Last November 4, 2016, the first annual ELITE Veteran’s Business Conference—sponsored by Harborstone Credit Union—was held in Courthouse Square, Tacoma. Veterans starting up or further developing a business gathered together in the historic landmark built in 1910, its nostalgic atmosphere being felt in every corner. It was a beautiful, sunlit day for a lesson-filled affair, and it began with a real life discussion on the experiences of managing a veteran-owned small business. Domonique Juleon of Veteran’s Business Outreach Center (VBOC) moderated the activity and conversed with Cassie and Ashton Preston of Steady Flow Growler House,
Dennis Farrow of ATC Construction, and Grace Kendall of FastSigns. They shared their learnings and insights with the audience, one of them expressed the hardships that come with handling an enterprise but which is ultimately worth it, while another emphasized the sense of community that is apparent in the group of veteran small business owners. After working in the military, they grabbed the opportunity to build something from scratch out of passion and purpose and incorporate lessons learned from their previous occupation. It is admirable to witness people continue to serve their country in ways they can.
After the panel discussion, the participants proceeded to their designated room per track, whether it was the Start-Up Track, Government Contracting Track, or Established Business Growth Track, for the first Breakout Session. At the Established Business Growth Track session, Dr. Kristine Medyanik of People of Purpose Consulting focused on the significance of a small business having a firm understanding of the type of company it is before selecting and hiring people to get on board with them. In the Government Contracting Track, Traci Hansen of WA Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) covered the fundamentals of government contracting by defining the role of PTAC, going over the basics of state and federal contracting, expounding on federal market research such as its how-to’s, and explaining how a firm can determine its competitive advantage in the marketplace. It is PTAC’s goal to assist small businesses accomplish government contracts dutifully and completely. Next to the room where Government Contracting Track was held, Stacy Smith of Veteran’s Business Outreach Center (VBOC) spoke about the first stages that must be undertaken when starting up a business which involves creating a thorough plan for it. During the Question and Answer portion, Domonique asked Stacy, “How would you know if you are ready to move on to the next step [when starting up a business]?” Stacy replied, “When you have done your research and you have a legitimate business plan. It’s great to sit down with a business coach, or a mentor, to help you just to make sure you got everything.”
In the second round of the Breakout Session, Kevin Weir of ActionCoach taught his audience about developing their businesses with balance in a sense that they can still make time and enjoy their personal lives even when they have an enterprise to oversee. Meanwhile, Steve Burke of Small Business Development Center (SBDC) highlighted to the small business owners the importance of knowing where their financial situation stands while enlightening them on the financial discipline system. On the other hand, tools of marketing—specifically utilized to effectively reach a target market—was delved into by Melissa Forziat, a small business marketing consultant and nonprofit event manager. One of the things she mentioned which struck a chord was, “Marketing is about building trust.” Therefore, it is essential for a business entity to use a particular language through a particular medium when communicating or sharing a message with its audience, so that their needs are met.
For the last Breakout Session of Established Business Growth Track, Steve Burke continued on to teach about financial discipline in relation to running a business whereas Tiffany Scroggs of WA PTAC presented to the veteran small business owners how they can leverage their veteran status in the federal marketplace. Lastly, Julianna Duso of WA Women’s Business Center (WBC) purposefully and effectively illuminated the gravity of financial projections on managing a business. She said with an unyielding voice, “People don’t like math, they don’t like financial statements, they don’t like these things—I love them because they are report cards, they tell a story. Numbers aren’t just numbers. They’re there for a reason. If you know how to look at your financial statements and know how to read them, then you know how to get better, you know how to make more money.”
Absolutely an insightful day, the conference ended with the lending panel moderated by Mark Costello from Small Business Administration (SBA) and a closing speech delivered by Dennis Farrow.