Score Columbus advice corps growing and ready to help small-business owners

Lin Rice
Leslie Kulis and Randy Zipfel are Score mentors.

As Central Ohio’s business community grows and changes, so too do the needs of its business owners. And for a nonprofit like Score, which provides free and inexpensive services to business owners trying to find success, changing with the times is also a necessity.

Score is a nonprofit organization partially funded by the Small Business Administration with about 300 chapters across the United States. Its mission is “helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.”

To accomplish that, Score provides volunteer business mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs, along with workshops on starting and managing a small business.

“We help whomever comes,” says Randy Zipfel, chair of Score’s Columbus chapter and a small business mentor. “A lot of people are just looking for general business help. There are no limitations on where they are in their business cycle—we’re here for the life of the business and want to develop long-term relationships with our clients.”

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Columbus workshop chair Jim Allen says Score tries to present seminars relevant to its audience’s most pressing needs. “The three basics of starting a business have been where we’ve put a lot of focus with our workshops—how to write a business plan, a marketing plan, and writing a financial plan,” Allen says. “Along with that there’s been a big focus on social media and digital marketing.”

Zipfel says he meets monthly with about six or seven clients, providing general guidance as their businesses grow and expand. “That might include talking about potential new products or marketing challenges or their supply chain— whatever the current challenge might be.”

For Alice Foeller, CEO of web design and online marketing company SiteInSight, working with a Score mentor helped her stay disciplined about the aspects of her business that weren’t necessarily her favorite tasks to perform. “There are always things in your job that you just don’t have a passion for, and for me that was things like profit-loss statements, the financials,” Foeller says.

She began meeting with a Score mentor each month, which motivated her to regularly get her financials updated and presentable. As a result, they were able to see which of her business’ services were performing well and which weren’t and make the correct adjustments. Eight years later, she and her Score mentor still meet monthly.

Lannetta Knotts has been regularly meeting with her Score mentor for nearly a decade. President and founder of Maraye Design Studio, Knotts was formerly a project manager at Ohio State University but was looking for a change.

“I realized that my next step should be starting my own business,” Knotts says. “I was teamed up with a retired executive (Score mentor), and he sat down with me and walked me through building a business plan and a marketing plan.” Since she launched Maraye, “I’ve taken a number of their courses as well—I don’t think I could have done it without them.”

As Columbus continues to grow, Score has its job cut out to keep pace, Zipfel says. “We’ve done a great job recruiting (volunteers), but Columbus is such a big market, and we haven’t made the penetration that we should here. So we’re really trying to ramp up awareness of Score and its services as well as our volunteer base and the diversity of that base so we can reach more clients.”

The nonprofit has about 45 volunteers—more than twice what it had at the beginning of the year—and wants to double that number again. The effort will take additional funding, Zipfel says, and a campaign is being organized. The SBA provides about 30 percent of the nonprofit’s annual budget of between $30,000 and $35,000, with additional funds derived from workshop fees and donations.

Allen says effort has gone into diversifying the volunteer group to match the diversity of the clients found in the Columbus region. “Previously we were mostly a lot of retirees, but if you look at the chapter now we’re more diverse, with more women and minority volunteers,” he says. “We still have a ways to go, but that’s probably the biggest change I’ve seen in my time here.”

Lin Rice is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.

Mission: To foster small business communities through mentoring and education.

National acting CEO: Bridget Weston

Local chapter chair: Randy Zipfel

Local employees: 1 paid administrator and about 45 volunteers

Funding sources: Federal Small Business Administration funding, workshop fees and donations