Closing an office and laying off employees is not an easy decision for any business owner to make. But in late 2001, Li Vellinga had few other options. Either she could trim the size of California Gardens, her 10-year-old landscape design business, or watch it disappear entirely.

My successes. 

A native of Sweden, Li was co-owner of a successful San Francisco-area home and garden center when she decided to start a new business in 1991 that would capitalize on her garden design talents. It didn’t take long for California Gardens to attract a number of commissions for commercial and residential garden projects, many of which involved high-profile locations around the Bay Area. To keep up with the company’s growing workload, Li took on employees and leased office space.

Then came September 11th, 2001, and the tragedy’s ripple effect through the nation’s economy. California Garden’s four-month backlog quickly evaporated as clients cancelled their landscaping plans. Knowing she had to make some tough decisions, Li remembered her bookkeeper talking about SCORE’s small business mentoring services. If there was ever a time to get expert advice, she decided, this was it.

Li took John’s advice and based California Gardens in her home. John helped Li set up the technical tools for the business, from developing a Web site to setting up her business computer. He also encouraged Li to attend SCORE’s business seminars on building a business plan and using advanced accounting software. 

By the end of 2002, California Gardens was blooming once again with a 350-percent increase in net income. Li once again enjoying the feeling of success, accomplishment and inspiration, designing project ranging from small front yards to several acres of planned landscape. She has also developed management skills that enable her to focus more closely on her clients’ needs without compromising her personal life—another benefit of her monthly meetings with John Edwards and SCORE.

How SCORE helped. 

“One of the best things about working with John is that he always allows me to take my time to make each decision,” Li says. “He will ask what I think is best for me, while also offering suggestions on what he thinks might work. Yet he always supports me, no matter what I decide. As long as I’m in business, I plan to continue utilizing the wonderful support John and SCORE provide.”

What's great about my mentor? 

Li began working with volunteer mentor John Edwards, a veteran of California’s technology industry. Based on a meticulous review of Li’s overhead, John recommended that she convert California Gardens into home-based business and rely on contractors when needed. 

“This was one of the hardest things I’ve faced, and it wasn’t until January 2002 that I could bring myself to do it,” Li says. “Fortunately, my employees were very understanding and supportive.”

Perhaps most important, John regularly reviewed Li’s financial statements and provided guidance on how to analyze trends and forecast income. “It’s been three years, but we still do this,” Li says. “Now I’m better able to set reasonable business goals. John is also teaching me how to spot potential financial problems, and develop clear communications materials. If I encounter a stumbling block, he’ll suggest good books to read on the subject.”

California Gardens