The week of May 23, 2010 was National Small Business Week in the United States. Yet I’d venture to guess that National Small Business Week doesn’t hit the radar screen with many small business owners in this country. And that’s a shame, because it could be so much more.
Honoring Small Businesses
Small Business Week is symbolic in honoring small businesses – and the symbolism is important. As President Barack Obama noted in his statement proclaiming Small Business Week:
“Small business owners embody the spirit of entrepreneurship and strong work ethic that lie at the heart of the American dream. They are the backbone of our Nation's economy, they employ tens of millions of workers, and, in the past 15 years, they have created the majority of new private sector jobs. During Small Business Week, we reaffirm our support for America's small businesses and celebrate the proud tradition of private enterprise they represent.”
Centered Around a 2-Day Event
In addition to having the symbolism of a week dedicated to it, Small Business Week is accompanied by a conference/award ceremony in Washington D.C. put on by the Small Business Administration. In fact, the awards /conference seems to be the main focus of National Small Business Week activities.
In 2010 this event took place over two days. Small business owners and a variety of “champions” and small-business lenders were recognized and won awards. At the awards ceremony, a National Small Business Person of the Year was chosen. Award winners and guests made up the majority of the attendees at the event. The awards are great for those who win or are finalists. However, they don’t do much to involve a wider swatch of small businesses.
The event was also part conference, featuring some panel discussions and keynote addresses, including one by Karen Mills, Administrator of the SBA (pictured during her keynote). Even so, the focus was primarily on the awards and award winners.
Gaining Higher Profile, But Still Has a Ways to Go
This year the event seemed to have a higher profile than in recent years. As recently as a couple of years ago, the Small Business Week awards/conference was so poorly publicized that you could barely find references to it online. This year, it was a much more open event, with more pre-event publicity, a dedicated website, web casting of keynotes and panel discussions, and some high profile sponsors, such as Google. One attendee told me: “This year there was so much more energy!”
So, there seems to be improvement, and the SBA is to be commended for making that improvement.
But at the end of the day, National Small Business Week is still a limited event with limited participation. Outside of Washington D.C. it makes barely a ripple.
Give Small Business Week a Higher Profile
So, how could National Small Business Week be made more relevant to more small businesses? Here are three things that can and should be done next year to widen the participation in Small Business Week, to truly honor small businesses across the United States:
(1) Encourage local communities to hold their own activities. Take a page out of activities like Global Entrepreneurship Week, which provides a framework for local communities to hold their own activities – and the public to find out about them. Unfortunately, if activities remain centered around a Washington-centric awards ceremony, Small Business Week will never achieve its full potential.
(2) Provide a report of government achievements and actions taken to support small businesses. Today there's much lip service paid to small businesses, but precious little real support on issues that matter, such as taxes and regulatory burden. While the efforts of the SBA when it comes to capital and counseling resources are appreciated, we need to hear from other branches of government (translation: Congress) on what they are doing in support of small businesses. And the communication should not be one way – there should be town hall meetings where small business owners can vent how they feel about issues. That would make the commitment to small businesses more than lip service.
(3) Encourage wider participation from partners. Large companies that provide services and products to the small business market are always looking for events to sponsor and ways to get involved with small businesses. And they can bring an important resource to the table necessary to expand the activities – money. So include partners – but at more than the awards ceremony – include them at events throughout the country.
That’s my prescription for National Small Business Week. What would you do if you were in charge of Small Business Week?