A Richland entrepreneur credits a free business mentoring program for enabling him to quit his day job to focus on his own company.
Brandon Andersen said monthly meetings with his SCORE mentor kept him accountable and provided honest feedback.
“Sometimes you tell people your idea and they say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great. You should do it.’ With SCORE mentoring, they ask, ‘What’s your first step? Your second? Can you do it in next month to make it happen?’ It’s like accountability for what you’re going to do for your business,” said the 29-year-old Andersen.
SCORE’s Mid-Columbia Tri-Cities chapter has a new face at the helm of its board. Paul Casey is serving as chairman.
“We’re the best kept secret in your town. It’s sad. It’s free business mentoring. You can walk in here and we will help you succeed. You’d be incredulous at how easy it is to help you launch a business,” Casey said.
SCORE counselors help develop business plans, test the potential of a new business idea and determine solutions to business problems.
Andersen has relied on SCORE off and on for a couple of years.
He owns Bonsai Audio, an entertainment company offering DJ and photo booth services for weddings, corporate parties, business grand openings and other events.
His business’ success is “largely due to my SCORE mentoring,” he said. “It’s helped just managing the growth and stuff.”
He and his wife, Veronica, who co-owns the business, have five part-time employees. Bonsai Audio also recently joined the Tri-Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Casey has invited Andersen to a few networking groups, which he said has been helpful.
“I never would have thought to go to the Hispanic chamber on my own. It was a good idea to go meet people. Next month we’re going to carpool up to the Walla Walla chamber,” said Andersen, whose business goal is for his company to be the premier DJ services company for the area.
Former SCORE chairman Simon Mahler was known for serving clients through his email mentoring and mentor visits around the Northwest. His work received national attention.
Now Casey and his team want to shift their focus to strengthening local chapter 590 in the Tri-Cities.
“Eighteen months ago, I didn’t know what it was,” Casey said.
Casey attended a national SCORE leadership conference in August. He said it was like being “fed with firehose and it was, my goodness, everything you wanted to know about SCORE in three days. I developed childlike enthusiasm for it and want to make a difference here.”
So what does SCORE do?
“We help small businesses launch. We help businesses who have already launched. We help them grow,” Casey said.
The nonprofit SCORE is a nationwide program supported by the Small Business Association with a network of 10,000 volunteers providing business mentoring at no cost. It’s been around for more than 50 years.
The Tri-City chapter operates on a shoestring budget of $2,500.
Casey put together a small team of board members and held a mini retreat in September to strengthen the chapter by focusing on developing a strong team, marketing plan and partnerships.
The renewed energy seems to be working because the local team has doubled its number of mentors since October.
Recruiting 20 to the team is the goal, with a plan of adding 15 by end of this fiscal year. Right now, the team numbers 11, Casey said,
To become a mentor, volunteers must take an online course to learn about “the SCORE way.”
A big part of this is “listening before judging,” Casey said.
David Phongsa has been receiving mentoring from SCORE for about six months now. He’s preparing to launch Ninja Bistro, an Asian Fusion food truck, in April.
He found out about SCORE by doing a Google search for small business support. He also traveled to Spokane and Seattle to utilize their small business classes for entrepreneurs.
Phongsa said SCORE is what you make of it.
“For me, SCORE has helped me stay on track. I meet with my mentor once a month and we go over my tasks and goals to achieve. The classes really helped me learn about how to start a business,” Phongsa said.
He said the best advice he received from SCORE was to prioritize his time to align with his goals and beliefs for his company.
Those interested in getting involved in SCORE don’t have to be a mentor.
Casey said the chapter needs on-call subject matter experts and volunteers for fundraising, marketing and administrative tasks, or to teach a workshop on their business expertise.
He said fundraising would help to supplement SCORE’s modest budget. He said he’d like to buy SCORE shirts for volunteers, membership to area networking organizations and a laptop.
The revitalized chapter also has begun holding regular workshops as well as monthly meetings at Kennewick’s Barracuda Coffee Co. SCORE is using Meetup.com to organize these sessions, billed as a “safe place to fly your dreams.”
“I’m trying to feed a community of entrepreneurs,” said Casey, owner of Growing Forward, a company offering leadership and life coaching.
SCORE mentors can’t recruit clients for their own personal businesses because it is considered a conflict of interest, Casey said.
Casey said just being “in the company of other entrepreneurs feeds my spirit.”
Andersen said anyone thinking about starting up a business should “absofreakinglutely” seek out SCORE. “SCORE is the first place you should start,” he said.
For more information, visit SCORE.org or call 509-735-1000, ext. 235. SCORE operates out of the Tri-City Development Council building, 7130 W. Grandridge Blvd., Suite A, in Kennewick.
SCORE is offering a workshop on improving public speaking from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 6 at Meier Architecture-Engineering, 12 W. Kennewick Ave. in Kennewick. Cost is $75.
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