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A Conversation With … Jeff Mills

Chairman of Southwest Missouri SCORE

Posted online

What is SCORE?
SCORE was formed in 1964 by Congress through working with the Small Business Administration. Our chapter was formed in 1974. When SCORE was formed, the acronym was Service Corps of Retired Executives. Well, half our volunteers are working and half the volunteers are retired. We work with both startups as well as entrepreneurs. We provide free counseling and mentoring. Sometimes, there will be simple questions – like “How do I start a business?” [and] “How do I make a website?” – to more complicated requests or needs around financing. It’s all free to clients. We have five new clients as of (Sept. 17), and only have three mentors available right now. That’s a challenge we’re having. We only have about eight active mentors. Really, anybody with any business knowledge or expertise, we can help train them to be a mentor.

How do people connect?
They can contact the SBA, or they can go to our website. At the same time we get a lot of referrals from lenders, so people can come in and they have an idea and they need financing or lending and they don’t have a business plan. Or they haven’t set up a legal entity, or they really haven’t gone through the feasibility to say why they want to do this business. A lot of people come in with ideas that they are very passionate about: “I want to open a taco truck.” Well, why? “I like tacos.” Well, I like tacos, too, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to open a taco truck. It’s really helping people think through if it makes even sense to pursue. We want small businesses to succeed.

Why is a mentor relationship important for entrepreneurs?
We’re available to meet in person, we’re available by phone, by text and by email, and a lot of it is just providing some assurance. It’s helping steer people in the right direction and being a sounding board so as they have questions and concerns we can kind of lead them to the water and it’s up to them whether they want to drink or not.

How did you get involved as a volunteer with SCORE?
I moved here about four years ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was looking for a way to help with small businesses, and I came across SCORE. Not only do I mentor, but I’m also chairing the SCORE chapter this year. Between the two, I’ll probably put in 10-12 hours a week. I have 20 active clients right now. I have clients that do boutique dog sitting to a taco truck to a manufacturer to someone who wants to open some unique entertainment here in Springfield. I’ve worked over 30 years within the insurance industry. I also had a business-consulting firm about 10 years ago. I’m able to leverage the knowledge that I have as far as employment practices, risk management, business management and hiring practices.

What’s the climate like to start a business in Springfield?
There are so many services available in the Springfield area, so many networking groups in Springfield. It’s a fantastic place to be an entrepreneur or have a startup business, as long as they follow the basic principles of starting a good business. It’s a tough market right now to hire employees.

What are the traits you find differentiate those who have a great idea from those who have a great idea and can create a business?
A lot of it comes down to a passion for an idea – do you want to be the one who runs the business or do you want to be the one who makes the cakes? It’s great that you love to bake cakes, but are you willing to take the time and energy to understand the business practices and procedures? If not, are you willing to hire someone to do that for you?

Jeff Mills can be reached at


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