NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Some of the best lessons that small business owners can learn come from those who have been in their shoes and have been successful. SCORE, the Small Business Administration's partner organization designed to mentor entrepreneurs, recently celebrated a handful of successful small business owners at its fourth annual SCORE Awards at a gala in New Orleans. Over the past week, TheStreet profiled all seven of SCORE's 2012 winners. Each of the winners' stories had valuable lessons to share with aspiring and established small business owners. Here is a roundup of the biggest lessons from each winner: 1. Tap into your existing network and available resources.Tasha Oldham, founder of My Story Inc. and winner of SCORE's Outstanding Woman-Owned Small Business award, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, but Oldham had to separate her keen artistic eye from running a profitable business. When she first launched her commercial production company in 2010, she was also aware of how important it was to leverage her existing network of friends, professional acquaintances and the entrepreneur community at large. "I ... leveraged my community of other entrepreneurs to barter for services I needed to start the company," Oldham says. "Key services like legal structuring, business coaching, and a superfly, fabulous venue for my launch party as well as catering, the list goes on. The exposure and new clients from the launch party has funded our growth and expansion." She also was sure to seek out other female entrepreneurs, which led to an introduction and eventually winning a place in Deluxe Corp.'s Project Rev, which led her to the SCORE mentors, which in turn led her to the assistance of Goldman Sachs' ( GS) 10,000 Small Business program. 2. Speaking of resources, your local Chamber of Commerce is not just for big business anymore. Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Beth Johnston says the organization is doing all it can to support the claim that Boca Raton, Fla. is the new "Silicon Beach," a nickname given to the community because of its strong tech startup presence. The Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, winner of this year's SCORE award for Outstanding Nonprofit as a Small Business, has a myriad of programs to support local entrepreneurs including its newest program, the Young Entrepreneur's Academy, which teaches 7th-12th graders about entrepreneurship. Notably, the chamber was in high gear during the recession, meeting the needs of struggling business owners in the area. "When the bubble burst we did all we could to guide our members and this community... to get them back on their feet or at least stay solvent for when we came back out of the bubble -- which we're seeing here by the way," Johnston says. 3. It's never too late to start a business. Bruce Bohrmann, founder of Bohrmann Knives and winner of SCORE's Oustanding Small Business Launched by an Individual Age 50+, started his business in 1986 at the age of 58. Twenty-six years later, the entrepreneur and knife-enthusiast is still making high-end knife handles. Bohrmann's business beginnings had a funny catalyst. In Yarmouth, Maine, where he lives, the town's 217-year-old elm tree was sickly and needed to be cut down. Town officials encouraged local craftsmen to make products from the wood. Bohrmann had already been dabbling in the art of making knife handles with some sales success, but it was when he began fulfilling orders for handles from the venerated elm tree that he realized he needed to establish a more formalized business. Perhaps being an older entrepreneur made him realize that didn't want to take on debt. He only funds his business with profit. It forces him to get creative when he doesn't have the capital. "This has often led to new, less costly and more efficient procedures. While using my imagination to solve one problem, letting my mind run free, I have on several occasions, developed new knife designs. Financial need leads to creative solutions," he says.
4. You're never too young to start a business, either. Bridgeja' Baker, owner of Creative Jewelry by Bridgeja' and winner of SCORE's Outstanding Minority-Owned Small Business was 10 when she fell in love with jewelry making. After taking many classes on how to make the hand-crafted jewelry she sells, she realized that she wanted to continue with the hobby more seriously after she made $1,100 at her first jewelry selling party a year later. Last year she made $15,000, doubling her 2010 sales. She plans to exceed that amount in 2012. Baker has set her sights on national growth for the business. She currently has several pieces being sold in local shops but hopes to get a few national department stores to pick up her line. 5. Look to your past to find your future. Terry Weaver, owner of USA Gypsum and winner of SCORE's Outstanding Green Small Business used his family roots in farming when launching his company in 1998. USA Gypsum produces natural gypsum products from discarded drywall trimmings to be sold as soil amendment to be used on lawns, gardens and farms. "My commitment to improving the environment goes back to my boyhood days growing up on a family farm where our livelihood depended on caring for the land, air and water," Weaver says. "Drywall recycling grew out of that farm background when we realized that drywall was primarily the mineral gypsum and 20% was wasted during construction," he says. "This was in 1998 before being 'Green' was popular. Our society simply cannot afford to continue landfilling valuable raw materials that can be economically reclaimed." 6. Running a business means stepping out of your comfort zone, but knowing when and where you need help. Terri Paradise and Marcia Connelley, owners of Massage Envy - Middletown (Kentucky) and winners of SCORE's Outstanding Franchise as a Small Business, were familiar enough with processes and managing employees but when they opened their first location of the spa franchise, they were less familiar with other administrative parts of running a business, such as marketing. "We did not do our marketing well and
agreed to anything that walked into our door," Paradise says. "We spent a lot of money on TV ads, we did radio ads, we did any kind of Yellow Pages and White Pages and magazines in Louisville. When SCORE came in, they asked what works. We weren't really sure." Paradise says it was an awakening for the partners on what it takes to truly run a business. "We had to learn areas that were uncomfortable for us or something we never worked on," she says. 7. Do it right the first time, then be ready for the inevitable changes. Joel Goldberg, founder and CEO of Aurico Reports and winner of SCORE's Outstanding Veteran Owned Small Business, says being in the U.S. Navy provided him with many lessons that apply to the business world, most importantly -- "do it right" the first time around. Goldberg founded the employment screening, background check and drug testing company in 1991. "There are two constants in business. The first constant is that companies need to provide world class service and quality. You can't vary on that. The second constant is that change is inevitable and you need to be ready to make those changes and stay ahead of the curve," he says. -- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York. Follow @LKulikowski To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com. >To submit a news tip, email: email@example.com.
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