Just by walking into her SCORE Chicago mentoring appointment at Warren Newport Public Library (WNPL), Katrina Davis-Salazar took a difficult but important step toward improving the fortunes of her small business.
"I had many concerns about going into mentoring," said Davis-Salazar, a Gurnee resident and painter and muralist (http://katrinadavis-salazar.weebly.com/). Her mixed-media mural "los espacios creados en la biblioteca" is proudly displayed in the WNPL lobby for all visitors to enjoy.
"I felt that I didn't have a solid enough start on my business plan to be able to discuss it with experienced business mentors," she recalled. "My biggest concern was 'Would there be any common ground between us?'"
Somehow, Paul Rosenstrock, SCORE Chicago's lead mentor, sensed Katrina's reluctance to attend her first mentoring session. "She was looking like 'a no-show' for her 7 p.m. appointment," Rosenstrock, a Highwood resident, recalled. He reached Katrina on her cell phone, assured her "there will be no pressure or judgment about your business, just come on in and let's talk." Within minutes, an anxious but enthusiastic Davis-Salazar appeared in WNPL's Study Room 1.
"Paul and Alan Blitz, my SCORE Chicago co-mentors, immediately put me at ease," Davis-Salazar recalled. "They were warm and very excited about my business and truly want to see me succeed. I have definitely found common ground with them and see how they enjoy helping others by taking on their business challenges."
Mentoring sessions are available at no charge as long as the client needs them. Visit: http://scorechicago.org/request-meeting/
In the short-term, what Davis-Salazar needed was a step-by-step plan to start selling her artwork on a consistent basis and "feel more a part of the art world," she said.
Working with her SCORE Chicago mentors, Davis-Salazar identified five key building blocks to moving her business forward: accountability (to herself and mentors), "a huge motivation for me"; learning business basics; creating a business "to-do" list and execution plan; "sounding board" support with her mentors to "verbalize concerns, ideas and receive immediate feedback"; and all important confidence building.
Building upon that core plan, WNPL has proven to be another vital resource discovered by both Davis-Salazar and Courtney Brobst of Gurnee, who also mentors with the SCORE Chicago team.
According to Jessica Stalker, WNPL Adult Services librarian, comprehensive resources for business owners include a wide range of services: copiers, scanners, free Wi-Fi, and public computers; reserved study rooms for small meetings; databases for creating mailing lists and researching your business competition; and computer classes to brush up your skills. Visit: http://www.wnpl.info/
"We also host several business educational programs, created and presented by SCORE Chicago," Stalker added. "If your business lies within the library district (generally Warren and Newport townships), your company is also eligible for a special card that allows you to use library services and books that support your business."
Ryan Livergood, executive director of WNPL, emphasizes that both public libraries and local businesses are pillars of the community "so it only makes sense for libraries and businesses to collaborate. One goal of the public library," Livergood added, "is to make individual and organizational connections in our community."
"These connections, such as our relationship with SCORE Chicago, provide people and organizations with the information and relationships they need to succeed," said Livergood.
Like many small business owners, Courtney Brobst does not have a lot of expendable resources for educational materials. "I heavily depend on the library," she said. "The fact that we have interlibrary loans available really makes finding the resources you need fairly easy."
"The staff is also so helpful and interested in showing you all the library has to offer. On a personal note, my family uses the library for books, music, and movies. We also use the many online services connected through the library," Brobst added. She founded http://creativepeopledesign.net/, a boutique design firm working with businesses to create a premium online identity which seamlessly integrates with a business brand.
Brobst uses Overdrive online through the library to download e-books and audio books. "They have a great selection," she points out. "I access databases through the library that are an excellent resource for businesses offering reference materials, mailing lists, sales leads, and demographics. I used Hoopla through the library, which allows you to stream five free books, movies, music, or TV a month. There is just so much they offer, I've only mentioned a few things," she added.
WNPL and the mentoring resources of SCORE Chicago have proven to be a winning combination for Brobst and other small business owners in the community. She has passion and drive "but I lack certain business skills and perspectives that are holding me back from growing my business in a healthy way," she readily acknowledges.
"From the moment I met my business mentors (Rosenstrock and Blitz), they keyed in on those struggles and offered really excellent suggestions and solutions," Brobst added. "With every meeting, I am gaining confidence and learning how to develop myself as a competent and confident business person."
Reflecting on his mentoring experience with Davis-Salazar and Brobst, Rosenstrock finds great satisfaction in building the client relationship. "In Score it is called 'Follow On,'" he said. "In reality it means that a connection has been made, trust has been established and now the real mentoring process can begin!" He senses that his clients have the key characteristics to succeed: "They know how to take a breath, walk away from fear and believe in themselves."
Brobst's best advice to small business owners is to make the time and commitment to meet with a mentor. "It's a business investment and a time investment that will translate into business growth. I'd also suggest taking a look at SCORE's online resources as well as their seminars and workshops," she added.
Educational workshops and seminars are featured on the SCORE Chicago calendar. Visit: http://scorechicago.org/workshops/. To request a mentoring appointment visit: http://scorechicago.org/mentoring/. Sessions are held at WNPL on the first and third Tuesday evening of each month.
Most important, Brobst and Davis-Salazar are of like minds. Davis-Salazar now confidently advises fellow small business professionals: "Just schedule an appointment with SCORE Chicago, drive to the library, walk in the door and step into the meeting room. Everything else falls into place after that."