Steve Strauss - Small Business Week

by Steve Strauss

A few years ago, the winner was Rick Cochran, an entrepreneur from Vermont who created a whole new industry when he invented mobile surgical tools.

Two years ago, the winner was Victoria Tifft from Ohio. After a stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo landed her with a bad case of malaria, Tifft came back to the States and created a business that helps people avoid getting infectious diseases.

And last year, the winner was John Stonecipher, founder and CEO of Guidance Aviation in Prescott, Arizona. Started in 1998, Guidance Aviation specializes in high-altitude helicopter training and has been touted for its efforts to hire and work with military veterans.

The award these exceptional entrepreneurs all shared was the Small Business Administration (SBA) National Small Business Person of the Year. Every year since 1963, the SBA has been putting on Small Business Week in which it highlights top entrepreneurs, and the importance of small business as innovators and job creators in the American economy.

All sorts of great activities take place during the week and this year is no exception. In fact, this year, events for Small Business Week are being held around the country, in the following cities

Throughout the week there are webinars, award presentations, panel discussions, and live events (find out more about this year’s schedule here.)

The culmination of the week is the awards ceremony in Washington D.C. where the National Small Business Person of the Year is culled from the 50 state winners (as well as from D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam.)

So, just what does it take to be considered one of the top small businesses in the country? Here are some of the most important criteria that the nominating committee looks at so that you can play along at home:

1. Staying power: Not surprisingly, to be considered among the best small businesses, you need to be in business for a while, “a substantiated history as an established business.”

2. Continued growth. No one likes stagnation in business, and so to be a “small business of the year” type of business, you need to show steady growth, in terms of employees, customers, net worth, etc.

But don’t think you have to be big and get bigger – starting small and growing is what counts. For instance, Angie Hicks of Angie’s List started her list by going door-to-door (pre-Internet) and signing people up.

3. Increased profits. “Sustained upward growth” is what you need to show. Makes sense.

While the first three criteria are not surprising (after all, we all know that a good business is one that has been around and which shows steady growth), the next two factors are pretty interesting.

4. Innovation: Small businesses can be innovative in all sorts of ways: They can come up with a twist on a product or service, or they can invent a whole new product, or create a new marketing mechanism . . . the list is endless. But the point is not – great small businesses innovate.

5. Response to adversity: The penultimate thing that is considered when choosing the Small Business of the Year is not whether the business had faced adversity (of course all do), but how they dealt with that adversity. What did the business do to solve the crisis, and what did they learn and change?

And finally,

6. Standing in the community: The best small businesses weave themselves into the fabric of their community, becoming an integral part of it.

So, how do you stack up? Most of us are not going to be nominated for Business of the Year, but it is still good to know what it takes to be considered as being at top of our game.

Photo Credit: Maryland GovPics, Flickr