Keeping SCORE: A Corp Of Volunteers For The Business Community
SCORE – once named the Service Corps of Retired Executives – is known as the “Counselors for America’s Small Business.” According to the Small Business Administration, the national nonprofit association is comprised of more than 13,000 volunteer trained business counselors who serve as counselor advisors and mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. All SCORE services are offered at no fee, as a community service.
In northern Michigan, SCORE is strong and far from retiring. The Traverse City Chapter, #0578, has been recognized as one of the leading chapters throughout the country. The statistics are indeed impressive. During 2014, the team provided services to 1,094 people including new clients (288), continuing clients (298) and workshop attendees (508), as well as 12 percent annual growth for the past several years. A robust schedule of counseling sessions are provided several days each week at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Traverse Area District Library as well as monthly workshops.
SCORE volunteers are comprised equally of working and retired professionals. Here’s a snapshot of five.
When Charlie Bumb joined SCORE in 2003, there were only three mentors who were women, most were retired and six did not use the internet. Things have changed considerably in 12 years, and Bumb is credited as one of the leading forces that shifted the organization on its current path as one of the leading SCORE chapters in the country.
Bumb retired in 2001 as vice president of sales and marketing for national accounts at Cummins Inc. in Columbus, IN. Relocation to the Grand Traverse area followed in 2002, prompted by family vacations in the region since 1953.
“We needed to decide where to live in retirement and were so impressed with Traverse City and Leelanau County,” Bumb said. “Then, I needed to decide what to do with the rest of my life … and I met a man who was involved with SCORE.”
During his 12-year tenure, Bumb has served as chair and in various leadership positions. He has been instrumental in leading SCORE to improve chapter capabilities with fundamental organizational changes as well as the recruiting efforts to augment talent, build skills and fill identified needs.
“We wanted to go to the next level and were very strategic (in the process),” Bumb said, noting increasing the female mentor portion to at least 25 percent of the team as well as shifting the mentor mix to a 50-50 ratio of those who were retired and those still in the workforce.
“Our clients were demanding more current business knowledge,” Bumb said. “Those in the workforce keep us current.”
The growth has been good for the organization as well as regional business. The Traverse City chapter’s successes have been recognized nationally for three years running as one of the top three chapters in the United States for client service. He and fellow mentor and incoming chair Ed Ketterer recently represented the local chapter and its successes at a national SCORE leadership conference.
Bumb enjoys his work with clients as well as the organization, noting his satisfaction in helping people develop their idea and realize their dream, as well as the opportunity to offer guidance to those already in business who may need advice to develop opportunities, address challenges or assistance in buying or selling.
“There are two kinds of soft joys,” he said. “After a good session with a client who has a good idea, I drive home and just feel great. The other is when that ideas develops into a real business and does well … it is very rewarding.”
Bumb said brand awareness is a challenge, but urged participation whether as a prospective mentor, a future entrepreneur or a current business owner who needs a board of advisors to grow.
“SCORE is a wonderful service, but not everyone knows about it,” he said. “We offer free services with experienced, talented mentors who have skills to contribute and who will work with people as long as we can be of use to them.”
“It’s been intellectually challenging,” Linda said. “There are opportunities to be of service but also opportunities to keep growing and learning.”
The Ketterers relocated from Grand Rapids to Northport in 2010 and became active with SCORE in January 2011. Although both are involved, their roles are very different. Linda who retired from her career as a business consultant, manager and Dale Carnegie trainer, has taken on much of the local chapter’s administration where she manages incoming clients, matches client needs with mentor skills, co-chairs and organizes monthly workshops, and provides many backbone services for the volunteer organization. Ed, a patent attorney with expertise in intellectual properties, strategy and budgeting, has been an active mentor and takes over as chair on October 1.
“SCORE was brought to our attention through networking,” Ed said, noting they were recruited by different people. “Each of us had different talents that we could use … we wanted to be active and contribute. This seemed like a good match for our abilities … and it gave us a chance to know more people.”
“Neither of us was the type to sit around,” Linda said. “My shelves are full of business books … you can’t turn that off after a career. It’s fun to bring ideas (to clients) that they haven’t been exposed to and to see it come together for them.”
Both credit the team of SCORE volunteers as essential to its success.
“It’s a rewarding thing to help people and the community … and it’s clear we are doing this from the data,” Ed said. “This is not a coffee club, but a high functioning team, working together and doing the best job we can.”
Both noted the broad and deep range of expertise the many mentors offer, as well as the unique, customized and confidential approach each takes with their individual clients.
“I get so many comments (from clients) … they are so thrilled to work with professional people and so surprised that SCORE is a free service,” Linda said. “The quality is so high. That saying that ‘you get what you pay for’ is just the opposite in the case of SCORE … you get so much.”
