Want to start a business? Free SCORE seminars at the Cincinnati library can help lay the groundwork

CINCINNATI - Deborah Thompson knew she wanted to transition from being a Christian minister to a second career teaching preschool students as young as 4 how to play piano, but she wasn't sure how to start. Then a friend referred her to the Cincinnati chapter of SCORE, a group of volunteer retired executives who want to share their business acumen with people like Thompson. 

Thompson, 58, attended a SCORE workshop in West Chester and was paired with a mentor, retired P&G executive Thane Brown, whom she met with monthly.

Less than two years later, Thompson owns her own business, called Pianimals Kids Club, and she has expanded into teaching more than 60 preschool students the fundamentals of piano in eight schools. She uses the Pianimals system, pairing musical notes with animals, among other fun things. Thompson has four teachers working for her as independent contractors and plans to add three or four more in the fall.

"SCORE has been a tremendous asset to my business," Thompson said. 

Boosting budding businesses

SCORE charges a fee for most of its seminars to raise operating capital (subsequent one-on-one mentoring is free). But once a year, SCORE partners with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to offer a free three-part seminar to get budding entrepreneurs started or to help them expand.

"Your Business: It Starts With a Plan," will take place 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on May 11, 18 and 25 in the Huenefeld Tower Room on the third floor of the Main Library in downtown Cincinnati.

Workshop topics include:

  • Knowing Your Business and Your Customers
  • Your Best Organizational Structure
  • Creative Marketing for Your Business
  • Creating and Managing Your Financial Plan
  • Financing Your Business.

"For three successive Saturdays, we give people the opportunity to learn what is actually involved in running a business," said Tom Moon, a SCORE volunteer in charge of seminars who spent 42 years in manufacturing at Milacron and elsewhere. "We're coming from a position of experience and can hopefully give an emerging entrepreneur the tools to transition from being someone's employee to a business owner."

The seminar can help people who may have a business plan as well as those with just an idea or the desire to be an entrepreneur. 

"A lot of people haven't asked for a mentor because they don't have a clear path to what they want to do," Moon said. "We will try to lead them through the process."

SCORE's Cincinnati chapter was established in 1964 and maintains a roster of about 100 volunteer business experts who serve a 19-county area in southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana. Each year, the chapter hears from more than 3,000 potential business owners or owners looking to expand.

A reliable resource

"We make a lot of referrals to SCORE because they are the nuts and bolts experts," said Albert Hallenberg, a reference librarian who is the unofficial small business specialist at the main branch. 

The library itself is a year-round treasure trove for job hunters and entrepreneurs, with resources like referenceusa.com, a vast database available to card holders that helps users create marketing plans, conduct competitive analysis, raise funds and locate people.

Hallenberg said Moon makes the three SCORE seminars lively and informative.

"It's not a straight-ahead lecture," he said. "And people can register even if they are just starting from absolute scratch because, in a way, that's good. It's just a nice roadmap for a good life choice, even if you decide ‘that's not for me,' and you move onto something else."

The Tri-state is no stranger to small businesses. According to statistics Hallenberg found in the 2010 County Business Pattern, a publication of U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 28,000 small businesses in Greater Cincinnati's metropolitan area with 1-19 employees.

The path to Pianimals

Deborah Thompson is proud to own one of them. The Cincinnati native studied piano as a child and at University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music before moving on to earn a master's of divinity and embarking on a career as a pastor. 

While living in Florida, she sought a piano teacher for her five-year-old daughter and discovered the Pianimals method, which she quickly embraced. The teacher in Florida persuaded her to try teaching the method herself, and that began her path to bringing Pianimals to Cincinnati.

"When I made the jump from pastoring to realizing it was time to do something else with my life, I never realized that this would be it. It's given me a new lease on life. I love what I do," she said.

Register for "Your Business: It Starts With a Plan"

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