Since 1963, the SBA has been hosting National Small Business Week — an event aiming to honor and empower small-business owners. Find out what to expect from this year’s conference.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) kicked off National Small Business Week on Sunday, May 20, with a three-day conference in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps best known for its annual contest naming the Small Business Persons of the Year from each U.S. state and territory, the conference is a mix of educational panels, networking opportunities and awards designed to recognize small businesses and entrepreneurs excelling in a variety of industries across the country.

If you aren’t one of the lucky business owners able to attend this year — or if you’d never even heard of National Small Business Week until now — don’t fret. There’s a live webcast of all the events (check the National Small Business Week homepage for details) so you can participate without taking a trip to D.C.

Keep your eyes open for events near you, too. Get Down to Business 2012, for instance, is a nationwide event spanning 50 cities, sponsored by Constant Contact and Onsharp in honor of National Small Business Week. This and other free events, led by industry experts, will feature panels and presentations designed to help business owners find new customers and boost their bottom lines.

What’s in it for business owners?
In today’s uncertain economy, an event honoring “the contributions of small businesses to the economic well-being of America” seems more relevant than ever. But despite the fact that National Small Business Week is just shy of its 50th birthday and should by now be well-known in the small-business community, there’s an ongoing effort to raise awareness among entrepreneurs about the event and what it has to offer.

“Entrepreneurs attend forums about social media, high-growth strategies, exporting, and compete to be named the National Small Business Person of the Year,” notes Rieva Lesonsky, Business on Main contributor and GrowBiz Media CEO, who is a frequent panelist at National Small Business Week. “Before you scoff and think this is just a waste of time, it’s not. I’ve attended several Small Business Week events over the years, and the winning entrepreneurs always come away excited, educated and eager to take their businesses to the next level.”

The conference is also a rare networking opportunity, one that might be worth planning a trip for future events. Aside from the Open Networking Reception that happens on the first day, attendees have a chance to connect with other business owners from the same region, learn from entrepreneurs in their industries and form relationships with local SBA offices. This year, there’s a Business Matchmaking event that gives business owners “an opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with major corporations and federal agencies” — and potentially land a major contract.

Getting on the SBA’s radar could also mean a chance to win one of its many small-business awards down the road (business owners need to be nominated by a local organization) — and these are more than just a pretty plaque on the wall. They’re a great opportunity to get your business noticed and in the news.

What news and trends stand to impact your business?
For small-business owners who are used to having their noses to the grindstone, the conference is also a chance to hear from government officials, CEOs and business journalists about news and trends that directly impact entrepreneurs. This year’s list of speakers and panelists includes:

- Karen Mills — Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration
- Arne Duncan — U.S. Secretary of Education, Department of Education
- Mark Dobosz — President, The SCORE Foundation
- Derrick Johnson — Director of Marketing, UPS
- Erica Ayotte — Social Media Manager, Constant Contact

There will also be a number of sessions featuring experienced panelists sharing tips, trends and technologies that directly affect small-business owners day to day. These include a social media forum, a series of educational sessions on federal contracting and an expert panel discussion on taking your business global. You can review a full listing of the events and determine which ones might be worth watching via webcast — or in person if you happen to be in the D.C. metro area.

Check back with Business on Main for a recap of this year’s National Small Business Week to help determine if a trip to D.C. for the conference makes sense for you and your business in the future. After all, you could be named the 2013 Small Business Person of the Year.

Business on Main is an online destination for small-business leaders and entrepreneurs who are looking for information and inspiration to take their companies to the next level. Sprint champions Business on Main in collaboration with MSN to support and demonstrate its commitment to the men and women who lead small businesses across the country.

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