We were fortunate to be invited to the Small Business Majority’s inaugural Leadership Summit in Washington DC recently. Because of our previous efforts on behalf of the group, we were asked to attend along with 100 other small business leaders from across the country. The conference focused on entrepreneurship and provided us a chance to learn from national experts and to network with fellow entrepreneurs from a variety of business and industries. We found a great deal in common amongst the small business owners we met, regardless of the type of business they were in or for how long.
The event gave us access to speakers and panelists on capital acquisition, taxation, technology, and several current issues important to entrepreneurs. Some highlights include:
- Access to capital is the #1 issue facing entrepreneurs and small businesses in the USA. One business owner explained that he struggled to obtain a line of credit despite being an established business with growing revenues. Several mentioned the trap of obtaining easy loans with unfavorable payment terms. We had no idea this challenge was so great, partly because we have had the good fortune of never having to borrow money so far in our 23 years in business.
- Taxation is the second-most pressing issue among small businesses and it is tied to access to capital. Many expressed frustration at the low corporate rates and the high rates for small business owners. A compounding issue we discovered is that paying down principal (which is not deductible) and interest on loans (when able to get them) significantly affects a small business’ cash flow. The lessened cash flow in turn lowers the credit score of a business and its owner, thereby making it harder to obtain more financing. The problem can be a troubling spiral that is hard to break.
- Technology. Costs and complexity of technology is of concern to many small business owners, particularly those who are not tech-savvy. We share these concerns (particularly the costs) and at the same time learned our company is more advanced technology-wise than the average company represented at the Summit. Our situation, based on our locations, is also better than some when it comes to broadband. Attendees from San Diego and Denver complained about slow speeds and intermittent outages, preventing them from being able to complete their work. It is hard to imagine performing the virtual training we do with poor speed and unexpected Internet outages like these two companies faced. Some attendees are planning to advocate in their communities to improve broadband speed.
In between our breakout sessions, we heard from several government officials who discussed small business issues with us. Among them were:
- Minnesota’s senior Senator, Amy Klobuchar, picured left, gave a witty and informative talk on small business concerns. It was particularly special for us that Elizabeth (middle) was asked to introduce Amy, who herself had fun in saying the Elizabeth was a certified scrum master. (Senators must not know what a scrum master is!) Sen. Klobuchar focused on three main themes of importance:
- Workforce development, including technical and vocational training to fit a growing need for skilled workers.
- Immigration reform to ensure small and large businesses alike can find the workers we need.
- Tax reform, especially for small businesses who are taxed at higher, ordinary tax rates vs. corporate tax rates.
Being that we were more or the less the representatives to the Summit from Minnesota, the two of us were privileged to meet separately with Senator Klobuchar (above right). Since we are also “political junkies,” the short time with her was a memorable experience.
- New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, below left. who spoke on an issue she said was important to workers of all company sizes, not just small companies. The issue is the need to establish a paid family leave policy for all workers. She cited the economic impact of not having such a program and the harm it does to working people and families. She made a case for a program in which employees and employers each made small contributions that worked similar to social security.
- The Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Marias Contreras-Sweet, (above center) gave an inspiring talk, explaining how the SBA is modernizing itself and making its services and resources easier to find and apply for.
- Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic advisors (above right) talked to us about the economic improvements made the last several years and the challenges still ahead. A major challenge that mentioned by many speakers, is the need to upgrade America’s infrastructure. This topic is of particular interest to the small businesses who need to move their product across the United States or who are in industries that supply infrastructure good and services.
- Ambassador Robert Holleyman, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative (not pictured), spoke on the importance of trade to small businesses that want to export their goods to a growing international middle class. The subject of exports was pertinent to our company since we export our courseware and certification products to countries around the world.
The Leadership Summit was a wonderful experience for the both of us, one in which we learned a great deal and from which we will benefit. Our aim is to use what we learned to keep improving and growing our company in the years ahead. We were also inspired to mentor new entrepreneurs and share our experiences accumulated in 20+ years in business. We hope the Small Business Majority will be an outlet to let us “give back” to the community and help other small business owners succeed.