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Issue Date: Vol. 48, No. 10, October 2008, Posted On: 11/3/2008

‘Score’ Provides Free Consulting To Owners Of Small Businesses

Hank Schlesinger

WASHINGTON, DC — Though world-class experts in their own fields (such as vending), American small business owners typically lack the management expertise needed to see them smoothly through rough economic times. This is not surprising, since those possessing the entrepreneurial spirit tend to build businesses with hard work rather than MBAs.

But the expertise that comes with an MBA and experience sometimes is just what is needed. That’s why the U.S. Small Business Administration founded its Score program. Intended to match retired and current executives with small business owners, the program seeks to provide a network of volunteer consultants to assist small companies survive and grow. The service is free of charge, and allows owners of small businesses to communicate with Score volunteers either face-to-face or via email.

Howard Svigals, a Score counselor how was previously a CFO at a telecommunications company, sees the vending industry as challenging – but not much different from other businesses. So: What steps would he suggest for vending operators facing a tough business environment?

“I would say that vending operators want to push their slow-moving inventory. It may even be worthwhile to accept a lower profit margin on products that aren’t selling,” Svigals said. “You’ve tied up cash in that inventory. To the extent they can have less inventory, operators can have more cash in the bank or need to borrow less.”

Svigals also suggested cutting back on borrowing as a general policy, and said to borrow only the amount immediately needed. “To just have money sitting in a bank account that’s not earning interest doesn’t make sense,” he explained. “Operators might also want to renegotiate terms with suppliers. Even if they charge you, it may be lower than the cost of borrowing to pay them.”

He also advised sitting down with an accountant and re-estimating tax payments. “When times and tides are low, you want to again look at those calculations and make sure you are not overpaying the IRS,” he said. “Also, operators might want to look into automation. That would be new accounting and inventory systems. As the old adage goes: When business is slow, you paint your shelves. In the long run, these systems can save you money.”

Needless to say, Svigals also recommended that operators having difficulty seek out Score counselors. “Come see a Score counselor and work with him or her. We sit down, it’s usually a half-hour session, or we can do it by email,” he said. “We have specialists in accounting, marketing and other fields.”

To find a local Score counselor, visit sba.gov or score.org.

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