- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Amy K. Frey was at a crossroads five years ago. She owned a small business, providing “boutique warehousing services” to overseas companies, mainly in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Ms. Frey wanted — needed, she said — an outside perspective.

“I really needed a sounding board that was local, someone I could come to with a variety of issues, seek their wisdom and knowledge and have as a counselor in an advisory capacity,” she said.

Someone like Ann Dobbs.

Ms. Dobbs is a volunteer counselor with SCORE — Counselors to Small Business, formerly named the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a program that offers free advice and assistance to small-business owners nationwide.

The federally supported nonprofit has 13 paid employees; the other 11,200 are volunteers. In Ms. Dobbs, Ms. Frey found a confidante and mentor.

“I can’t say enough about Ann Dobbs,” Ms. Frey said.

In her 80s, Ms. Dobbs is the retired co-owner of the Federal Supermarkets co-op chain of small grocery stores. She has been a SCORE volunteer for 15 years.

Ms. Dobbs is that counselor who helps with “the things a small-business owner runs into. I can meet with someone about trouble with employees, or questions about lawyers and accountants you can’t pose to them,” Ms. Frey said.

SCORE counseling is free, though the organization offers 27,000 optional seminars nationwide for businesses owners, for usually less than $50.

The counseling can take place in SCORE offices across the country, or via the Internet, where some 1,200 of the group’s 11,700 nationwide volunteers provide help via e-mail and a Web site, said organization Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Yancey.

SCORE is “probably one of the better programs: consisting of real people who have done real business, as opposed to a federal employee telling you how to run a business,” said Ronald Utt, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

A former banker in Irving, Texas, who has run the organization since 1992, Mr. Yancey says that while early American entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford, William Hewlett and David Packard didn’t have his organization to help, they had something similar.

“My guess is they had advisers around them, mentors, coaches, sounding boards, whatever you want to call that kind of outside, objective support,” Mr. Yancey said.

“What SCORE provides is a place to go for those that want to find that kind of help, but may not have that network on their own, or [who] have a network and want to build on that. We now as a society understand and embrace the mentoring value of a relationship.”

Mr. Yancey said that while the basics of business remain same — just ask the dot-com veterans who imagined otherwise — the nature of business in 2004 is far different, creating a need for more understanding.

“You have the complication of regulation at the state, local and federal level, you have so many businesses now, the need to differentiate, and you also have the impact of technology on the business, [and] globalization,” he said. “It is a more information-rich society than in the past.”

The advice provided by SCORE helped Ms. Frey expand her business from a D.C. location to a larger one in Silver Spring. Now she has added a satellite warehouse in Inglewood, Calif., near Los Angeles International Airport.

“When I started realizing I could seek wisdom and advice, my business really started growing,” Ms. Frey said. “It’s been a very healthy relationship, incredibly important to me and my business and it’s been really helpful.”

More than just SCORE’s clients are recognizing the organization’s value. Jack Canfield, a publishing entrepreneur who helped create the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of books, selling 80 million copies, gave the program a major endorsement in his latest volume, “The Success Principles.”

“A plug from someone as well known as Mr. Canfield is something we’re flattered by and appreciate and we’re going to work diligently to live up to,” Mr. Yancey said. The author will speak at an August SCORE conference in Tennessee.

“I think he’s dynamite,” said Ralph Johanson, chairman of the District’s SCORE chapter, about Mr. Yancey. “He’s very energetic, very articulate, and from my perspective, I think he’s done a remarkable job of keeping the organization focused and moving in the right direction and motivating and moving people forward.”

Mr. Yancey’s goals include getting more women and minorities into small business and putting them in touch with mentors and seminar instructors who have been where the neophytes are now.

“We have a desire to serve more people that have a small business and want to start one,” Mr. Yancey said. “Our service is relevant, free, and we want to do more.”

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