Connecting small businesses with the resources they need to succeed has been the purpose of SCORE since its founding in 1964. That’s even more important in challenging economic times, says SCORE volunteer Lou DeLaurio.

To help local business owners and people interested in starting a business, the Greater Princeton Area chapter of SCORE will host a Small Business Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 4, at the Princeton Public Library. Attendance is free. Visit www.princetonlibrary.org.

Along with the business fair, SCORE counselors are also available for face-to-face counseling sessions at several locations throughout Mercer and Middlesex counties, including: Princeton Library on Tuesdays & Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m., and Mercer County Connection, Hamilton Square on the first and third Wednesdays of each month from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Registration is required for face-to-face counseling. To register or for more information call SCORE at 609-393-0505. More information on the chapter can also be found at www.scoreprinceton.org.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit association has helped nearly 8 million small business owners and operates 380 chapters with more than 11,500 volunteer members throughout the country. The fair at the Princeton Library is the first event of its kind sponsored by the Princeton chapter of the SCORE.

Wide area of expertise. DeLaurio began volunteering with SCORE in 2002 after retiring from a career that included work on Wall Street and at ETS in Princeton. Other volunteers in the chapter, which has over 40 members and serves both Mercer and Middlesex counties, include experts in marketing, accounting, finance, technology, human resources, operations, planning, law, sales, and numerous other disciplines.

The chapter has been recognized as SCORE “Chapter of the Year” in New Jersey for three consecutive years. Last year the volunteers in the Princeton chapter counseled more than 1,500 small businesses and emerging entrepreneurs in person and via e-mail or telephone. All counseling, coaching, and mentoring by SCORE volunteers is provided for free, with complete confidentiality and privacy.

Plus, DeLaurio adds, volunteers call on experts from other chapters if a client needs assistance in an area with which the Princeton volunteers are unfamiliar. “We’ve had clients come to us who need expertise in warehouse or importing, and we find them the help they need. We had one person who needed information on toxic waste, and we found it for him,” says DeLaurio.

The fair will be an ideal opportunity for small business owners and prospective entrepreneurs to get a wide variety of helpful information from a diverse group of sources at one time, he adds.

Along with the volunteer counselors from SCORE, other participants will include representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Center, New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, Princeton University Students for Free Enterprise, PNC Bank, Magyar Bank, the law firm of Stark & Stark, New Jersey’s Bio-1 Biotech partnership, Design Solutions, FranNet, and U.S. 1 Newspaper.

Increase in need. The volunteers in the Princeton SCORE chapter have seen a significant year-to-year increase in the number of clients served, says DeLaurio, particularly in the past year as the economic climate has worsened. So far this year there has been an increase of 51 percent over last year.

Not just for new businesses. SCORE volunteers work with existing business owners who are either experiencing difficulties, are considering expansion, or just need information about an area in which they are not an expert.

A new service offered by the Princeton chapter, SCORE Established Business Consulting, focuses on working with established businesses with annual revenues of $1 million or more. To qualify for this no-cost counseling, a firm must have a minimum of $1 million in annual revenues and be located in Mercer or Middlesex Counties. In addition, the firm must make available to SCORE counselors its chairman, CEO, or other senior executives.

EBC counselors work with designated executives to advance the firm’s business objectives in business strategy and planning, finance — including profit and loss and cash flow improvements — operations and organization, marketing and sales, and human resources.

Giving advice and reassurance. Many times, says DeLaurio, a client just needs a bit of confidence and assurance that his plan is a good one. “I’ve had many people in my office with a complete business plan who are afraid to start. They just need a bit of encouragement and support.”

Others, come to SCORE with several ideas they want to run by a counselor to see which is the most viable, while still others need help with specifics such as developing a business plan.

“I always encourage the people I work with to develop a business plan, whether or not they are looking for financing. Sitting down and putting the details on paper is a great discipline for starting a business,” says DeLaurio.

Along with encouraging people to go ahead with their good ideas, DeLaurio has also found himself in the position of advising clients to reconsider a business idea.

“I had one couple come to me with an idea of opening a restaurant franchise. But the franchise they had chosen had only one other restaurant open and had only been in operation for a few months. I told them that in good conscience I just couldn’t advice them to go ahead with the plan,” he says. “I couldn’t have slept that night.”

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