Most of you have heard of the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
What you may not be aware of is that it is now available on your desktop.
SCORE counseling services are available through e-mail at www.score.org, meaning you no longer have to take the time to make a face-to-face appointment at a SCORE office.
"Most of the questions we get are introductory questions, just two or three lines long," says Ervin Simon, a counselor with the service. "Some are real serious and might be a page-and-a-half long."
They range from simple incorporation questions to how to do a market analysis and determine what percentage of market share is attainable.
Users enter their question and are presented with a list of advisers who have expertise in that area. Or they can search the skill set database and choose an adviser to submit the question to.
"The fundamental tenet is that it is an open-ended service and we welcome extended dialogues," says Simon. "Some are off-and-on relationships, and some are mostly cheerleading, but it is reassuring to know that there is help out there."
The e-mail system has both advantages and disadvantages when compared to face-to-face meetings. In a meeting, communication is easier because you can read body language and cover a lot of information in a short amount of time.
E-mail allows Simon time to search his resources and really dig for an answer if necessary, and sometimes e-mail counseling leads to a face-to-face meeting. It also allows people who otherwise wouldn't have time to use SCORE to do so.
"It's also very intimidating for someone who is looking for answers to come in and fill out a request form and list their personal information," says Simon. "It's hard to do, particularly if they are older, and their ego suggests they ought to know the answer themselves. If you are in business and having problems, it's tough to own up to your problems and face a stranger.
"On e-mail, you don't really need to be identified. All they ask for is your name and ZIP code."
Some don't give ZIP codes and some give false names to remain anonymous, but Simon says help will still be provided.
While many questions come from businesses in the start-up phase, Simon encourages existing businesses to take advantage of the free service. With the e-mail option, business owners no longer have to take time away from their enterprise to get help, and turnaround times are quick.
"The service is advertised that we will get back to them in 48 hours," says Simon. "I will answer within the same day. Sometimes I have to give them the short answer first and take some time to research it further." How to reach: SCORE, www.score.org
Todd Shryock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is SBN's special reports editor.