3 Suggestions to Help SCORE Hit it Out of the Park
on Friday, June 28, 2019
Before I get to anything else, I want to give a quick thank you to all the people who contacted me after I posted last week's article 3 Strikes and You're Out - Why I Gave Up On SCORE. It wasn't an easy decision for me to remove SCORE Merrimack Valley from my list of resources and I appreciate all of the people who shared their stories with me.
As I alluded last week, Pat's rule number six is "Don't complain without suggesting a solution," so I am offering the promised follow-up post with a few simple suggestions to improve user experience for both the mentors and clients.
Fair warning, I am not privy to the inner workings of SCORE. I have no idea how much control the local chapters have over policy and procedures. My solutions are my thoughts and opinions based on my own experience and may or may not be practicable within SCORE's framework.
Last week I shared my three recent SCORE experiences as an explanation for why I was dropping SCORE Merrimack Valley from my suggested list of business resources. This week, I'm talking about a few easy fixes that could help alleviate some of the frustration felt by SCORE Merrimack Valley's mentors and clients.
Here are my simple, low-cost, low effort suggestions to address the most pressing issues I've seen with the local SCORE chapter's mentoring program.
1. Vet clients before they get in the door
One of the mentors complained that it felt like they were wasting a lot of time with clients who either had no idea how a business operates or simply didn't have a business yet.
The easiest way to separate the people who are still in the idea phase or just starting out would be to ask them to complete a one-page business canvas snapshot as part of the application process.
It's a simple document that would show how much thought a client has put into their business plan and would give SCORE's onboarding team a way of categorizing people without overloading anyone with documentation.
People who are still in the someday/maybe category or those looking for help with how to create a business plan could be diverted to a free webinar that walks the client through the process and explains why they need to know things like
How to identify their target audience and how they will reach them
Who their competitors are and what they do better or worse
How they're going to make money
I say a live webinar rather than a recorded session so clients have the opportunity to ask questions and get answers from real people rather than a frequently asked question (FAQ) section of a website.
Once they get through the webinar the someday/maybe people will have a better idea of whether their idea is viable and the people who needed help to develop a business plan will walk away with a basic plan in hand. In both cases, they will be in a better position to either proceed on their own or get startup help from a mentor.
2. Match mentors and clients based on need
Before I signed up for a SCORE mentor I was told that they match clients to mentors based on industry or need. That didn't happen for me and from what I've heard from some of the volunteers, it rarely happens.
I understand that business is business and the basic principles carry over no matter what product or service you're selling. I also get that there are most likely a lot more clients than mentors. It makes sense for clients just starting out to be assigned to a mentor as a generalist to provide basic business knowledge. But at some point, SCORE has to address the idea that many volunteers have specialized experience that would benefit specific clients.
It's frustrating for the mentors to hear that another mentor with no experience in a given field has been assigned to a client with a specialized need while they, as an expert in that field, are meeting clients who are still in the idea stage.
These are complaints I've heard from mentors.
On the client side, there is an overwhelming sense that the mentors either don't want to be there or don't have a clue.
I've heard many complaints from clients who needed basic help and didn't know where to start. Some were still in pre-launch wondering how to go about moving from idea to reality, others had established businesses and were looking for help taking them to the next level.
Which brings me to my last suggestion.
3. Mentors should be held accountable.
I understand SCORE mentors are volunteers, not employees. But, that doesn't mean they don't need to follow through on their commitments.
If you volunteer to help someone, help them. If it's not a good fit, step back and find someone else who is.
After my first meeting with my original mentor, I came home and told my husband it wasn't going to work. As I said last time, she was fixated on my non-revenue generating blog, Queen City Buzz, and didn't seem to grasp that I wanted help with my business, NH Business Guild.
Even worse, she didn't seem interested in figuring it out. Our next meeting was scheduled for two months later and was subsequently canceled.
In the end, it took four months to get a second meeting and she was still focused on Queen City Buzz instead of the NH Business Guild.
I don't know what the SCORE standard is for the frequency of client meetings or measuring outcomes. I don't even know if there is one.
My first mentor did say she was required to ask at the end of the meeting if the session met my expectations. That's stacking the deck. Who in their right mind would think they'd get an honest answer, especially when it's phrased like that, at the end of a disappointing meeting?
That's like your lover asking if it was good for you too.
No matter how bad it was you're going to nod and mumble something incoherent while you gather your clothes and plan the quickest route to the door.
It's not good enough.
My suggestion is to send the client a three-question survey after each meeting.
Did your mentor address your business question?
Do you believe your mentor has the skills and experience to help you with your specific business issue?
Would you like to continue meeting with your mentor? (If no, please explain)
This would give some level of accountability to ensure the mentor is doing their job and the client would be required to complete the survey before the next meeting could be scheduled.
I have no idea if anyone from SCORE Merrimack Valley will ever see them. I don't even know if they care.
What I do know is there is a need for the service they're trying to provide and the current system is failing to serve both the people who volunteer as mentors and the clients who are looking for help.