Best Advice to Someone Starting Out: Make sure it’s what you really want to do, be strong and faithful, and do it.

As a native of Guatemala, Karol Mansilla knew how challenging it was to converse in English when it was not your first language. As a doctor, she knew that miscommunication could have severe consequences.

Karol wanted to provide the growing Hispanic population in Richmond, VA, with an office where patients could comfortably speak in their native language. She had been working in cardiology at the Virginia Heart Institute, but wanted to practice her specialties, internal medicine and geriatrics. Karol knew she needed help to make that happen.

"In medical school, no one teaches you how to go it alone in business," Karol says. "But I was not doing what I wanted to do, so I decided to step out on my own."

She contacted the U.S. Small Business Administration in Richmond, and they put her in touch with SCORE. She was paired with Richmond SCORE counselor Fred Esposito, who threw Mansilla for a loop with his first question.

"Fred asked to see my business plan, and I just about fell on my back. I had no idea what that was." Karol says. "SCORE provided my first step. If you don't know how to take the first step, you can't go anywhere. SCORE serves as the guide there.”

Karol and Fred also worked together to secure financing, determine cash flows, and develop a marketing strategy. In May of 2003, Mansilla Medical Practice, PC hung out its shingle. She had contacts at area nursing homes through a previous position, and received many patients from those acquaintances. Also, as she had hoped, she began to see many clients who were looking for a physician they could speak to in Spanish. Karol says that Spanish-speaking patients make up about half of her clients. She credits the comprehensive bilingual experience as a key to the growth of that segment of her business.

"Our entire staff and I all speak Spanish, so we are able to communicate easily from the get-go," Karol says. "We help set up appointments with specialists, and tell them to take their cell phones so we can translate for them. It's small things like that that make a difference."
     
There are a few other doctors in Richmond that speak Spanish, and Karol works with them to refer patients to each other. These referrals and word of mouth have paid off, as Karol has patients come from as far away as Maryland in to see her, knowing they can comfortably communicate in Spanish. She also provides advice through a column that has appeared in a local Spanish-language publication.
     
Karol says that, one year in, she's still in transition, and it has been quite a learning process from just being a physician to paying bills, salaries and handling everything else that comes with running a business. And she's happy to spread the word about SCORE. When the person who made the sign for her office said they wanted to start their own company, she encouraged them to call on SCORE for help. Karol is glad she took the step to go out on her own.