In Business : SCORE advises, do your homework before you leap
Members of SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives), an organization created and supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, offer in-person and online counseling for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations on Martha's Vineyard.
In this monthly column, The Times has invited SCORE members to discuss business issues familiar to Vineyard business owners and managers. SCORE members will also answer questions from readers, posted at mvtimes.com.
The autumn and winter months are the perfect time for Island business owners and would be business owners to seek out assistance from SCORE volunteers. During the summer months, of course, Island entrepreneurs are much too busy to think, plan and make more than minute-to-minute business decisions. This winter the Island's SCORE volunteers have been flooded with requests for meetings.
In addition to providing what we hope is valuable experiential knowledge, the clients are providing the SCORE counselors an abundance of "smart business' reminders as well.
For instance, the Island may have enough cleaning services. It is difficult to help a SCORE client start or expand a cleaning service when there seems to be an abundance of service providers already established on the Island and not much to differentiate one from the other. Finding a niche, a specialty, is critical when there is competition for a defined market.
The Island probably also has enough T-shirts featuring Island vistas.
Recent SCORE clients have wanted to sell "more affordable" versions of artwork. More affordable may translate to mean work by artisans that just doesn't measure up. The price of a product is not the only reason a customer will make a purchase— the quality of a product does matter.
A number of new clients have come to a SCORE meeting with a great idea for a product or service and lack any start-up finances. The vast majority of small businesses begin with financial support from family, friends, and credit cards. Few if any traditional lenders will back a start-up enterprise, and fewer will back a start-up with none of its own financial backing. It costs money to start a business. Simple things like business cards, advertising, insurance, production expenses require funding.
Because you love doing something, or creating something, does not mean it is a viable business idea. The entrepreneurial spirit can take you a long way but SCORE counselors suggest that before launching a company solid marketing research be conducted to determine the competition, the target customer and demand.
One recent client created a survey that is being conducted in-person with potential customers to answer these questions. It may take time but it helps to ensure that the product or service is something that the targeted customers will purchase.
Look before you leap into an expensive commitment. A recent SCORE client came to a first counseling meeting after signing an expensive lease but before realistically determining if the business was viable. And, after a busy summer season with lots of foot traffic, many potential customers looking but not buying, the business folded.
Perhaps a careful analysis and a thorough, well-researched business plan might have determined beforehand that the business was not going to generate enough revenue to be worth working six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day for five months.
Similarly, another new SCORE client with a smart product idea was about to lease retail space in a location with almost no shopper traffic and little available parking. The client was excited because the rent was affordable. Often there is a reason why a space is available and the rent affordable.
Businesses rarely succeed by magic. Sometimes it is timing and sometimes it is the right product or service. And most of the time, it is combination of all three with a large dose of entrepreneurial spirit and energy thrown in. However, it really helps to be realistic and SCORE counselors offer that perspective.
SCORE on the Island needs your help. If you are a retired or semi-retired business executive become a counselor. If you don't have much free time but are able to provide resource expertise in the areas of law, accounting or technology and you could offer as little as ten hours of time annually let us know. Please contact SCORE at 508-696-9687 to get involved.
Seeking counseling service? Go to www.score.org and complete a brief application.
Susan Silk is a semi-retired communication consultant. Prior to moving to the Island full-time, she was the founder and president of a communication consulting and training firm in Chicago.