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Call SCORE for free advice from retirees

"I couldn't stop thinking about them," she said. She later founded a nonprofit aimed at bringing more reading material to these students. Since 2001, her organization, Books for South Africa, has established three full and 16 traveling libraries.

A valuable service

Kennett, 73, is now a SCORE mentor. In her view, many would-be entrepreneurs have misconceptions. For instance, they think the Small Business Administration provides free money to get companies started. But at SCORE, she said, "we can talk to people and listen and see how realistic their plan is. That's a valuable service."

Each client's situation and story are different. What's unrealistic for one might be feasible for another. Some entrepreneurs need income, while others seek personal fulfillment.

Ric Cox, 66, consulted with SCORE before he started ChicagoCondosOnline.com in 2001. Cox had taken early retirement from Readers Digest in New York, where he'd been an editor. He also worked 10 years for the minister and author Norman Vincent Peale. Moving to Chicago for retirement, Cox spotted a need for a comprehensive website with information about the condo market. So he set one up. It has information, floor plans and legal documents on 13,000 condo buildings.

"I haven't made a dollar yet in nine years," said Cox, who runs the business on a laptop in his condo, "but I didn't start it to make money. I wanted something creative to do."

Possibly a profit at last

At SCORE, Cox had free sessions with an accountant, a marketer and a technical consultant who introduced him to a website developer, advice that saved him thousands of dollar. "For somebody struggling to keep the costs down, SCORE is a tremendous resource," he said.

Now Cox has sold licensing rights for his website to two real estate companies and is negotiating the sale of his virtual business to a major real estate player. His goal is to make a profit at last. After that, he says, he may move to Hawaii and really retire.

Marsha Mercer is a freelance writer who specializes in health and workplace issues.

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