Tom Durston first considered getting trained and certified in solar energy design while he was a full-time government employee. “I began training during evenings, weekends and vacation days,” he recalls, taking online and in-person courses. When he achieved the industry-standard NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification, he started doing contract work for local solar companies and consulting for homeowners.
His company, Solar Alternatives Design, provides photovoltaic energy design, economic analysis, site analysis and related consulting. “I emphasize knowledge of current electrical code requirements and robust system designs,” Durston says.
While Durston has a network of partners he can call on, he lacked the guidance of a supervisor or a mentor in the field; and as a sole proprietor, he didn’t want to miss out on larger contracts.
“SCORE was my much-needed introduction into the business world,” Durston says. “As a university graduate and career employee of a federal agency, I had developed analytical skills, but not business skills.”
Durston met volunteer mentor Steve Farrell, who provided guidance on website content development and subcontractor relationships. “I appreciated his advice that I don’t have to have the lowest prices, just excellent quality and good value,” Durston says.
Durston and Farrell used to meet weekly or biweekly, but Durston still checks in occasionally and knows he can contact Farrell with questions via email.
“Steve’s help got my business off to a smooth start and has helped me navigate some business challenges,” Durston says. “This has enabled me to focus my time and attention on developing my technical capabilities. After a period of much training and learning, my business is now increasing in volume and profitability.”