Some things in the business world never change—the need for experience and advice, for instance. This is why, for the past 60 years, SCORE Seattle has offered free workshops and mentor services to help every kind of hopeful entrepreneur tackle his or her own set of problems, from age-old hurdles like bookkeeping to new ones like social media. Another constant in business, no matter the decade, is this: No two business plans are exactly alike.
“I have a client that has goats,” says Jerry Freeland, chairman of workshops at SCORE, “and she’s trying to grow her business—she’s trying to buy more goats! She takes them out, they graze on the fields, then she takes them to another place. So her business is to maintain people’s property with her goats.”
For Freeland’s goat-herding clientele and others, the day-long workshops offered by SCORE, an arm of the Small Business Association, include both a general overview (Starting a New Business) and one geared toward the business plan itself (Building Your Business Plan). Whether it’s a brick-and-mortar shop, an export operation, or an intangible service, planning is the key to selling a product. SCORE brings in a CPA, an attorney, an insurance agent, and countless other community volunteers to help students iron out particulars and make profits the priority.
Though every plan is different, Freeland sees some commonalities in her students. Of the three main parts in a business plan–operations, marketing, and finance–the latter tends to be most difficult to execute, even for veteran business owners. “Entrepreneurs tend to have a great idea, they tend to have a lot of enthusiasm, and hopefully even ways to market their idea,” Freeland explains. “But a lot of them are just kind of lost when it comes to pricing, and how they can assure themselves of making a profit.
“I had one fellow, he ran a sign business for 14 years, and he couldn’t figure out why he’d never taken a vacation. He wasn’t keeping good records—that was one of his problems—and we were able to analyze what he was doing and turn his business around.”
Once the goals are clear, owners can focus on more minute details. For those midway through the process, SCORE offers specialty workshops focused on subjects including Intellectual Property, Crowdfunding, even Storytelling.
“That was a really fun one,” Freeland says of the latter. “You have to know how to talk about your business—they talk about an elevator speech: You’ve got to be able to tell them why you do it, and why you’re better than the other people doing it. And you need to say it quickly. So it was fun, because they learned how to tell the story of their business, and hold people’s attention.”
SCORE students can build on this foundation with the help of a mentor. A SCORE mentor has the experience to guide a student on his or her unique path to success. “All have either owned their own business or managed businesses, and they’re wanting to give back to the community,” Freeland says.
Sorted by industry, mentors are available for online or in-person consultations all around Puget Sound, and as far north as Bellingham. Of course, some students fall between industries, or outside the mold entirely—like Freeland’s goat lady. Other students don’t know exactly what their business will look like. For them, building a business is less about an idea, and more about working for themselves. One student, she says, “either wanted to do a storage unit or a coffee shop.”
No matter the stage, it never hurts to get some advice, especially if that advice is free. As Freeland says, “We want to give them the tools to use their time wisely and effectively, and get the best bang for their buck.” ν
Find SCORE Seattle workshops at Connect2Classes.com.
Take Care of Business
As a college student I was not the least bit interested in business as a degree or even a class. I had a law degree in mind until I took a gap year, and while backpacking around Europe decided I’d had enough school for the time being. The first job I landed put me squarely in the world of business, and that’s where I’ve been since, having now owned three businesses in my career.
Many people think that business classes are important only for people who intend to work in business, but we are all part of the business world—everyone is either buying and selling products or performing services for fees. Everybody needs to understand how the economy operates, how to invest and borrow intelligently, write compelling arguments (even if it is just to argue with AT&T about your bill), and understand technology. In as little as a few hours you can learn some important skills through these classes, available at Connect2Classes.com.
Accounting and finance classes: Every business needs to make a profit to survive, and the only way to keep track of expenses and revenue is through proper accounting principles. You’ll make better decisions about planning, organizing, and allocating resources, and are more likely to stay out of trouble in terms of your own business, the government, and even the law. Plus, understanding basic accounting can make your yearly tax chore easier.
Marketing and communications classes: If you own your own business, marketing is essential to your success. You may be the best at what you do, but if you can’t find customers, you won’t make a dime. You can find classes on basic marketing, Internet marketing, international marketing, and even nonprofit marketing. Communication skills are imperative. People who can make a clear argument have an easier time getting a raise, making a sale, and generally getting what they want.
Technology classes: If you don’t have basic computer skills, get them. After that, you should master software programs like Word and Excel and be able to use analytical tools to help you make good decisions. Once you are in your career of choice, you may need to learn a project-management program, a digital-arts program, or something created specifically for your job.