of good employees and successful business owners is to begin mentoring at a young age. “Soft skill, such as communication, team work, and problem solving, should be taught in middle school,” believes Wil. Marc adds that, “If you don’t have respect for your teachers, you won’t have respect for your boss.”
SCORE also customizes training for specific needs in the community. “When someone tells us they have a need and they want a specific training session, we go and do that training.”
Whether a business is still on the drawing board or just holding on for dear life, SCORE has something to offer. “Running a business is extremely complicated,” says Cathie. “Every small business could benefit from SCORE.”
Interested in becoming a SCORE mentor or benefitting from their expertise? Visit their website at: scorelascruces.org
5 Must-Follow Tips for Small Businesses
- Don’t try to move too fast
When it comes to building a business, slow and steady wins the race. Don’t anticipate making huge profits right away. Watch the bottom line and evaluate all financial decisions carefully.
- Hire a good accountant who understands your industry
Accounting is one area where pinching pennies is a bad idea. There are many excellent accountants and CPAs that don’t charge an arm and a leg. Spending a little more today could save thousands of dollars in the long run.
- Establish a strong support system
Make sure your spouse or significant other is on board with the new business. Starting a business is extremely time-consuming. A supportive family, as well as the guidance of mentors who have experience in building a business, will reduce stress and improve success.
- You are your brand
Remember that you are representing your business 24-hours per day. Your personal reputation within the community will affect the business. Always dress, act, and speak in a way that will positively reflect on the business.
- Don’t buy a business without fully investigating it
Buying a business can be a very profitable way to expedite the start-up process. But, proceed with caution. Have a qualified accountant go through the books and financials, and work with a trusted attorney to make sure all the documentation is sound.