Profit Minded

Could a coach help your business stay afloat?

"Business owners who seek to learn from others and reach out to resources for help are more successful than those who don't." So says Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE, a national nonprofit network of experienced business executives who offer free counseling to entrepreneurs. In his 20-plus years on the job, Yancey says he's come to see that small businesses really need two things most: money and mentoring. Could a coach help your business stay afloat?

While nearly three-quarters of business owners who responded to a recent Yahoo! survey said that their business is suffering the effects of the stalled economy, Yancey says a SCORE year-on-year survey showed that some 90 percent of businesses that had consulted SCORE for help in 2009 were still in business a year later. Yancey won't take all the credit for that—"we all know there are a lot of factors that come into play"—but he has no doubt that SCORE's 13,000 volunteer mentors who counsel businesses at 364 chapters nationwide have played a big role.

In addition to SCORE, Yancey points to two other Small Business Administration resources for mentorship: Small Business Development Centers and Women's Business Centers. "It's been shown that a business that receives support from one of these entities is more likely to start and more likely to survive than a business that doesn't," Yancey says.

That's not to say SCORE's clients have been immune to the recession. "We continue to see businesses that struggle, but fewer than we did when the economy first started to falter in 2008," Yancey says. Businesses that are still operating have figured out how to weather the challenges. "They've adapted their cash-flow management, replaced customers, and added or deleted product lines. They've adjusted their staffing, laid off or gone to part-time or contract labor, and done different things that allow them to adjust to slowing sales and the fact that access to traditional lines of credit are not as available as they had been." Yancey says SCORE mentors have helped many of them figure out how to do that.

He adds that while access to capital and debt is an obstacle to many, ramping up sales is the bigger priority for his clients. "We've been working with them on marketing issues, client acquisition, on how to use social media to develop deeper relationships with your clients, things of that nature."

Is SCORE seeing more people in this economy go into business for themselves? "What we see these days are people we would consider unintentional entrepreneurs," Yancey says. "They're becoming small businesses because life circumstances have dictated that they do that to provide for their family."

Even the gainfully employed come to SCORE to consider their alternatives, Yancey says. "I may have a job, but I may be in an industry that's in decline or a company that's known to have financial issues, and I'm concerned about my job. I'm naturally going to go to SCORE or the Small Business Administration or my local chamber and ask, 'What are my options? Can I turn this hobby into a business? Everyone says I make great chili; should I have a restaurant? If I get laid off, do I have a skill that I can sell in the marketplace as a freelancer? Could I be a free agent? Are there companies in addition to the one that laid me off that I can contract back with to provide very specific services?'"

Getting coaching from someone who's been there can go a long way toward learning from their success and avoiding their mistakes, he says.

Find your local SCORE chapter at score.org.

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