PORTSMOUTH – You know what they say about free advice: Sometimes, it’s not worth the price.

But that doesn’t apply to the folks at SCORE, who provide advice to startups and established businesses. Their advice is free and it often results in businesses that get off the ground and grow.

SCORE was originally known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a nonprofit organization partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration and created in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson. Now, it’s just known as SCORE.

“The intent was to help businessmen, entrepreneurs who have small businesses that they want to grow,” said Ted Papoutsy, chairman of SCORE’s Seacoast chapter, who’s been with the organization for more than 30 years.

The Seacoast SCORE Chapter 185 was created in 1967 and has been located at 215 Commerce Way in Suite 420 for the last five years.

Dawn Hamdi, office administrator, said SCORE mentors are prepared with advice for anyone, from someone with just an idea for a business, to someone who needs help getting an established business off the ground, to someone looking to grow their business.

“They’ll come in with a list of questions,” Hamdi said of clients who have an idea for a business. Sometimes, a first visit is the last visit. More often, according to Hamdi, they keep coming back for more advice as their business develops and grows.

“We’ve got some people who have been with us for years,” added Papoutsy.

A wall in the office on Commerce Way shows off newspaper clippings of a variety of businesses helped by the Seacoast SCORE – brewery, distillery, chiropractor, interior designer, bicycle ship and garden center.

A recent SCORE press release spoke of Clipper Landscaping in Portsmouth, which reached a milestone of a 75th customer because of SCORE’s help and advice. Owner Kent Collins credits the mentoring he received on business planning, marketing and accounting from SCORE counselors.

Feedback from recent surveys underscores the helpfulness of the SCORE. “I feel supported with my concerns,” said one client in a survey. “I found the session helpful and appreciate the offers of follow-up,” said another.

The mentors are volunteers, about half entrepreneurs who started their own companies and the other half executives with established companies, according to Papoutsy. Most all the volunteers are retired, he said.

SCORE offers a variety of ways to get advice. The most apparent is to visit the Commerce Way office to establish a relationship with the chapter and a mentor (or mentors).

“They don’t leave here until we find all the answers for them,” assured Papoutsy.

A helpful guide from SCORE is available from the office that steps a business man or woman through the many components of bringing an idea to reality, marketing the business and financing the business.

Online mentoring is also available, and the local SCORE chapter offers free workshops, put on with the help of corporate sponsors that include Bank of America, TD Bank, Citizens Bank, Federal Savings Bank, and People’s United Bank.

Upcoming workshops include “Are You Ready to Start Your Own Business” on April 12, “Using the Internet to Start/Grow a Small Business” on April 26, and “Small Business Marketing: Brand, Positioning & Campaigns” on May 3.

A complete list of workshops can be found on the SCORE chapter website.

The SCORE chapter doesn’t lend money but can direct business people seeking capital to local banks or to SBA loan programs.

Often, according to Papoutsy, the banks and SBA will send potential business borrowers to him so the local SCORE can assess the viability of a startup.

“We know what a bank is looking for in terms of a business plan and cash flow,” Papoutsy said.

Papoutsy said the local chapter saw about 1,500 people last year. That included walk-ins, online participants and workshop goers.

He said the local chapter is in need of more mentors to add to its roster of about 40 volunteers. It also is currently working on its own marketing plan to get the word out about SCORE and its services.

By Paul Briand, Seacoastonline