Chris Moriarty had worked for a Seattle-based pioneer in the “Eco-Tourism” industry for seven years before COVID struck.
That business didn’t survive the pandemic after its owners decided to retire rather than weather the storm. So in 2020, Moriarty found himself living in Montana and starting his own eco-adventure travel company, Moraway Adventures, armed with the passion and knowledge for travel but not the experience and expertise in “an awful lot of elements of the business.”
Like nearly 7,000 Gallatin Valley entrepreneurs before him, Moriarty took his questions to SCORE, the organization of retired businesspeople who use their skills and additional training to mentor people with good ideas but not all the know-how to succeed in business.
“I was mostly just liasing with guests and liasing with colleagues around the world,” Moriarty said. “When I started my own company, all of a sudden I had to wear all of the hats.
“I came to SCORE to try to accelerate my velocity up the learning curve,” he said. “It’s been absolutely amazing.”
COVID wasn’t the reason that Daniel Jordan came to Montana, but it did end up keeping him here. He arrived just days before the original “15 days to stop the spread” lockdown was imposed nationwide. When conditions made it unfavorable for him to return to his home in California, he decided to relocate here permanently.
In July 2021, Jordan launched his new Belgrade business, Demo Pros LLC, which specializes in completely dust-free demolition.
Though Jordan hails from a family of entrepreneurs and he always knew having his own business was something he wanted to do, he didn’t assume he had all the answers before starting his own venture.
Jordan knew about the technology that made dust-free demolition possible and had been trained to use it. However, he realized he needed to understand what starting a business was going to take.
“I reached out to them (SCORE), and it was almost instant … they said they could provide me with a counselor who could answer all my questions.
“At first I thought it would be someone I talked to every now and then, but when I finally had my first Zoom meeting with my counselor, I was just blown away,” Jordan said.
“From the very beginning, he was very respectful, very kind, so knowledgeable. He’s the kind of person that wouldn’t directly give me an answer – he would ask the right questions allowing myself the opportunity to learn for myself and thereby not just gain the understanding of ‘how,’ but learning the ‘why’ behind it.”
SCORE is a national organization, started in 1964. The Gallatin Valley chapter will celebrate its 50th anniversary on April 25 with a luncheon and related events.
The nonprofit is funded by the Small Business Administration, but the budget is slim. It is staffed by a corps of volunteers with a passion for mentoring entrepreneurs “from 16-year-olds to 90-year-olds,” according to Janice Hand, who has volunteered with the organization for nine years.
In addition to bringing their real-world practical experience to the mentorship relationship, SCORE volunteers are trained and then observed with clients before being “cut loose,” adds Karen Vinton, who has been with SCORE since 1999.
“We don’t want people misleading client or saying the wrong thing,” Vinton said.
SCORE’s confidential service is provided free of charge to clients, and mentors aren’t paid – but they are rewarded in other ways, Hand and Vinton agree.
“Mentors do it for fun,” Hand said. “I find it satisfying to be a volunteer.”
Vinton agreed, saying that at one time she offered business consulting services professionally but find it “much more satisfying to be a volunteer.”
The longtime volunteers say many aspiring businesspeople come to them with a good idea but little know-how about how to create a business plan, how to market a business, or how to acquire a business loan. Clients are given homework at the end of each meeting, and the SCORE volunteers keep notes on the discussion so that other volunteers can follow up with the client if need be.
Those seeking help are guided through answering other critical questions, such as:
n Where do you put your business and can you afford it?
n How will you pay your employees?
n How will you find skilled workers?
Jordan said his mentor worked through such issues and more with him. He worked another job until he was ready to open Demo Pros for business, and along the way, his mentor “walked me through all the of the questions I had.”
For example, “ ‘How do I create financial projections using a spreadsheet?’ We’d work on that subject for a little while, then, ‘How do I approach marketing? Licensing and permits?’
“There wasn’t any specific time frame,” Jordan added. “It was slowly building until I was ready.”
Moriarty, too, said the value of “having somebody else’s perspective from the 20,000-foot level” was invaluable.
Talking to his mentor “is like speaking with an oracle,” he said. “He gives me a lot of things to think about.
In addition to one-on-one counseling, SCORE offers classes on various subjects for a nominal fee of $10 to $15. Daniel Jordan has found them to be valuable.
“I recently took another SCORE class – they have so many opportunities, and all of them so far have been on a Zoom call,” he said.
“Every subject that they have specifically pertains to being a small business owners, and it’s amazing because you not only get a chance to work with a SCORE counselor, but during these meetings you also have everybody else to bounce ideas off of, talk to, and network.”
Pre-pandemic, Gallatin Valley SCORE volunteers provided counseling at the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce offices on Tuesday mornings. Since then, volunteers also are using Zoom, which has allowed them to be a lot more flexible in scheduling, Vinton said.
Despite the challenges the pandemic has posed for businesspeople, Hand said it hasn’t diminished the enthusiasm of many entrepreneurs who want to put their ideas into practice.
“People are so enthusiastic,” she said.
More information and contact information for SCORE is available at BozemanSCORE.org.