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San Diego's small businesses take center stage

Lynn Pittman, marketing consultant for San Diego's Small Business Development Center, admits not many people know what the center does — and she's working to change that.

For the first time, the SBDC combined its GrowBiz Conference and Small Business Awards Luncheon into one day at the Mission Valley DoubleTree Hotel on Friday.

A series of business owner workshops and panels with industry experts from Yelp Inc. (NYSE: YELP), BizVid Communications and the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau were followed by a luncheon honoring successful businesses and outstanding business advocates.

"That’s perfect because it's not only honoring small business, but it's helping them grow even bigger," said SBA Regional Administrator Elizabeth Echols, during the luncheon.

The event was sponsored by the San Diego & Imperial SBDC Network in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

There are 2,100 SBDCs across the country, funded in part by the SBA, with three spread across San Diego County.

The SBDC helps small businesses succeed by providing free services, workshops, classes and one-on-one consulting. One of those business consultants for the North San Diego SBDC, Cheryl Brown, was honored on Friday with the 2012 Regional State Star.

Her specialty is making sure small businesses score bids and contracts. This year to date, the local SBDC has logged more than $10 million in government contract awards to clients they’ve worked with, she said.

“We are not lip service," Brown said. "We are not here to theorize about the best way to get a government contract. The ultimate goal is have them win an award.”

Small business represents more than 99 percent of the employer firms in California, pointed out Echols, who has overseen the SBA's programs and services in California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Guam since 2010.

"So we rely on our small businesses to continue to pull us out of the recession and move us forward," Echols said. "Over the last three years we have worked to ensure you have capital you need to maintain operations."

Since 2009, San Diego’s small businesses have received more than 2,300 loans for over $999 million, according to Echols.

“We have supported over $80 billion in loans to more than 150,000 small businesses at a time when credit was really hard to come by,” Echols said.

While the SBA works to help small businesses stay afloat with money in their pockets, SBDC works to keep companies busy and get new customers.

"These small business owners are wearing 25 different hats and sales is the most important thing," SBDC's Pittman explained.

On Friday, owners did a round of "speed dating" with the large-scale companies they are trying to lock down business with as subcontractors or suppliers.

"There are a lot of deals going on in this room," Pittman noted.

Matchmaking companies included the U.S. Marine Corps, General Atomics, the San Diego Association of Governments and the San Diego Unified School District.

SBDC also helps businesses navigate the complex world of getting certified, whether it's as women-owned, disabled or disadvantaged business.

"Now they can play with the big boys. That really puts them ahead of small businesses in having that certification," Pittman said.

Rhonda Abrams, one of the small business world's go-to gurus when it comes to growth, took center stage on Friday for a keynote speech.

Named one of the 100 most influential women in Silicon Valley, the Palo Alto resident has helped hundreds of thousands of small business owners plan, launch and run their small businesses. She’s authored 15 books on the topic, which are used in more than 700 business schools around the globe.

She was an SBDC client back in the day when there wasn’t Internet to do a trademark search. The SBDC advocate calls the centers the “best use of tax dollars” out there.

“I salute the SBA for getting people millions of dollars in funds,” she said.

She condensed her massive pile of business-growing tricks into a short speech on Friday. The four key ingredients for growing a business, she says, are: vision, plan, team and confidence. Step No. 1 is to set goals.

“Most of us don’t take time to set goals every year," she said.

Bringing those goals into focus — like, how large a company you want to build, with how many employees and how hard you plan to work — are all part of the vision.

“It inhibits your growth if you aren’t clear about where you want to go and how hard you want to work getting there,” she said.

The single best tip she has for growing a company is doing an annual business plan.

“A vision without a plan is still just a dream,” she said.

Establishing milestones is important to know when you are succeeding, and learning to lead and hand off tasks is also key.

“A client had a coffee house and every time the waitress rung up the bill he would stand behind their shoulder,” she said. “At some point you have to trust other people to do things.”

The final step of confidence means believing you can achieve growth and what you see when you look in the mirror.

“When you look inside, are you a kitten or are you a mountain lion? Or, for the women here, a cougar?”

Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn in front of employees, clients, bankers and vendors, she added.

“Others won’t be able to believe in you and follow you if you don’t,” she said.

The most satisfying reward of building up a company is knowing you created a good job.

“At the end of the day when your head hits the pillow, you know you created jobs for people who are paid fairly and treated with respect," she said.

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General Atomics

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P.O. 85608
San Diego, CA 92186

General Atomics Executive(s):

Neal Blue

  • Chairman, Chief Executive Officer

Linden Blue

  • Vice Chairman

Frank Pace

  • President, Aircraft Systems Group

Linden Blue

  • President, Reconnaissance Systems Group

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