Analyze This

The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) consults with local business owners to help them flourish.

About a month after Toby Tamaye started his own advertising agency, he realized he needed guidance. He had never run a business before, and he didn’t have any friends or relatives who could offer specific suggestions to help his company blossom. He certainly couldn’t spend several hundred dollars an hour for a consultant to analyze his business plan, marketing approach and accounting system.

D.J. Halcro, chairman of SCORE, which helps local small-business owners become more successful.
photo: Val Loh

Then he heard about the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a national nonprofit organization made up of experts in all areas of business, including strategic thinking, operations, customer service, financing and technology. Members of the Hawai’i Chapter helped Tamaye, free of charge. A volunteer counselor talked with Tamaye by phone initially to understand his queries, then met with him in his office. Those advisory sessions have continued monthly for the past year. "Any question I have, they have the answers for me," says the 33-year-old owner of AT Marketing. And if the counselor isn’t able to generate as solution, he finds someone who does. "They definitely have set me out on the right foot and given me direction–not just what to do tomorrow, but what to do a year from now."

Tamaye adds, "I thought I knew what I was doing." But he needed somebody to direct him and validate his decisions, and "these people have been in the industry for longer than I’ve been alive." Receiving such valuable mentoring gave him the confidence to expand his business.

Founded in 1964, SCORE has 389 chapters and 10,500 volunteers nationwide. SCORE counselors–retired and active business managers or owners willing to volunteer at least four hours per week–provide free confidential counseling and low-cost workshops in their communities to people who can’t afford to pay consulting fees, and who might otherwise struggle or fail without guidance in their business endeavors. Counselors are available on O’ahu, Maui and the Big Island, but phone and Internet access helps make them accessible to small-business owners in any location. Financial support comes from the Small Business Administration at the federal level, supplemented with grants and private donations locally. The Hawai’i chapter gathers for lunch once a month; sometimes a guest speaker supplements members’ knowledge and suggests resources to better help clients.

According to chairman D.J. Halcro, the 35 active counselors in Hawai’i (some live in the Islands part time) advise 100 to 150 clients per month. "All of the counselors are doing it from the heart," says Halcro. "They’re there because they want to be. They enjoy the interaction and seeing young startups develop and succeed."

Anything a small-business owner might encounter gets addressed, says new counselor Wes Lem, a semi-retired businessman who moved to Honolulu from Connecticut after working for a variety of high-tech startup companies. Topics of discussion may integrate writing a business plan, obtaining venture capital funding, setting up an accounting system, investigating the most effective advertising, getting licensed and hiring salespeople.

After owning a carpet-cleaning business for eight years, one of Lem’s clients asked how to increase revenues. Lem brainstormed the possibilities of partnering with other companies, using the client’s manpower more efficiently and training to expand his services to water removal and cleanup. "We’re giving them a fresh perspective," says Lem.

Counselors seem to agree that they receive as much as they bestow. Business banking expert Diana Smith still works full time, but says donating her time "satisfies my need to give back to the business community." When she takes advantage of the wealth of knowledge in her fellow volunteers, "I tap into so many resources," she notes. "I benefit a lot."

Though the counselors possess diverse skills, Halcro says the organization could use more expertise in the restaurant and retail businesses, where mentors are frequently requested.

But there’s no shortage of aptitude in the field of technology, as Sanju Goswami discovered. He employs nine computer programmers, and his main objectives with SCORE included growing his business and understanding how to make connections in Hawai’i. "I learned some of the peculiarities of doing business here," he says, referring to the slow process of gaining trust and building relationships. After counseling, he reflected on his errors and felt more convinced that the time he was investing would be worthwhile. Seeking help from people who have "been around and made their mistakes" is one way to avoid further blunders. Other bonuses: self-esteem rises with success, and a supportive friendship usually evolves.

Counselor Keith Ogata sees these as some of the many benefits to the flexible relationships. He recently moved back to O’ahu after running a large education, training and publishing company in Newport Beach. "I provide people who want to start a business with insight and guidance in how to take the next step," says Ogata, whose skills include strategic planning and overall operations. For executives with decades of experience, he believes volunteering for an organization such as SCORE is the best way to donate to the community. Counselors share their talent and time to aid the job market, and hopefully improve services available to the general public.

And they accomplish this in an unassuming atmosphere: "I’ve never been in a volunteer organization that’s so politics-free; they’re all for the cause of helping the local business people." And that’s the greatest remuneration. "You feel like a mentor. It’s very rewarding to share your knowledge."

Making a Difference is presented in partnership with Hawai’i Community Foundation, a statewide grant-making organization supported by generous individuals, families and businesses to benefit Hawai’i’s people.
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