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Bob Potter, the new southeastern Connecticut chairman of the nonprofit advisory organization SCORE, said the 40 business experts he has available at eight offices locally offer a wide range of backgrounds spanning areas such as manufacturing, education, restaurants and media - just to name a few.
And whatever expertise gaps there may be in the volunteer corps here, he said, can easily be filled via the network of nearly 13,000 advisers available through the nationwide organization originally known as Service Corps of Retired Executives.
SCORE, allied with the U.S. Small Business Administration, is celebrating its 50th year of service.
"I think SCORE is one of the best-kept secrets going," said Potter, an Old Lyme resident who took the chairman's reins earlier this year from Nazzareno "Nazz" Paciotti of Niantic.
Potter, whose 40-year career in marketing and communications included stints at Scholastic Magazine, Time-Warner, National Geographic Television, AOL and locally as executive director of the Lyme Art Association and a senior vice president at Mystic Seaport, has vowed to put SCORE on the map. The organization helps startup business people as well as those facing hurdles in bringing their small companies to the next level.
Potter also is looking for more volunteers, specifically in the Waterford and Mystic areas. SCORE members go through a screening process that identifies their areas of expertise and then must be certified in mentoring and business counseling before being assigned to a geographic team.
Local SCORE offices run as far west as Madison, as far east as Mystic and north up to Norwich and Middletown. The group meets regularly at East Lyme Public Library, and last year served 370 clients.
"We're seeing more and more people exploring 'how do you start up a business,'" Potter said. "I think that's one of SCORE's great strengths."
Small-business guidance is the group's bread and butter, he said, and introducing neophytes to business basics - including managing finances, but increasingly involving areas such as online and social media marketing - is an essential first step. SCORE also will walk owners through the laborious task of developing a business plan with financial projections.
In addition to one-on-one advice, SCORE also offers a series of free workshops - 30 in the last year alone, many of them sponsored by small, regional banks. The workshops, attended by 800 people last year, include instruction on how to use the accounting software QuickBooks as well as advice on using social media to boost income and increase brand awareness.
Potter said SCORE's national website also contains "an amazing clearinghouse" of helpful information about starting a new business. Issues addressed include small business loans and the best ownership structure for specific kinds of enterprises.
For those who volunteer, Potter said, the attraction is keeping their hands in the business world without having to worry about the 9-to-5 routine.
"There are a lot of members who have recently retired and really kind of miss being in a business environment," he said.
Members include both retired and still-working business people, but the vast majority are men. Potter said he is actively recruiting women to be a part of SCORE, especially in light of the fact that 60 percent of the group's clients are female.
"It's great to have women counselors," he said. "I'd like to recruit more."
Trying to get the word out about SCORE, Potter also plans to reach out to other organizations such as Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce, offering to be part of their speaker programs and figuring out ways to work together in beneficial partnerships. He also hopes to work closely with the Small Business Development Center headquartered at the University of Connecticut to help prepare business plans for companies seeking loans.
A small volunteer organization can get into a silo mentality, he said, if it is too focused on its own organizational operations.
"My goal is to make sure that we are not always looking in the mirror, but are looking out the window," Potter said.
Name: Southeastern Connecticut Chapter of SCORE
What: Free business counseling
Chairman: Bob Potter
SCORE offices: Guilford, Madison, Essex, Old Saybrook, Middletown, Waterford, Mystic, Norwich
Phone: (860) 388-9508
Local website: www.sect.SCORE.org
Local email: SCOREChapter@gmail.com
National website: www.SCORE.org