Thursday, July 12, 2018

SCORE American Small Business Championship 2018...

And just like that, we're done. The characters were counted. The form was filled out. The button was pushed. And now there's no more that can be added or changed. This part of the American Small Business Championship has come to an end.

After an adventure out west to Reno, where we met some amazing people and heard empowering, educational, and encouraging speakers and small business experts, and months of work implementing those ideas... we're done. It's hard to fit all those many days and all those many hours into 1000 characters. It's hard to summarize all the time and energy we've spent evaluating our business and trying to make it better. It's hard to wrap our minds around what an incredible experience this has been and convey it.

When William and I decided to put Allegory Gallery forward for consideration for SCORE Mentors's American Small Business Championship, we were just coming off of a near win with another national small business competition. We were semi-finalists and had put so much into the contest and when we found out that we didn't win, we were crestfallen. Of course, we were happy for the winner, but so many of our customers and supporters had believed in us and put forth so much time and energy into helping us get to the finish line and when we just barely missed the mark, we felt like we had let down our friends and customers. So we were apprehensive about jumping back into another competition.

But we did.

One of the things that I tell people often is that you never get anywhere, unless you try. You might not always succeed and the path might be very different from what you excepted, but you'll never make manifest your dreams by waiting for someone else to turn them into a reality. You've got to want it. You've got to push forward. And sometimes... if you're patient and the circumstances coalesce just right, you'll be successful. But, first, you must try.

Resa Kierstein, Andrew Thornton, and William Jones.
We did try and with the support almost 7,000 votes, we advanced in the championship. Out of thousands of applicants, we were one of the 102 entries that moved forward (and out of Pennsylvania, we were one out of three). We became #bizchampions and joined a family of fellow dreamers and doers from across the country.

This would not have been possible without YOU! You got us here. With your loyal support and encouragement, you helped us get where we are today. And for that I will forever be grateful. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

I think that this is an incredible distinction!  Despite the odds, we're thriving.  We didn't have much money to start with, but little by little we've grown the business and set down roots in the community.  William and I are an openly gay couple in a tiny town in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania.  The population of our town is 1,500 people!  Going by numbers and popular misconceptions, we shouldn't be here.  This is particularly true in an uncertain economic time for local bead stores and brick and mortar stores like ours; so many of them are going out of business.  The fact that we're still here and growing steadily is cause for celebration in itself.

What sets the American Small Business Championship apart from other competitions is SCORE. This competition sponsored by the generosity of Sam's Club is not so much about creating one winner, but empowering and encouraging 102 different small businesses. SCORE is dedicated to mentoring entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams, strengthen the economy, and better society. It's true that there are three Grand Prizes and there's a monetary reward for those winners, but this challenge also incorporated training and networking.

American Small Business Championship Winners 2018
"Training" and "Networking" are two words that describe what took place in Reno, but they're not good enough. How could they be? We were trained to refine our vision, be happier, be more successful, connect better to our customers and supporters, push ourselves creatively to be the best we can be, and how to turn obstacles into opportunities. Networking sounds so clinical, but we met other business owners who moved us with their stories, intrigued us with their products/services, and inspired us. We didn't just meet other small business owners, we made lifelong friendships. In the short time that we've known each other, we've cried together, we've laughed together, we've celebrated together. We've been tech support for one another, collaborated together, bounced ideas off each other, and provided recommendations and sales. So... it's so much more than just merely "training" and "networking".

Ron Cates, Betsey Dougert, Rieva Lesonsky, Giselle Chapman.
Over the past few months, we've worked hard to implement those ideas that we gained. It has inspired us to attend other SCORE events like webinars and local chapter events. We are fortunate to have a SCORE Mentors chapter (555) so close! We've evaluated our business on a financial level, a structural level, a community level, and dare I say it... a spiritual level. We are lucky to share the path with the other champions, as they've been a constant source of guidance and encouragement.  Each day I'll see positive motivational quotes from multiple people.

As I look back over the experience, I'm filled with a sense of possibility. With the other competitions we were in, there was such a feeling of finality. That this is where it stops. This is the winner and the rest of you are not. But with SCORE Mentors's American Small Business Championship, it feels as though we're all winners. I know that might sound cliche, but really, what we've learned and the people we've met will impact the rest of our lives.

Reno skies full of possibility.
While we'd be over the moon to advance to the Grand Prize round, we're happy with the gifts that we've received already. It would be wonderful and change our lives, don't get me wrong, but I feel as though if you listen to the lessons and be mindful about implementation, and we maintain our peer group, then the experience will easily have a tenfold return, far more valuable. I know that I feel more enriched by the experience.

All of us have done our best, crossed our fingers, and now it's up to the judges to award the Grand Champions. I don't envy their jobs! I've come to know several of the other #bizchampions and they are strong, kind, brave, clever, creative, talented, hard working, tenacious, resilient, ambitious, and courageous. Their businesses are no less remarkable. Each of them has worked hard to envision a problem and seek to address it in their own way.

To our fellow #bizchampions, we wish you good luck and continued friendship!

And... once again... to our customers, family, friends, supporters, SCORE Mentors, and Sam's Club who have made this experience possible, THANK YOU!

No comments: