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Jewish World Review
May 9, 2008
/ 4 Iyar 5768
High tech delivers score's help online
Starting a business, or growing one, can be a daunting task, and wise
counsel can be invaluable. Now, that advice is available via the
Internet, and from a rather trustworthy source, the Service Corps of
Retired Executives, or SCORE, which was founded in 1964. If you've
ever bought a Vermont Teddy Bear, or chewed down on a "Jelly Belly"
jellybean, you've interacted with two of the millions of small
businesses that SCORE has helped.
What's more, the help SCORE gives is free, though in this case it's
free advice that's actually worth something.
Where clients once needed a car or mass transit to reach a SCORE
counselor, now help is as close as a computer screen and keyboard,
said W. Kenneth Yancey, Jr., a multi-year veteran of SCORE who became
CEO in 2000.
"Technology affords us so many different opportunities to become more
efficient and more effective," Mr. Yancey said last week. "We're using
technology to make it easier to do business with SCORE, not just for
our clients who are accessing our services, but also for our
volunteers to engage and be part of SCORE."
At the base of this is a software package called netFORUM , a
product of McLean-based Avectra, which is a provider of on demand
Web-based membership management software solutions. The software
allows SCORE clients and volunteers to connect online, trading
information and setting up appointments. Instead of just 389 chapters
in and around many cities, the organization is now accessible just
about anywhere, certainly an advantage as gas prices continue to rise.
"I would love to tell you that we foresaw this," Mr. Yancey said of
the coincidence of online counseling, Web access and $4-a-gallon
fill-ups, "but the truth of the matter is what we really wanted to do
was to offer our services in a manner that our clients wanted to
Although a number of entrepreneurs would like to meet with SCORE in
person, he said, "because of time, distance, cost or comfort" these
people, some 39 percent of those whom SCORE serves, "would prefer to
have a relationship with SCORE online."
The appeal of online contact isn't limited to rural areas, Mr. Yancey
said: while SCORE has 13 offices in the Washington, D.C. area, for
example, a business owner in Ashburn, Virginia, faces what could be a
30-minute drive to Herndon if they want to visit the nearest office.
For volunteers - 32 percent of which are still actively employed, by
the way - the technology helps them participate, Mr. Yancey asserted:
"We're finding that our volunteers of all ages and disciplines,
retired or not, become comfortable with the technology very, very
The interactive process allows users to find a wealth of information
on the SCORE Website, www.score.org, and to set up counseling sessions
online. By registering and scheduling electronically, the
Avectra-based system lets SCORE capture a lot of information easily,
making reporting to those whose grants fund the operation easier. In
turn, reporting from chapters to the headquarters is faster.
"We believe that we've made the process more intuitive, given them
more and better information that allows them to select a counselor
more easily and ensure they're the best one to answer questions around
a certain topic and industry," Mr. Yancey said. It also allowed
SCORE's 11,000 volunteers to provide service to 330,000 different
businesses and individuals last year, he noted.
"Our volunteers help to create 19,700 new businesses in 2007," Mr.
Yancey said. "We helped to create approximately 25,000 new jobs," he
added, saying the use of online technology played a role.
Now, SCORE hopes to use social networking sites such as LinkedIn
as well as blogs to push its services out to people: "We're
going to continue to monitor the client base and their interest and
respond appropriately," Mr. Yancey said.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com