The retired business people who offer advice through the group called SCORE are used to running workshops or meeting with clients face-to-face.
But increasingly, members of the Service Corps of Retired Executives are dispensing tips through a computer keyboard. Business counseling via e-mail is growing, and the group is trying to adapt to the trend.
"Especially the younger (clients), they're just used to it," said Scott Smith, a counselor and vice chair of the Buffalo Niagara chapter.
The local chapter's use of electronic advice-giving won praise from SCORE's chief executive officer, W. Kenneth Yancey Jr., who says the national group needs to stay relevant to clients.
Yancey visited Buffalo Friday for a luncheon celebrating the chapter's 40th anniversary and its status as a charter chapter. The local group has 51 counselors who advise budding entrepreneurs and established business people.
Yancey talked about his 21-year-old neighbor, who handles the bulk of her college course work via the Internet. SCORE has to be prepared to work with legions of computer-savvy clients like her, he said.
"It's going to be very interesting to see what the expectations of our clients are going to be in the very near future," Yancey said.
New counselors who join SCORE will have to be e-mail users, Yancey said. But he quickly assured his Buffalo audience that all current counselors were exempt from that requirement, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
The Buffalo Niagara SCORE chapter is actually quite active in e-mail counseling, Smith said. About half of its non-workshop clients in the past fiscal year were served through e-mail, he said. (The local group's Web site is www.scorebuffalo.org.)
SCORE volunteers will still offer low-cost workshops and free individual counseling, and they say in-person meetings help create a rapport with a client. But they say e-mail counseling can be a good complement -- for instance, to send a piece of a business plan to be reviewed, or to ask a specific question that SCORE could copy to its national membership for an answer.
"E-mail counseling is constantly growing at a faster rate than face-to-face counseling," Yancey said.
Among SCORE's other goals, as described by Yancey: increasing diversity among its counselors by attracting more women and minorities; creating a foundation to provide additional financial support for the group; and setting up a training program for volunteers that will include online orientation.
Including workshops and counseling, the local chapter served 2,653 clients in its past fiscal year, up 9 percent from the previous year, said Jack Halloran, the chapter chair.
About 75 people attended SCORE's luncheon at Chef's Restaurant, including some chapter clients.