Q&A with Jason Zickerman on the 2013 America's Small Business Summit
The calendar moves along and each day brings new insights and expectations for the small business owners across the globe. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual America’s Small Business Summit in the last week of April 2013, and invited Jason Zickerman, President and CEO of The Alternative Board to speak on the advisory boards panel. I took the opportunity upon his return for a Q&A about the Summit and the small business owner community.
Q: Jason, welcome back from America’s Small Business Summit. How are you feeling coming back from the event?
A: Inspired. I feel that whenever you can be in the presence of small and medium sized business owners – who I 100% believe are the backbone of the economy - you leave with a lot more inspiration, energy and excitement about what the future holds. The reality of entrepreneurs is that their very nature is optimistic. They are way beyond focusing on what the problems are, and have already begun thinking about how we’re going to identify the solutions. The amount of conversations, dialogues, solutions, and innovation that are being thought about among this group was just brilliant.
Q: Had you attended the ASBS in previous years?
A: This was my first year at the event, and I would say it is a not-to-be-missed event for the privately-held business owner in the United States.
Q: Can you describe the types of attendees you saw at the Summit?
A: All industries were there, but I was particularly excited to see the amount of local chamber representation there to learn and identify how they can support their business community locally. I think between the business owners and folks who support them, it was a great event.
Q: How do you feel TAB was received at the Summit, and how is TAB poised to help small businesses be players in today’s economy?
A: We knew going in what we bring to the party. I did not need to be convinced of anything we haven’t learned for the last 23 years. But it is always an enjoyable situation when you’re able to educate the privately-held business owner about what we do, and see the light go on in their eyes. They just know that being part of a peer board makes complete sense. It is clearly something they can be doing and should be doing for their businesses, as well as in support of their personal vision.
There were a lot of great suggestions being presented at the Summit for business owners to consider. Many of them, though, were outside the scope and/or reach of what a privately-held business owner can execute on due to a variety of restraints; TAB, though, is simply not one of those. TAB is what I would like to call an advantage that every privately-held small or medium sized business owner should be able to capitalize upon because it is so affordable. It has such a significant upside, and frankly zero downside. It was nice to be able to educate business owners, whether they are with TAB or not, that they should be with peer advisors.
On Peer Advisory Boards at the Summit
Q: You were invited to be on the Summit’s breakout panel on Advisory Boards. Speak more about that.
A: I think it went great and was well received. There was a room full of people who wanted to advance themselves and think/act more strategically, but were looking for ways to do so. The panel gave them ideas for how to put together a board for themselves. I think TAB clearly stood out as something they could do tomorrow and make a difference immediately for themselves and their businesses, and it was recognized as such by the audience.
Q: How did the small business owners attending your panel receive TAB?
A: I believe they were absolutely seeking the information which they received from the panel, but like with any small business owner, it’s what you do with that information that separates the true entrepreneurs from those who learn but don’t execute. It is my hope, though, that there was a percentage of that room that we’ve inspired to not just learn about what’s possible, but to take action upon what’s possible and make a difference in their business in the very near future.
"I believe the key reason TAB members experience more optimism, greater productivity and more profitability is because they are actually working on their business and not just in it."
On Today's Small Business Owner
Q: Coming out of the Summit, what is your overall perception of today’s small business owner?
A: Embracing the new normal… Still concerned with some of the government regulation that’s coming down the pipe… Yet I feel they aren’t standing still any more waiting to hear what happens. They have accepted they’ll deal with it as it comes, but there’s still concern out there.
I think they’re still talking about growth, expansion, and greater market share; at the same time, they are still figuring out how to be capitalized. I feel they’re moving forward, and many of the concerns they had a year or even two years ago still exist, but it’s more in the background than in the forefront of their minds. They don’t seem to be as crippled by what might be coming down the pipe, and have already started working on their business and will address things as they come – as most great entrepreneurs do.
Q: Earlier this year TAB conducted a Business Pulse Survey to get perceptions from small business owners – TAB and non-TAB. TAB members overall expressed greater profits and more optimistic outlooks coming into 2013. For a non-TAB member who might be reading this, what on earth does TAB have and do for these owners that is making this happen?
A: Confidence and control. I believe the key reason TAB members experience more optimism, greater productivity and more profitability is because they are actually working on their business and not just in it. They are mindful about being strategic rather than being just tactical. To be able to have a support group with other business owners who challenge their ideas and thinking, with nothing to gain or lose, is invaluable.
For so many business owners, the biggest reason for them not doing something, or having an enormous amount of concern or anxiety, is because they’re not being proactive – they are being reactive to their business. TAB allows them to work on their business on a regular basis with other business owners and a trusted advisor, so they’re being very proactive. Their business goes where they want it to be, not where some outside influences take them.
Q: Events like the Summit are usually a great taster for possibilities and what “could be” for small business owners. If you had the opportunity to give a parting thought to America’s Small Business Owners, what is it?
A: There is no reason or any excuse to be operating your privately held business without this outstanding, affordable advice and support system by being on a peer board, whether it be TAB or not. You could be on a peer board, or you could not be; it’s your choice.
I draw the analogy of closing your eyes, gritting your teeth, and running across a really busy intersection. Maybe you’ll make it, and maybe you won’t. There’s a good chance you’ll stumble and be inefficient, but there’s one thing I can guarantee: it’ll be the scariest run of your life. With a support system like The Alternative Board, it doesn’t have to be that way. It could be a fun, enjoyable and positive journey.