SCORE helps business start-ups start up

When Carl and Mara Crowell decided to open their specialty pet boutique, Pawpular Companions, in Liberty Lake, they turned to SCORE Spokane and found the help they needed.  (J. Bart Rayniak)
When Carl and Mara Crowell decided to open their specialty pet boutique, Pawpular Companions, in Liberty Lake, they turned to SCORE Spokane and found the help they needed. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Nonprofit agency offers workshops, free counseling

A new year often marks fresh beginnings or serves as an impetus to act on long-held dreams. For some residents, 2011 will be the year to launch a new business.

Budding entrepreneurs can find practical help and seasoned advice from the folks at SCORE Spokane. Since 1973, the organization has helped would-be business owners turn their ideas into industry. Staffed primarily by volunteers, SCORE is a nonprofit resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

On Wednesday, SCORE will host its monthly “How to Start a New Business” workshop.

Mara Crowell took the class last spring. “My husband and I had always wanted to own our own business,” Crowell said. “After taking that first course we got really inspired.”

Crowell also took a Financial Record Keeping class offered by SCORE, and in September, she and her husband, Carl, opened Pawpular Companions Boutique in Liberty Lake. The store features pet food and treats and toys, as well as pet clothing and accessories.

Crowell said, “I’ve always loved animals and I love working with people, so this business puts my two passions together.”

What most impressed her about the SCORE workshops is they are taught by experienced business owners or managers. “They’ve walked the walk,” she said.

In addition, the classes are geared toward novices, which made Crowell feel at ease. “I knew nothing about starting a new business, but I felt comfortable asking questions.”

Workshops aren’t the only way SCORE assists potential business owners. Indeed, the heart of the organization is providing mentors who offer free consultation, advice and follow-up. “They go beyond the classroom and into real life,” Crowell said.

When Pawpular Companions opened, the Crowells’ counselor, Don Jans, came out to visit. That personal touch meant a lot to the first-time business owners.

In fact, the relationships sparked from SCORE are often ongoing. Julia Balassa-Myracle, owner of Chocolate Myracles, still relies on advice she receives from SCORE volunteers.

Five years ago, Balassa-Myracle decided to turn her hobby into a business. She’d long loved creating decadent chocolates and truffles. She studied her craft and became a master chocolatier at Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, B.C. Then she took her modest business plan to SCORE.

“They paired me with Billie Moreland,” Balassa-Myracle said. “She (Moreland) gave me a lot of homework! I took plenty of notes in my SCORE notebook and I often refer to it.”

The chocolatier learned the basics of sales, marketing and production. And her business took off. Today, Chocolate Myracles confections are sold at area wineries, resorts and shops. In a few months, the business will move to a new location with a small storefront in Spokane Valley.

“I’m so fortunate that I went to them (SCORE) before I opened,” she said.

David McKenzie, SCORE Spokane chairman, said success stories like Chocolate Myracles invigorate the organization’s volunteer mentors. “We encourage anyone who’s interested in starting a business or who’s reached a hiccup in their existing business to give us a call,” he said. “Our vested interest is in helping small business succeed. Small business is the backbone of America.”

Business consultations are free, but there’s a nominal fee for the workshops.

McKenzie offered this advice to those interested in starting a business: “Don’t wait for the perfect moment. The perfect moment never comes. Nothing has ever been accomplished by hiding under your desk.”

Though the thought of starting a business during bleak economic times can be daunting, McKenzie feels the dozens of seasoned experts who volunteer with SCORE can give novice business owners a big advantage.

Mara Crowell agreed. As Pawpular Companions Boutique finished up its first holiday season, she said, “I really feel like we couldn’t have started our business without SCORE.”

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