Settling Or SCORE?

July 11, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Actress and senior citizens’ advocate Helen Hayes once said, “People who refuse to rest honorably on their laurels when they reach ‘retirement’ age seem very admirable to me.” Judy Thome agrees. She is the chair of the Grand Rapids chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

“A lot of the retired folks have wanted to give back to the community and this is a good way to do it,” she said.

SCORE is a nonprofit association “dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of small business nationwide,” according to the local chapter’s Web site. The group pairs retired business leaders with entrepreneurs who hope to start their own businesses. In some cases, SCORE volunteers lend a hand to existing businesses looking to expand or improve services.

Thome said the Grand Rapids chapter also provides low-cost business-related workshops throughout the year.

A subchapter of the United States Small Business Association, SCORE works closely with other business advocacy groups, including the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center at Grand Valley State University.

Joe Seitz is one of the local chapter’s 26 volunteer business counselors. His career focused on organizational planning, productivity and performance improvement for companies such as Texas Instruments and the Burrows mainframe computer company (now Unisys). After “retiring from the rat race,” Seitz started a home-based consulting company.

“I just do that kind of part time, just to keep me busy,” he said. “But, very honestly, my wife just didn’t want me around the house that much.”

Seitz learned about SCORE and realized he could apply his knowledge and experience to helping start-up businesses.

“I could definitely see the need (in small businesses) for some of the planning and organization the large companies do, but on a usable scale. I mean, most small businesses can’t afford the time, the investment and the people commitment that a lot of these large companies go through. But they go through it for a reason, because it helps them get and stay competitive.”

For the past two years he has been helping businesses do just that.

Seitz’ fellow volunteers come from backgrounds in law, technology, retail, restaurant ownership and other fields of expertise.

“Several of us are former small business owners, where we wore lots of hats,” Thome said.

The advisers may have specialties, but they are all very rounded in their business knowledge.

For example, SCORE counselor Jane Schwartz has a thorough understanding of QuickBooks accounting software. When Jan Hall, president of Advertising In Motion LLC, needed some operational advice, Schwartz showed her a few software tricks.

Hall, whose company markets custom-printed promotional items, learned that she was entering credit card sales in a laborious, roundabout way. Schwartz showed her a more direct method that saved Hall “hours and hours each month.”

In addition to the QuickBooks tips, she also gave Advertising In Motion some operational advice.

“She just helped me look at where I spent my expenses — could I save money by doing other things? (She looked at) how I was marketing,” said Hall. “It was just a great experience.”

That broad base of knowledge helps.

“Clients’ needs go all over the board,” said Seitz. “Sometimes one counselor’s able to help them. Sometimes it takes two or three. We’ll pass cases back and forth and, in some cases, two or three of us will meet with a particular client.”

Despite the wide range of experience in the group, there are some areas of expertise that Thome would like to see better represented within the chapter.

“We would absolutely love to have a marketing person,” she said. “We are actively trying to recruit people.”

She said the chapter is looking for an information technology specialist as well as an individual representing the health-care industry.

Current volunteers are quick to recommend involvement in SCORE to others. Seitz has found an outlet for his professional knowledge and expertise (and a chance to stay out of his wife’s way at home). He has also found his experience to be personally rewarding.

He has recently helped an individual put together a business plan to start a computer consulting company. Seitz helped him make a marketable case to present to lenders.

“And I think he’s going to have an excellent chance of getting the money he needs so he can actually get this business up and running,” he said. “It’s something this guy’s been wanting to do for a while. And it’s very satisfying to get someone to that point where they can realize, ‘Jeez, I’ve got a chance at actually establishing my own business.’”           

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