Kathy Kowalski, Retired Executive from DuPont with over 30 years of experience leading global consumer and industrial businesses with a keen focus for customer insight driven marketing. Innovative leader growing start-up’s as well as transforming existing businesses to grow cash and earnings while motivating teams and growing talent.
She has a strong passion for brands launching new refresh platforms for top DuPont brands including DuPont Kevlar(R), Nomex(R) and Tyvek(R). She is now servicing the Richmond Chapter Co-Chair of SCORE, providing strategic direction to build the SCORE brand so they mentor more small businesses to help them achieve their dreams.
Follow SCORE on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- About SCORE
- SCORE ways in helping small business owners
- Business owners biggest challenges
- SCORE in helping the local Richmond business community
- Kathy in becoming a SCORE mentor
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:03] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Richmond, Virginia. It’s time for Richmond Business Radio. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:15] Lee Kantor here another episode of Richmond Business Radio and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor War Cry Consulting Solutions, supporting women to lean into their purpose, craft their vision and crush their goals. Today on Richmond Business Radio, we have Kathy Kowalski with Score Richmond Chapter. She’s the co-chair. Welcome, Cathy.
Kathy Kowalski: [00:00:43] Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to speak to your community of listeners.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:48] Well, I’m excited to talk to you. I think score is one of those best kept secrets and we’re doing our best to make sure it’s not a secret. But for those who don’t know, can you explain what score is and how it serves the business community?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:01:03] Absolutely. So when you think about score, think about free mentoring. To small businesses, the only investment is your time. And we we take the opportunity to meet with any small business owner. If you have some ideas about us starting a business, if you are a business and you’ve come up against some challenges or you’re ready to sell your business and retire or invest in a new business, score can help you for the entire lifetime of your business. We are very fortunate in the Richmond area. We have about 50 mentors that come from a variety of different backgrounds, all kinds of industries with deep bench strengths in areas such as legal or supply chain or finance. And then you have other folks that are mentors that have owned their own businesses. So they’ve lived that experience that can relate to what small business owners are going through. And then you have senior executives such as myself who worked at DuPont running global businesses for over 30 years. So all that expertise we have to lend to small business owners in the Richmond area to help address whatever challenge you might be facing. And if that’s not enough, we are nationwide with about 10,000 mentors so we can tap into expertise if we don’t have it here for you in the local Richmond chapter.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:21] And then what is the fee for those kind of mentoring and those services?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:02:25] It’s completely free.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:27] Completely free.
Kathy Kowalski: [00:02:29] Absolutely. Now we do offer some workshops. It might have a nominal fee, but that mentoring is is totally free, that we’re there to offer our services and our experience to make an impact on the community. So we’ve all stepped up and this is our way of giving back.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:45] Now, in your experience, are you seeing business owners come to you too early or too late?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:02:55] It varies sometimes, especially through the pandemic. We had some folks that kind of got into a pinch because it was such a dramatic shift, and pivoting the business quickly was really, really important. So some came and they were in a bit of a bind, but we were able to help them work through some of that. Others hedged and anticipated some of those trends and issues. Sometimes we’ve have found some people have great ideas about going into business, but they haven’t perhaps had somebody to kind of bounce ideas through with them or talk to the marketplace to test their value proposition. And so they might get into it a little bit and then step back and say, I need to reach out to score and really get some mentoring and coaching. So it really varies.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:42] Now are you seeing any trends in the local market regarding small business?