SCORE Free Mentoring For Your Business Idea

By Dawn Williams, Associate Publisher

A decade ago, older workers accounted for only 10 to 12 percent of budding entrepreneurs who wanted to start a new business. According to Gary Klow, a volunteer mentor with the Service Corps of retired Executives, now known as SCORE, that number has doubled.

If you’re among this group and dream of launching and running your own business, imagine having a mentor to help you navigate the numerous tasks involved in building a viable and successful enterprise - at absolutely no charge to you. That is exactly the kind of help that SCORE provides.

Klow is one of 130 volunteers in the SN50 readership area, and with their combined expertise, there isn’t a single discipline or industry their mentorship doesn’t cover.

“SCORE was started in mid 1960s by a group of retired execs,” Klow explained. “We have 370 chapters throughout the US, so it is a nationwide group of volunteers, retired executives, and people who were business owners, who now want to help other aspiring entrepreneurs.” SCORE provides mentoring support for start-ups, for those who are just beginning to plan their small business, and for those who already have a business and are ready to develop it further.

When you work with a SCORE mentor, you’ll meet either in person or online for an hour-long one-on-one session. During the conversation, your mentor will assess where you are in your business journey, offering recommendations and resources to help you successfully work through your plans and issues. This service includes helping you evaluate the viability of an idea, create a business plan, put necessary systems and team members in place, develop your marketing, and grow your business to the next level. SCORE also offers workshops and seminars throughout the city and suburbs, many at no cost. At a certain point, usually when a business reaches revenues around $3 million, if there are some issues you want addressed, a SCORE consulting team can  be put together to work with you.

SCORE is funded by the Small Business Association, and is therefore governed by certain rules. SCORE provides many of the same services as the SBA, however They are mandated to work on the process but not in it. This means, Klow said, that your mentor can guide and advise but cannot do the work for you. Your volunteer mentor also cannot work with you in another capacity (for example, providing a direct service or becoming an employee of your company) and cannot recommend specific vendors to provide services you might be seeking.

Klow’s career includes 30 years experience working  for companies from Fortune 100 to small privately owned companies, and a decade running his own consulting business before retiring. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois; an MBA from Roosevelt University; and a law degree from John Marshall Law School. His areas of expertise include business operations, supply chain management, manufacturing, product development; ; human resources; maintenance, facility and office management.

Klow said older entrepreneurs account for 25 percent of new business start-ups, now about the same rate as much younger people. The initial concerns of the older business owner, he said, are much the same as younger counterparts, concerns related to having the skill, temperament, capability, and funding to make their business work. But older entrepreneurs  have an advantage compared to the younger group.

“When you’re young, you don’t know what you don’t know,” Klow said. “Younger people jump in and are fearless. But when you start your career as an employee, over time you start to know what you don’t know.  When an older person wants to leap-off, they know to first look at what is needed and  to have faith in yourself.”

That faith in oneself , borne of  experience, as well as the awareness that one derives real help from having a mentor to guide the learning process, gives an older person an advantage. When you have guidance  to help you evaluate your plan, point you to resources that better prepare you for entrepreneurship, and a solid foundation from which to launch, that faith and assistance keep the momentum going, allows you to see opportunities for growth, and sustains you through the difficult stages.

There are many good reasons to consider starting your own  business as a second career, Klow said. Not least among them is the economy.

“The economic environment is getting harder. There just seems to be a tendency for companies to think it is better to  hire two 20 year olds with little experience than pay  the price of one experienced 50 year old,” he said.

If you’ve been considering the possibility of starting your own business but shy away because of your age, take heart. Many of your peers are running their own successful businesses, and Klow encourages anyone with a passion for their idea to reach out for guidance, even if you’re still contemplating the viability of your idea.

“There are people who think starting a business is a young person’s game, or worry that they’ll be looked at like some older person supplementing their income instead of someone with a good idea. It’s just not true. There are a lot of people who know older entrepreneurs bring with them knowledge of how things really work, and a conservatism that keeps them from taking unrealistic risks.

“Or maybe there is a reluctance because, with all your experience, you’ve had some set-backs and you know what that feels like. When you’re younger, it’s no big deal. But later in life, you might wonder how many mistakes you can make and still start over.” SCORE exists to provide the support new business owners need so they can make the most of their knowledge and experience, while minimizing the risk of critical mistakes.

What it comes down to, Klow said, is realizing that dream can become a reality.

“If it’s really a passion,” he said, “you’ve got to go for it. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, and you’ll carry the regret of that forever.”

To learn more about Klow’s expertise and get in touch with him, visit the SCORE website at and click the link that says “Find a Mentor.” Scroll down and click on “Browse Our Mentor Profiles.” On the next page, enter Klow’s zip code, 60025, and you’ll find Klow’s profile and a synopsis of his experience and areas of expertise, along with a link to contact his chapter.

You can also search for a mentor in your geographical area, or based on the specialty you’re looking for. The site also offers a comprehensive library full of resources, including articles, videos, podcasts, templates, and other tools your business needs. You’ll also find a listing of more than 200 workshops offered each year, some at a nominal fee and many at no cost.

If you have a passion, or if the thought of starting your own business just won’t let go of you, then you owe it to yourself to talk to one of the SCORE mentors. Taking advantage of this incredible free resource can make the difference between living with regret, or living your dream.