business matters
With the help of SCORE volunteer Russ Hearn, Amy Goslaw, shown here, fulfilled her dream of running a family business.

Learning the SCORE

Mentors help fledgling entrepreneurs

The “For Sale” sign outside the ice cream shop at Herman and Bonniebrook roads beckoned Amy Goslaw for months.

The Butler Township woman and her family always wanted to own a business, and there were such happy memories tied to that shop — a community fixture for three decades.

But the, “Let's do this,” decision came late in the game, with ice cream season just three weeks away.

Goslaw, who works full time at Butler Alcohol Countermeasures, had no experience in obtaining business funding or formulating the prerequisite business plan.

“The lady at NexTier Bank suggested I call the Butler County Chamber of Commerce. They put me in touch with Russ (Hearn) from SCORE,” she said. “He not only helped me write the plan, he's been a mentor ever since. He knows his business, and he's been a tremendous resource.”

With Hearn's guidance, Goslaw wrote her plan, got her loan and “Ippies” reopened as “Corner Cones” April 16.

“Our motto is 'Help for the life of your business,'” said Hearn, clearly enjoying the slogan's dual meaning.

SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, is a free business mentoring and education program resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.SCORE has more than 300 chapters, and although the nearest is in Pittsburgh, Hearn and his co-mentor Mark Mann, answer when Butler County entrepreneurs call.

Hearn, who spent his career in the health care industry, said his first brush with SCORE was from the other side of the table.

Hearn said two decades ago, he contacted the organization to learn about structuring a business plan when he opened his own business.

He returned to SCORE as a mentor after retiring in 2017.

Mann, a lifelong journalist, retired as managing editor of the Butler Eagle in 2016.

“SCORE really does help small businesses … those are the ones that need help,” Mann said. “I got involved to help, and because I am interested in learning about people's dreams and ambitions.”

Mann and Hearn, both Center Townhip residents, said the people who contact them run the gamut from those who just have an idea to those who have been established in business for generations, but are looking for growth or transition options.

Inquiries come from bakers, medical professionals, brewers … “we will help any business as long as it's legal,” Hearn said.

Needs may be as simple as answering one question by telephone or ongoing face-to-face consultations.

“Eighty percent of all new business fail within the first two years for two reasons: lack of a plan and lack of capital,” Hearn said. “You need a plan and the capital to keep going until it catches on.”

SCORE representatives assist with technical questions, like how to acquire a fictitious name. Or they might help find resources for ongoing business needs.

“At any time we discover we've exhausted our knowledge, we pull in extra help,” said Hearn, who currently has open files for 20 businesses in the Pittsburgh and Butler region.

Mainly, the men said, they encourage business people to proactively consider what's ahead.

“I look at this as though we are a sounding board,” Mann said “We ask them questions like, 'Have you talked to a lawyer? Or have you looked at zoning requirements? What is your market and who is your competition?' A lot of the time people don't know what's involved in building a business. We help them ask questions and answer them.”

Sometimes, the men said, asking the hard questions leads to difficult answers.

“A business plan is intended to be a plan to execute. But sometimes the business plan says, “Don't do it,'” Mann said. “Ultimately, it is still up to them. But being realistic, we don't want to encourage people to go into business knowing they will fail.”People interested in consulting with a SCORE representative can connect in three ways: Look online at SCORE volunteer profiles for a representative who would be a good fit for your business.

Sign up online and be assigned a mentor based on geography.

Or contact the Butler County Chamber of Commerce at 724-283-2222.

“SCORE has provided Butler business owners and entrepreneurs expert guidance for many years,” said Stan Kosciuszko, chamber president. “With the addition of a new mentor (Mann), chamber members and the public can receive more access to free specialized training in all areas of business. The key qualification SCORE mentors bring is real-world business experience.

“They are working and retired business owners, executives and managers who have been through the same challenges and decisions that many entrepreneurs are facing today. In addition, SCORE mentors offer valuable expertise in specific industries. All SCORE volunteers receive specialized training offered by the association and are certified in mentoring methodology.”

In addition to counseling, SCORE offers face-to-face and recorded workshops. For more information, visit Pittsburgh.Score.org.