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Extroverts Wanted

Networking, engagement and business support boost small business.

Small businesses make up more than 99 percent of companies in the United States, but because of their size and scale, many have constraints not experienced by most larger organizations. With a small business, the margin for error is small, so they have to be extremely flexible, lean and thrifty with every resource. While their larger counterparts typically have access to a multitude of business development professionals, small businesses are limited in the time they can invest in identifying personnel, building a network, developing relationships and finding partners.

Many small businesses leverage AFCEA to help them build the network, and these organizations currently make up the majority of corporate members in the association. The AFCEA Small Business Committee focuses on the small business customer and provides programs, services and resources. This committee, in combination with the networking and engagement opportunities the association offers, helps small businesses become competitive and successful.

Tan Wilson is in her third and final year as chair of AFCEA’s Small Business Committee (SBC). And she’s certainly made the most of it.

A small business owner, Wilson has more than 20 years of experience in business development and program management across federal and commercial information technology business sectors. She has owned her company, Entellect, since 2008. AFCEA and the SBC were a natural fit for her.

“I was looking for an organization where I could get more involved because I believe the more involved you are with an organization, the more you benefit from it. It was a way for me to not only connect but to also begin to give back what I know and what I do,” Wilson says.

She found AFCEA to be the most welcoming and diverse of the government associations she’d been involved with. “While [the SBC is] very focused on a specific mission­—because that’s important to me, to have a clearly defined set of missions and goals—we still have a very diverse membership in terms of companies from all different sets of services, with different focuses and different contributions,” she states.

During her first year as chair, Wilson came up with the idea of creating a mentor/protégé program for small business owners. “I wanted to do something a little less formal but still have the piece and the focus that members were really going to get something out of it,” she says.

In the first year there were eight pairs with participation from large businesses such as CACI. Wilson estimates that around 75 to 80 percent of those protégés are now currently SBC committee members.

“We were really able to convert people who were [AFCEA] corporate members before to give back and participate in the committee. That was a huge outcome of the program,” Wilson adds.

The Small Business Committee looks for prospective members who are going to be very active. “We have worked really hard on selecting members who are not looking to just put the committee on their resume or their corporate site,” says Wilson.

“We really wanted to distinguish ourselves as a high-powered committee, at the same time a very productive and active committee where we are providing great programming for the small business community because small business owners and small companies don’t have a whole lot of time for BS,” she adds.

SBC members are business development professionals, C level executives or presidents of their company. They are responsible for the growth of their business, “the doers, people who are going to get results,” Wilson says.

There are several subcommittees under the SBC. The two most recent ones were created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had to shift,” states Wilson.

There’s now a virtual social committee because the SBC is a very social group. “We like being with each other,” Wilson says.

Before the pandemic, once a month after the committee meeting, there would be an event for relationship building, networking and business development activities after work.

“We really missed it, so we set up a subcommittee where all the focus is on supporting committee members from a personal perspective. Because so many of us are extroverted people and are in the [business development] field or business owners, we have that mental inclination to be together,” she adds

The other new subcommittee is the business roundtable committee. It was created to replace the in-person business that used to get done during, in-between, before and after the committee meetings.

Participants better come prepared. “Don’t come with your hand out but something in your hand,” Wilson states. “Our rule of thumb is come with something and you might end up leaving with something,” she adds.

“We’re starting off small with just SBC members and then we’re planning on opening it up to other committees and other AFCEA corporate members. That’s kind of our model. We will test what we want to do internally with SBC members first, but then we end up opening it to other members,” says Wilson.

She thinks it’s great for AFCEA from a headquarters perspective because “that just validates and gives you more reasons to say how AFCEA is a providing a value-add for their members,” she says.

In the coming years, Wilson hopes the SBC will be more far reaching outside the National Capital Region and be able to support other chapters and other AFCEA committees. The monthly SBC meetings are already open to any of the other AFCEA committee members, regional vice presidents and chapters to attend and contribute.

“I think a lot of people are really excited about what we do,” Wilson says. The mission is not only to serve the small business community but also to help support, maintain and drive membership, she adds.

“I have encouraged our committee members to really think outside the box, think very innovative, be disruptors in the industry, and that there is no limit to the possibilities of what we can do,” she declares.

To find out more about AFCEA’s Small Business Committee visit www.afcea.org/site/small-business/committee.

AFCEA is celebrating its 75th anniversary in the September issue of SIGNAL Magazine. Join AFCEA now to ensure you receive this commemorative issue. Contact Kcotter@afcea.org if you are interested in including your company in the Industry Solutions sponsored section of the magazine.