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:03:47] Yeah, So I think that there are a lot of headwinds out there that small businesses are really needing to pay attention to. Certainly coming post-pandemic. We’re now facing inflation, recession, all those challenges that small business owners need to be mindful of. And so really paying attention to supply chains, really stepping back and perhaps reconfiguring the products and services you offer or the price points you offer or look at dealing with different suppliers If you’re not getting what you need and it’s impacting your business and ability to deliver what you promised to your customers. We’re also seeing where where the small business owners are having to retool their products and services and refine their value proposition and talk about their business differently or bring forward some new innovative products to stay current and vibrant. Certainly, supply or labor is another big area. In addition to supply chain, acquiring good employees and retaining them is now even more of a challenge given what’s going on in the country with the labor market and the wage rates. So all of those are really new kinds of things that small business owners are having to deal with and score can help help them work through and navigate through some of those extraordinary challenges.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:12] Now, should a business owners relationship. What score or their score mentor Is it something they’re they’re going into triage, some urgent issue? Should it be kind of an ongoing checkup, like a wellness check just to say, hey, this is where I’m at, This is what I’m thinking. What do you think?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:05:30] Yes. So ideally, stepping up and getting a score mentor along the way. So from the onset of your business or your idea all the way through, the life of the business is ideal. I mean, you can set the frequency. It could be once a year, it could be once a month, it could be once every two weeks, depending on the challenges along the way. That’s ideal. Think about score as a trusted partner or resource you could reach out to and bounce things off ongoing because businesses ebb and flow and challenges are out there. Sometimes when things are running smooth, maybe you don’t need a score mentor or you want to start thinking about your vision for the next five years. Tap into a score mentor. That’s ideal. But certainly we we take on any challenge if we’re about putting out fires as much as an ongoing coaching and guiding a business along the way.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:21] So for someone who’s never worked with a score mentor, can you walk us through what that may be initial conversation looks like and then what kind of those ongoing conversations look like as you move forward?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:06:34] Sure. So what we do is ask folks to reach out to Richmond, score Richmond discord or call on phone, or go to our website and just acquire. Ask about having a mentor. A couple quick questions, but when I am assigned a client, I really like to understand if they have a draft business plan or they have a website. Just so I get a little bit of context of what they’re thinking about doing going into that first meeting. But it’s not necessary. So that first meeting, a lot of times we’ll talk about what the vision is, what their ideas are and talk about then what’s that next step? Helping them crystallize their idea. If it’s a new business, if they’re looking to get into business to really help them hone their value proposition, talk about some of those milestone goals. And then also we have some all kinds of tools and templates to help them work through things. So if they haven’t put a business plan together, you know, I’d have them do a one pager just quickly jot ideas down and lots of different buckets of helping them shape their business plan. And then the next session we’d come back and we talk about that and work through it to help them really hone what their business idea is so that they can get into the next steps of trying to put the pieces together, setting, setting three, six months, 12 month goals, working on their cash flow, working on their products and services. So we try to bite size it so it’s not too overwhelming and take it in a methodological order so that they can really feel not overwhelmed because many times a lot of the small business owners, especially early on, they might be having a full time job doing something else. And so they’re trying to juggle both.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:18] Now is the relationship. You know, sometimes in life you need help and sometimes you need a helper. Is there kind of a line that score mentors draw in terms of rolling up their sleeves and actually doing work? Or is it more of asking questions, pointing in the right direction, and then giving that owner kind of a place to go to find answers or to or there’s work for them to do rather than the mentor to actually do work?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:08:46] Yes. So very much so. We provide templates and tools for them to fill out. For example, we’ll look at their websites and give them feedback, and guidance will help them navigate through their cash flow and ask pointed questions to help lead and guide them versus doing the work. That’s really the responsibility of the small business owner to put their their thoughts and ideas and heart and soul into shaping the content. And then we can ask those probing questions to help guide them to achieve what goals they’re trying to set out to go after.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:21] Now, is there ever is it appropriate, like if you have like, say, your your day job work or your previous life work was in a certain industry? I’m in that same industry. And is it appropriate for you to connect me with somebody that you know in your network? Or is it something where that’s kind of a again, another line that that separates what you’re doing in your role rather than, you know, kind of making a connection? You’re just telling me you should contact blah, blah, blah.
