By Christine Graf
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, small business owners are facing unprecedented challenges, according to Bill Edwards, local coordinator of SCORE of Northeast New York. He said his team of volunteers is prepared to offer assistance to these business owners in whatever way possible.
SCORE is a network of volunteer expert business mentors. Founded in 1964, the nonprofit group has grown to include a nationwide network of more than 10,000 volunteers and approximately 300 chapters. It offers its services free of charge and receives it primary funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). As a result, they only work with businesses that are considered small business based on SBA criteria.
The Northeast New York chapter has four local offices that are housed by what Edwards referred to as “host locations.” The Clifton Park office is hosted by Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the Saratoga office is hosted by Saratoga County, the Malta office is hosted by the Saratoga Prosperity Partnership, and the Glens Falls office is hosted by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Edwards has been volunteering for SCORE since retiring from the corporate world at age 65. He opened the first SCORE office in the area in 2016. During his business career, he was a senior financial officer for a Fortune 500 company where he specialized in buying and selling companies. He also worked for 20 years as the corporate vice president and regional director of the world’s largest consulting company. Additionally, Edwards was on the faculty at Skidmore College and SUNY Albany.
According to Edwards, it was through his volunteer work at Perkins School for the Blind that he first became familiar with SCORE. At the time, the school was manufacturing up to 90 percent of the world’s braille machines. They were experiencing production problems and turned to SCORE for help. Edwards was so impressed with the organization that he joined it.
One of his first clients was Gail Hamel, owner of Lake George human resource company Hamel Resources.
According to Hamel, SCORE was instrumental in helping her to start her own business. In addition to providing her with guidance on how to legally structure her business as a corporation, they helped her develop a business plan that was both realistic and thorough.
“Bill provided guidance to me to focus on exactly what it was that I would be doing. This would help me to be able to speak to potential clients as to the specifics of what I could offer to them. That may sound simple, however, in my case, I needed a lot of help in determining those services,” she said. “I would not have been successful in launching my business if it were not for Bill Edwards and SCORE.”
Edwards said he appreciates when former clients share their positive experiences with SCORE with the public. It is because of positive word of mouth that they are able to attract so many new clients.
He said it is word of mouth that also helps SCORE recruit mentors. His team of mentors currently numbers between 25 and 30, and they are always looking for more. All mentors must go through a screening process that involves two interviews. SCORE asks mentors to commit to working five hours a week for 50 weeks. Mentors in this area serve for an average of eight years.
“Our mentors refer others, and they tend to be in an age bracket where the youngest are in their mid-50s,” said Edwards. “They are the ones who have the experience. We have so much talent that of the 24 North American classifications codes for businesses, we have experience in 22 of those categories. Our mentors are interested in using their experience and giving back to the local community because we live here we want to see them succeed.”
In 2019, SCORE mentors worked with close to 30,000 new businesses. These businesses created almost 100,000 new jobs throughout the U.S. During 2019, 67 percent of SCORE clients were able to increase their revenue.
In addition to offering their services at no cost, SCORE guarantees their clients complete confidentiality. They do not release the names of the businesses they work with. All SCORE volunteers—called mentors—are required to sign a Code of Ethics and Conduct. Mentors work in teams of two or three and are assigned based on the individual needs of a business. As an example, Edwards mentioned that some Northeast New York mentors have experience in the areas of intellectual property and complex business acquisitions.
In addition to offering mentoring, SCORE offers webinars, interactive courses, workshops, and online resources. All are provided at no cost to their clients.
The businesses that SCORE works with fall into three different categories.
“One of them is startups, and it doesn’t have to be a full-time startup” said Edwards. “We go through a planning process with them. The second is early stage companies. Very often people get into trouble because they never went through the stages of really understanding what they were getting into. The third are operating companies—36 months and greater—and they tend to have functional problems that they encounter. Right now, because of the virus (COVID-19), there are cash flow problems.”
Edwards estimated that less than 50 percent of their clients are startups. Many of the other companies they work with are experiencing expansion and growth. Some need assistance with acquisitions and mergers.
Local business owners who are interested in working with SCORE can contact Edwards directly for a phone consultation. He can be reached at 518-893-7364.
For more information on SCORE, visit northeastny.score.org.