Cal Killen spent his career in the computer industry but it was his involvement with SCORE that motivated him to learn software programming. The result is a sophisticated online infrastructure including the website, scheduling and management systems that’s brought national recognition to the local chapter while also benefiting daily operations and access.
“When I first joined I could see how much automation could help … it forced me to learn how to write programs,” Killen said, pulling from his engineering background and experiences managing software developers to create original programs for SCORE.
His most recent programming tool tracks interaction between SCORE, mentors and mentees, kicking out communications to keep in touch and assure no one falls through the cracks. In fact, SCORE chapters around the country are now looking at the Traverse City site as an example of how technology can be used for their own organizations.
Killen joined SCORE in 2007 shortly after relocating with his wife to northern Michigan. After a dozen relocations through a career that spanned 25 years with IBM, several years with a dot.com and five years with Unisys, the couple made their retirement move to Glen Lake, which had been an extended family vacation home for generations.
“I retired at 55, so I still had a lot of energy left and was looking for something to do,” he said, crediting Charlie Bumb for recruiting him to join SCORE. During his tenure, he has served as chair and full-time mentor as well as contributing his programming work. Killen can be found on most Saturday mornings meeting with mentees at the Traverse Area District Library.
“It’s fun and fulfilling,” he said, noting the fellowship of the mentors as well as the relationships with the mentees. “When I hear (from a mentee), ‘You guys really helped me,’ that makes everything worthwhile. I also get a thrill out of other work I do, like bringing a new tool to SCORE and hearing, ‘You just made my work easier.’”
“I’m a second generation SCORE mentor. My father was active with SCORE International as a retiree … (going) to underdeveloped countries to apply his skills,” Prewitt said, noting one of her father’s projects was to help Jamaica get its government-owned radio and television stations started. “I am totally aligned with SCORE’s mission to help small business succeed.”
Prewitt joined SCORE in November 2014, bringing her unique perspective as an encore entrepreneur, small business owner and former stock brocker. After retiring from 30-year careers in Lexington, KY, Prewitt and her husband, George, relocated to the region in 2004 to start a FastSigns franchise. They ran the business for seven years, before selling and “fully” retiring.
Prewitt is often tapped to help clients who are looking at buying a business as well as those considering new career directions.
“I feel I can bring expertise in starting a business in your 50s and also not knowing another person in town to the table,” she said. “The franchise gave us a business model but building relationships and business clients was the result of our own efforts. We sought SCORE counseling early on.”
Prewitt now shares similar advice on business planning, networking and marketing with mentees, as well as her own experiences implementing a plan that brought their dream to reality.
“I encourage people who want to reinvent themselves at age 50 and live in a place they love and have vacationed at,” she said. “It can be done with self motivation.”
Added Prewitt, “Another piece of advice I give to a person over 50 starting a business is to have an exit plan as part of the business plan. You don’t want to work forever … we were able to grow our business over seven years, then sell it to a well-qualified person who also wanted to live the ‘up north’ dream.
Like the other mentors, Prewitt is an active volunteer in several community endeavors.
“I feel SCORE completes my volunteer circle of giving back to the community,” she said. “I’m active with my church’s outreach ministry, I’m president of the Zonta Club of Leelanau County and being a SCORE mentor allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of the business climate in the area.”
She encourages others to give back through SCORE.
“This an example of that old adage, ‘you reap more than you sow,’ Prewitt said. “I’m always amazed at the creativity and savvy of the SCORE clients I work with. It’s truly one of those experiences that gives me back more than I give!”
Find out more about Traverse City SCORE at upnorthscore.org.
SCORE Success Stories
“Thanks to SCORE, we’ve had the privilege of working directly with two accomplished business professionals who have mentored us in every aspect of developing our business… from financial projections to marketing and sales. Two years after successfully launching our business, we continue to seek SCORE’s advice. Their expertise and guidance have been invaluable. It’s hard to believe it’s a free service! We highly recommend SCORE to anyone who is considering starting their own business.”
Jeff Weymouth and Kathi Wagner, Owners
VIKRON Energy Solutions, LLC – Traverse City
“SCORE’s insight was invaluable. From the very beginning they were my “compass in the storm.” Their wide range of knowledge was helpful from writing the original plan to opening the doors. I can’t thank SCORE enough.”
Missy Charles, Owner
BREW, LLC – Traverse City
“Having one-on-one leadership through SCORE when opening and operating a business is unique and advantageous. The tailored, experienced and professional advice, ideas, and positive reinforcement that we received have been integral to our success. SCORE should be taken advantage of by all businesses!”
Jeff and Misha Neidorfler, Owners
Morsels – Traverse City