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ECONOMY:  SCORE One For Small Businesses

Helene Berren SCORE Instructor
BY JACK KATZANEK | STAFF WRITER |September 11, 2013; 09:05 PM

Helene Berren grew up behind the counter of a small business. As a young girl she helped her father run a small chain of hardware stores and watched him sweat the small stuff almost every night.

Today Berren, after decades of success working at some of the largest companies in America, is one of several dozen people in Inland Southern California who are helping define and conquer some of the small stuff — and there’s a lot it — for the area’s entrepreneurs and would-be small business owners.

Berren is a counselor and lecturer for the Inland Empire’s Senior Corps of Retired Executives program, known as SCORE. The program is centered on volunteers, who once owned their own companies or who held ranking positions in the corporate world, who now counsel potential members of the next generation of entrepreneurs.

This counseling includes one-on-one sessions arranged by appointment in one of 14 locations, along with online discussions. SCORE includes a series of at least a half-dozen low-cost seminars every month that offer strategies that are vital for success but that many small business owners have yet to grasp.

But what the Inland chapter of SCORE needs is more people who do what Berren does. The program is a few more volunteers away and probably few locations away from operating a much more thorough and beneficial program, said Rod Ballance, the chapter chairman for the Inland Empire.

Currently 36 people volunteer to speak at seminars and meet with entrepreneurs, Ballance said. The one-on-one meetings are by appointment and most of them are at chamber of commerce offices, where the counselor is given a desk and some privacy to talk to people for part of a day.

The roster is actually considerably more than the 22 who were doing this work in the Inland area three years ago. But the problem is typical for a program that depends on older people. Many develop health issues and are no long able to do it.

“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges,” Ballance said.

SCORE gets federal funding and is affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2010, Ken Yancey, the national CEO of SCORE, visited Riverside and said he’d like to see the organization expand to be able to help more people. 

The economy’s very slow healing process over the last few years has proven this to be a good intention, because a weak job market tends to send more people into the entrepreneurial world.

At the time Yancey spoke in Riverside, there were more than 263,000 Inland residents officially listed as unemployed by the state Employment Development Department. That was an all-time high. That has declined by more than 68,000 over the last 3½ years, but the jobless rate of 11 percent in the Inland area in July is still one of the country’s worst.

That tends to drive at least some people to entrepreneurialism and increasing the need for more advisory services.
Helene Berren SCORE News Article
There are no SCORE volunteers with office hours in San Bernardino or adjacent cities, with the nearest ones in Fontana and Redlands. Small business owners in Jurupa Valley or Eastvale probably have to travel to either Corona or Riverside to talk to a counselor, and there are none in Perris and Lake Elsinore.

SCORE believes in finding the right counselor for specific entrepreneurs, Ballance said. For example, a person who wants to open a restaurant should be able to talk to a retiree who once worked in that industry.

Ballance said that actually only 75 percent of the Inland SCORE counselors are retired, which helps when the subject involves modern technology. That’s an ongoing challenge, he said.

“Considering that today we’re in a very fast computerized world, our counselors have to be up to speed on that,” Ballance said. “We’re skewing our workshops in that direction.”

Berren had part of that task at a workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the Menifee campus of Mt. San Jacinto College. About a dozen people attended “No-Cost Marketing — Ascending without Spending,” learning about free online services offered by Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many others that can help market a business for free or relatively cheaply.

At 65, Berren is part of a generation that grew up without 21{+s}{+t} Century technology but now speaks with authority on it. She runs a marketing firm called AmpUrBiz out of her home in Temecula. She enjoyed a long career as a sales and marketing executive for companies that included IBM and Oracle.

“I really like doing this a lot. I like giving something back,” Berren said at the end of the two-hour seminar. “My passion is helping small businesses and start-ups, and with the economy the way it is right now there are a lot of people who are looking that way.”

Other SCORE seminars scheduled in the Inland area in the next few weeks include subjects such as social media, writing a business plan and organizing financial practices.

The people who attended Tuesday’s Menifee seminar have ideas that ran from organizing household items to a man who wants to restore roll-top desks.

Mel Palmer, a Riverside man who started a business called Power4Change, is marketing himself as a workforce coach and trainer. He was laid off from a job at Underwriters Laboratories, a large industrial safety consulting firm. He said Berren’s presentation provided a lot of good information, and added that a lot of displaced workers are trying the same route he is.

“You find a lot of people who lost their jobs are going into entrepreneurism,” Palmer said.

Follow Jack Katzanek on Twitter: @JackKatzanek and check his blog on pe.com/business


Counselors are staffing the following Inland cities:

Banning, Beaumont, Corona, Fontana, Hemet, Menifee, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Redlands, Riverside, San Jacinto, Temecula, Victorville, Yucaipa

Information: http://inlandempire.score.org/

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