RALEIGH — Travis Andrews had an idea to expand her and her husband’s CrossFit Smithfield gym by offering wakeboarding classes.
To do this, however, she needed the help and advice of someone who knew how to see her idea through.
So she turned to SCORE, a national nonprofit organization that offers free counseling and low-cost workshops to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
Her first meeting with Raleigh SCORE included volunteers David Grant and Dan Carro, who asked questions about her anticipated revenue, expenses, marketing and competition.
Andrews said she walked away a little bit dazed by all the information.
“I feel like I did a lot of thinking,” before the visit, she said. The conversation, however, helped show her where she should focus her attention.
“They definitely put everything into realistic terms,” said Andrews, 31.
Since its inception in 1964, SCORE has helped about 10 million entrepreneurs across the U.S. On May 16, the SCORE chapters in Raleigh and Chapel Hill are celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary with a free small business conference at the McKimmon Conference and Training Center in Raleigh.
SCORE depends on volunteers and financial assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration and private organizations and has more than 350 chapters across the country, including 12 in North Carolina.
Its volunteers include working and retired business owners, executives and managers from small and large companies.
Carro, 71, is a veteran and retired federal contracting officer who helped small businesses garner government work. Grant managed manufacturing operations at Nortel Networks for more than 20 years and helped reorganize repair operations for a major airline.
Grant, 66, is also the chair of Raleigh SCORE and works with about 10 clients a month.
In recent years, SCORE has worked to improve the outcomes of the businesses it serves by better engaging owners and being more proactive in its follow-up process, Grant said. Last year, Chapel Hill SCORE ranked second in the nation in client engagement and Raleigh SCORE ranked 22nd among SCORE chapeters, according to a SCORE survey.
Other recent improvements include expanding its workshop offerings to include social media marketing and financing options for small businesses.
The organization is also enhancing its volunteer training in an effort to improve its mentoring and screening processes, Grant said.
The mentoring process
The SCORE process often starts with a one-hour meeting between a client and two mentors. After the initial session, the volunteers give the client homework and establish a follow-up plan.
Some clients don’t return because they are overwhelmed by the process, Grant said. However, some continue to work with their mentors for years. Grant’s oldest client relationship goes back five years.
“(Mentors) migrate from one role to another role,” Grant said.
Chasta Hamilton Calhoun, 28, of Raleigh, opened the dance instruction company Stage Door Dance Productions in June 2009 after meeting with SCORE mentor Jack Barto in October 2008.
Barto’s role evolved from helping Calhoun and her husband, Willis, understand and launch the business to providing ongoing support and serving as a sounding board for the couple’s ideas and plans.
Julie Burris and business partner Jenny Beaudin turned to Raleigh SCORE in January 2013 when they considered opening a blow-dry bar in Raleigh. Mentor Jim Walsh helped the former school teachers work their way through their business plan.
“We met with Jim probably in the beginning once a week, or every other week,” Burris said. Walsh was always positive, she said, and helped them conquer the inevitable speed bumps and challenges that come with opening a business.
He also connected them to contacts that have helped them better understand the market for their business, Blown Away, which they plan to open in North Hills in June.
If someone doesn’t connect or is unhappy with the counselors that he or she worked with, they should call the Raleigh SCORE office and share their concerns, Grant said. If it’s appropriate, they would be connected with another local mentor, or possibly someone with a specific set of skills identified by a search of SCORE’s national database of counselors.
Following mom’s lead
Andrews and her husband Deacon own the majority share of CrossFit Smithfield, and they are considering opening a wakeboarding school that would take families and groups on daylong trips to rivers and lakes along the East Coast.
Andrews’ mom had used SCORE for her day spa and salon business in Wilmington about 10 years ago, and suggested her daughter ask the organization for help.
Mentors Grant and Carro walked Andrews through the process of understanding her cash flow, and asked questions like, ‘How long will the wakeboarding season be?’ ‘How much will it cost to purchase a boat and wakeboards?’ ‘What is the maximum amount of revenue they could bring in?’
The first homework assignment was to map out cash flow using a spreadsheet on SCORE’s website.
“At the end of the day, what I want you to look at are the numbers at the bottom of the sheet,” Grant said. Those numbers will show whether she is going make money, lose money or break even, he said.
Next, they asked Andrews to do a competitive analysis of her competition’s prices. And third, they asked her to explore the market by talking to similar businesses in other states and by reaching out to potential customers to gauge interest.
If she gets stuck, Grant said, she shouldn’t give up, but instead she should call him or send an email.
Grant said he would reach out to her in three weeks to set up another, less formal appointment.
“There is a Panera somewhere between here and Smithfield,” Grant said.
Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges