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posted: 9/17/2012 6:00 AM

How to 'SCORE' advice from experienced mentors

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You're not the only entrepreneur who would like to find experienced-based input that will help you run the business you run: Bill Siniscalchi says the Fox Valley chapter of SCORE will have had 3,500 contacts with small business owners when the organization's fiscal year ends this month.

That begins the good news. Fox Valley SCORE (www.scorefoxvalley.org) provides free mentoring and low-cost seminars to small businesses -- existing or startups -- in Kane, DuPage, McHenry, DeKalb, Kendall and Will counties. The SCORE Chicago chapter provides similar support in Cook and Lake counties.

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What business owners often are looking for is "an accountability partner, someone they can talk to ... who will hold their feet to the fire," says Bobi Siembieda.

Sometimes the listening mentors do can be nearly enough. "When (business owners) listen to themselves talk, and we tell them, 'Here's what I hear you saying,'" Patrice Cavallo-Stark says, issues and solutions tend to self-surface.

Like Siniscalchi and Siembieda, Cavallo-Stark is a Fox Valley SCORE mentor.

The wisdom that comes from a mentor's accumulated experiences can be especially helpful. Siniscalchi, about to become vice chair of the SCORE Fox Valley chapter, was part of the commercial insurance industry. Cavallo-Stark once ran her family's grinding shop, which served metal-cutting manufacturers, and is a career education counselor. Siembieda has an IT background and currently owns a consulting business.

Mentors work in two-person teams and, Siniscalchi says, are "coaches, not players. We guide." With that caveat, here's a sampling of suggestions the three Fox Valley SCORE mentors I talked with shared:

• Let someone else do the website. "A lot of people try to do everything themselves," Siniscalchi says. "Don't be afraid to subcontract what you're not comfortable doing."

• Planning matters. "Be prepared with Plan A and Plan B," says Siembieda. "(Business owners) start out planning but now they're running by the seat of their pants. That's when they get in trouble, when they do things by the whim of the day."

Developing a plan, Cavallo-Stark suggests, "makes you think harder (and fosters) a one-step-at-a-time" approach that she says works well.

Siembieda calls the process "chunking," one and 90-day goals that are the steps to a successful year. "What chunks do I have to do now to be successful?" she asks.

• Most of us need a sales and marketing plan. Concentrate your efforts where you'll get the fastest return, Siniscalchi suggests. If you're in start up mode, "Don't underestimate the amount of money it takes to get a new business up."

• Keep the horse in front of the cart, especially if you're starting up. "What do I really have?" is the question Cavallo-Stark wants startups to answer. It's important, she says, to "do a lot of reading, go online and research the people in your business."

At the same time, she adds, meet with an accountant and an attorney. Talk to a banker.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at JKendall@121MarketingResources.com. 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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