Owning a small business is not for the faint of heart. According to the U.S. Small Business Association, 30 percent of new businesses fail during their first two years, 50 percent during their first five, and 66 percent during their first 10.

Despite the risks, for many of us, owning our own business is the American Dream. According to JPMorgan Chase, 99 percent of America’s 29.7 million firms are small businesses, with 88 percent of them having 20 or fewer employees. In fact, small businesses drive our economy, providing over half of all private-sector jobs.

Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives on the Dunwoody-Sandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire others. Contact her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com.

Luckily, since 1964 the SBA has offered an amazing free resource to help. Called SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives), it’s a totally volunteer organization of experienced, mostly retired business executives and small business owners whose only goal is to give back.

With more than 300 chapters across the country, it has provided free mentoring and advice to more than 11 million entrepreneurs. Besides its workshops, seminars, webinars, courses and library resources, the jewel of SCORE is the free one-to-one mentoring it provides anyone who owns a small business or is even thinking of starting one.

Metro Atlanta has two SCORE chapters: Atlanta and North Metro Atlanta. North Metro Atlanta has three branches, one of which is North Fulton, covering Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Roswell, Alpharetta and Cumming.

Until recently, Sandy Springs had no designated SCORE meeting space, and Dunwoody had only a part-time space in a small shared office. The options were long drives to SCORE offices in Atlanta or in Cobb or Gwinnett. But as of August 23, thanks to an agreement between the city of Sandy Springs Economic Development office and the North Metro Atlanta Chapter of SCORE, the Sandy Springs Library now provides a room for mentors and clients to meet.

Sandy Springs Economic Development Director Andrea Worthy credits SCORE mentor Bruce Alterman, former co-owner of the much-loved but now closed Brickery Grill & Bar.

“He made me aware of the benefits SCORE could offer our small businesses,” said Worthy. “The only problem was they had no place to meet.”
Alterman also credits Marc Froemelt, vice chair of the North Fulton Branch of the North Metro Atlanta Chapter of SCORE, for starting the discussions, and Caroline Davis, who worked with Andrea to arrange the deal with the library.

In fact, everyone I spoke to credited someone else for the deal. Generosity seems to be in SCORE’s DNA. Nobody’s looking for fame or fortune. They’ve already “been there, done that” and work for free.

Bruce Alterman, a SCORE volunteer mentor and former owner of the Brickery restaurant.

Alterman, owner of a business that enjoyed 24 years of success, is a prime example of a SCORE mentor.

“My father was a SCORE mentor. I saw the value he got from it and parked it away in the back of my mind. After we closed the Brickery [in 2015], people asked me if I missed it. I always replied, ‘No,’” he said. “We loved what we did, but I was fully retired. What we did miss was 24 years of people coming through our lives.”

Since becoming a SCORE mentor two years ago, he figures he’s mentored hundreds of people, some in business looking to grow and some just starting. He currently has 20 regular clients, including a restaurant.

“Our typical client is a person with a passion for something and an ability to implement but missing the knowledge of how to run the business,” he said. “Where I can help is, I’ve got bruises in places you’ve never even thought of and can offer perspective.”

Like other SCORE mentors, Alterman meets just once or twice with some clients. With others, he maintains a regular ongoing relationship, often talking by phone or meeting for lunch. He emphasizes that his goal isn’t to tell anyone how to run their business.

“I’m not a paid consultant. I don’t tell them what to do. I pose questions that make them consider options,” he said.

To learn more about SCORE, research mentors or schedule an appointment with one, go to northmetroatlanta.score.org.

Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect spelling for the name of Caroline Davis.