Celebrate! America Honors its Small-Business Owners

By Rieva LesonskyBusiness on Main

Every year, the SBA hosts National Small Business Week. Here’s why it matters — and what’s in it for you.

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Owning a business comes with its own rewards. We all know what they are — we make our own rules, we answer to no one (except our customers and clients), and we (most of us, anyway) love what we do.

Yet sometimes being an entrepreneur can feel like a thankless job. There’s no one to talk to when you’ve done good work, no pats on the back, no boss to give you extra time off. In short, there’s no one to salute you.

Honoring America’s top entrepreneurs

But at least one week a year, it is all about you. Since 1963 — when President John Kennedy established the first National Small Business Week — the Small Business Administration (SBA) has celebrated what Susan Walthall, director of community relations at the SBA, calls the “cream of the crop” of America’s small-business owners. Small Business Week is, according to Walthall, the “opportunity to, once a year, draw attention to the contributions small businesses make to the economy.”

From May 16 to May 20, people all across the nation will celebrate entrepreneurship. This includes a chance to recognize some of the nation’s most diligent small-business owners.

The main event takes place May 18 to 20 in Washington, D.C., where winning entrepreneurs from every state — plus the District of Columbia, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — will be honored as their state’s top business owners; attend forums about high-growth strategies, exporting and social media (full disclosure: I will be participating in this panel); and compete to be named the National Small Business Person of the Year.

Check with your local SBA office to see if it will also be holding celebrations that week (some do it later so their state winners can attend).

Watch it live

If you can’t attend in person, the event, whose theme this year is “Empowering Entrepreneurs,” will also be webcast live (and archived) so you can learn along with the award winners. Before you scoff and assume this is just a waste of time, think again. I’ve attended several Small Business Week events over the years, and the winning entrepreneurs always come away excited, educated and eager to take their businesses to the next level — and that’s exactly the point.

Walthall says the state winners, while “humbled to be honored,” are among those who “drive innovation, create 21st-century jobs, and increase U.S. competitiveness.” As entrepreneurs, we’re all part of that group.

Walthall adds, “These are the business owners growing their businesses, adding jobs and working hard to get their businesses to the next level.” And this year, she notes, the state winners are particularly diverse. In fact, a quick look at the list of winners shows quite an array of businesses, ranging from restaurants and cafes to home cleaning companies, small manufacturers and technology businesses.

Personally, I can’t wait to meet the owner of a water park in (of all places) North Dakota, and to catch up with two of my favorite women entrepreneurs: Washington’s Anne-Marie Faiola, whose Bramble Berry company sells soap-making supplies, and Katrina Markoff from Illinois, who founded Vosges Haut-Chocolat, maker of some of the best- (and most exotic-) tasting chocolate I’ve ever had.

Why Small Business Week matters

President Kennedy had great foresight back in 1963 when he created that first National Small Business Week. After all, back then, while there certainly were a lot of small businesses (my dad owned one, for example), the American (business) dream focused on jockeying for position and climbing the corporate ladder. If you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes of “Mad Men.”

More than a few years ago, I wrote a column saying small-business owners were like Rodney Dangerfield — they got no respect. And while America’s entrepreneurs are held in higher esteem than they were 15 years ago, we still don’t command the respect we’ve actually earned.

Too many people today use small-business owners as pawns to advance their own personal agendas, without really giving us what we truly need to innovate and create jobs. There’s a lot of talking at and about us, instead of with us.

So I think it’s wonderful that at least for one week, all eyes will be on American small-business owners — and after America is done saluting us, maybe it’ll start listening to what we have to say.

What do you think?

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