Kathy Kowalski: [00:09:53] Yeah. So many times we do team mentoring. So for example, I start with a client and I find that their need expertise in a particular area like patent law. Well, I have some expertise in that, but, you know, I might have to draw from the other experience in the chapter around legal patents franchising as an example, and bring them into the team meeting as well and or reach out to somewhere across the nation in score in the score network to bring in that expertise. We do that quite a bit. If we have somebody that is deep entrenched in a particular area like supply chain and perhaps I as a mentor or some other mentor doesn’t have that rich experience, we will bring them into the conversation so that client gets a rich understanding and gets the benefit of the bench strength from that other mentor.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:45] And then you mentioned that there’s score mentors around the country. So if somebody said, You know what, I’d like to open, you know, an office in Detroit, Michigan, you might be able to go, Hey, let me contact the score person in Detroit, Michigan. And maybe that could be a starting point.
Kathy Kowalski: [00:11:03] Absolutely. Yeah. We’re highly networked and leverage, so we would absolutely do that, connect them with the right folks in that particular region if that is the situation. But a lot of times, particularly here, it’s a lot of virtual and or local Richmond small business owners.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:21] Now for you, do you have a story you can share that maybe encapsulates what that relationship could look like and the impact you can make on a on a company or a person. You don’t have to name the name, but maybe discuss their challenge they came to you with and how you were able to help them overcome it.
Kathy Kowalski: [00:11:40] Sure. There was one wonderful example of someone that had an idea, and so and she was working full time doing something else, had a very professional job. But she had such passion for this, this particular business concept. And so I worked with her from the very beginning to work with her to put her value proposition together so that she was talking about her business in the most compelling way possible. We I had her do some analysis to look at competitors out there, direct competitors and or adjacent, so she knew what the competitive landscape looked like and how they were positioned so she could position her business. We worked on her product line and her pricing so that she was pricing not cost plus, but pricing to value what the perceived value was of those products. She had to have a mobile unit for her business. So we worked on how she might go about doing that in a very cost effective way. Permitting, we talked about permitting because it was a situation where she would be going to events to take her products there. So we had to look into the local ordinances for permitting and selling goods into events. And then we worked on the marketing plan, how to get her voice and her products out there and known among the right audiences, because this product wasn’t for everybody. It was a very finite group of folks that these products would be suited for. So we wanted to very get very focused in market to those individuals. And so I’m excited today. Now, year two, she is doing very, very well and flourishing in the Richmond area, looking even to expand.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:24] So what do you need more of? How can we help? Do you need more business owners to get mentor? Do you need more mentors? What do you need more of and how can we help you?
Kathy Kowalski: [00:13:34] Great question. Well, we’re always, always looking for mentors, people that want to give back. Largely our population of mentors are retired, but we’re finding more and more mentors that are signing up are working professionals that want to give back as well. So always looking for for new mentors to join, score to go through. We have a process. It takes a couple of months to get certified, not full time, but certification and classes to take online just to to so they get familiar with our methodology and our processes. And always and I appreciate this opportunity getting that score brand out there so small business owners coming into the market or an existing business owners know about score and can tap in to our resources. And then we also do a lot with partnerships in the Richmond ecosystem. And so we’re funded in part by the SBA, but then we do our own fundraising and have sponsorships. So we’re also always looking for any sponsorships that wanted to to provide some funds to help support this this valuable entity. We’re we’re all about impact, as I mentioned. And last year we were so proud to be able to provide over 3000 services. That means workshops, webinars and mentoring services that helped start up 140 new businesses that contributed to 267 new jobs and the Richmond area. So that’s our that’s our value proposition. That’s what we do and why we do what we do. So we’ve been around for over 50 plus years and so any support to keep us thriving and help the small business community were all about it.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:17] And one more time, the website for people who want to connect with you, whether it’s a mentor, whether they need mentoring or if they want to sponsor something.
Kathy Kowalski: [00:15:25] Absolutely. It’s Richmond score dot org.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:28] Good stuff. Well, Cathy, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Kathy Kowalski: [00:15:35] And thank you all for what you’re doing and helping us get the word out about score.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:39] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you next time on Richmond Business Radio.