I was recently in Washington, D.C., at the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) National Small Business Week celebration. Nearly everyone I spoke to commented on the excitement and energy permeating the event. Almost every attendee — entrepreneurs; representatives from corporations that serve the small business market; officials from the SBA, SCORE, and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) — expressed the feeling that things were, at last, looking up.
That’s not to say that people were feeling falsely optimistic or that there’s smooth sailing ahead. Rather, the sense was that although there are still bumps in the road, the worst is behind us. The mood was certainly elevated after new SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills announced a new bridge loan program designed to provide temporary relief to the nation’s small businesses to help keep their doors open and cash flowing.
Kicking off on June 15th, the America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) program will feature no-fee loans of up to $35,000 that are payment deferred, interest free, and fully guaranteed by the SBA. These ARC funds can be used for paying off existing debt including mortgages, lines of credit, capital leases, credit card obligations, and notes payable to vendors, suppliers, and utilities. Loan repayment starts one year after an entrepreneur gets the ARC loan and is spread over five years. (Remember that the SBA does not directly lend money; ARC loans come from commercial lenders and are guaranteed by the SBA.)
Another big part of National Small Business Week are the “Champion Awards” granted to the supporters of small business and the entrepreneurs themselves, who are designated as their state’s Small Business Person of the Year. From the 53 state honorees (including Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam), a National Small Business Owner of the Year is named. This year’s winner was Oklahoma’s Jeanna Sellmeyer, who owns the ASSET Group, an environmental remediation company.
Those are some National Small Business Week facts, but regular readers of this column know I’m about more than the facts, so here’s what I feel: As I said at the outset of this column, there was an air of excitement and optimism. People are finally starting to feel better about where the economy is headed. However, there’s still a lot of concern about access to capital for small business owners, which hopefully the ARC loans will help address.
The business owners at the event seemed primed for growth. I was on a panel about social media and though fewer than half the attendees regularly employed social media as a part of their business strategy, they seemed hungry for answers and insights about the topic. In fact, Cheryl Armstrong, who with her husband Robert were named the California Small Business Owners of the Year, excitedly told me that while listening to the panel, she and her husband immediately came up with a way to use YouTube to help promote and educate the customers of NutriLawn, their Chico-based lawn care company (which, by the way, has revenues of over $1 million).
The point is, amidst all the doom and gloom, there are entrepreneurs who are thriving, who are actively seeking new ways to innovate and grow their businesses. They’re not interested in treading water or maintaining the status quo. It’s about moving forward, taking advantage of available government resources (the SBA, SCORE, ASBDC, and the new Business.gov Web site) and exposing yourself to the information and ideas out there that will spur you to action.
This event was a part of National Small Business Week, so of course the importance of small businesses to the national economy was repeatedly mentioned. But I’ve been around long enough to know that this was more than empty rhetoric, and it’s not just the government stepping up to the plate. Sam’s Club announced an easier way for business owners to qualify for a Sam’s business card; Ford introduced a “small business vehicle,” and tech giants HP and IBM launched new initiatives aimed at small business owners.
Part of my excitement, I’m sure, was generated by the fact that I was in a room surrounded by people who were singularly focused on helping small businesses grow. Take a lesson from this. Join a group, whether it’s your local chamber of commerce, an industry organization, or a college alumni network. There’s not only strength in numbers, there’s positive energy as well.
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