Two years ago, Betty and Dave Stewart, dissatisfied with their careers, decided to start their own business.

The couple bought a five-year-old print shop franchise called the Printhouse Express in Vienna, drawing on Betty Stewart's experience as a graphic artist at an architectural firm and Dave Stewart's background in computers. They also thought that a franchise offered the support they would need.

"We liked the idea of running our own company where I'd be in charge of production and design and Dave could keep the books," said Betty Stewart.

Business wasn't bad, but there were problems, she said. "We were breaking even, but we realized that we had no skills in managing our four employees." Her husband added, "There were times when we thought about throwing the towel in."

After a year of frustration, the Stewarts hired a consultant. "We hated to pay a management consultant because the average fee was $80 or $90 a hour, but we were going to make this work," said Betty Stewart.

They had only seen the consultant once when a friend introduced Betty Stewart to less expensive advice available to small businesses -- the Service Corps of Retired Executives, in the person of Bob Leavitt. "We were lucky to meet Bob," she said. "He gave us good, solid advice."

Leavitt, a retired businessman, is the Washington area chairman of SCORE, a program of the Small Business Administration.

He is one of about 13,000 volunteer counselors nationwide who advise small-business for free. Leavitt, retired after a 30-year career with the DuPont Co., sat down with the Stewarts and acted as a sounding board for their frustrations.

"One of the biggest problems the Stewarts were having difficulty with was employee management," said Leavitt.

"They were specifically having problems with an employee not doing the job correctly. We established a measuring stick of what they expected of the worker and to what extent they would have to go before the employee did the job properly. Eventually, employers have to realize that they must fire a worker before the business begins to suffer."

"It was extremely hard to have to fire that first employee," said Dave Stewart. "We agonized over it for days. But we made the right decision."

Leavitt said the Stewarts' problems are typical of new business owners.

"Five out of six small business owners fail in their first two years due to poor management and lack of finance," he said.

Leavitt said people must identify their market before they open and evaluate the competition. "They need to ask themselves the very tough question: 'What is it that is unique about my business?' "

Since its creation in 1964, SCORE has provided training and counseling to about 2.5 million clients and has a $2.5 million annual budget, according to Leavitt.

In 1989, the 30 Washington volunteers counseled about 2,200 small business owners, according to Leavitt.

There are SCORE offices around the metropolitan area.

"But we are only able to reach 1{percent} or 2 percent {of potential clients} because we don't have enough counselors. I'm backlogged two to three weeks," he said.

Leavitt said that there is no typical client.

"They're all over the map," he said, "from retail and restaurant owners to consultants and government suppliers, even flower shop owners."

A counselor since 1987, Leavitt said he has several reasons for being a SCORE volunteer.

"All along in my business career there were people that helped me and I could never repay them. And when you stop and think about how small businesses fail -- we have to help them to succeed. I hate to see people lose money. Failed businesses destroy families and human beings."