March 23, 2017 – Army/Navy Country Club (Arlington, VA)
Did you know veterans represent only 6% of the total U.S. population but account for 13.5% (or 3.7 million) of all small businesses in the United States? These businesses employ 5.8 million Americans; pay more than $210 billion in wages; and contribute $1.7 trillion to the U.S. GDP. Veteran-owned businesses truly are fueling the economy. Recognizing the trend and success rate of veterans in business; civic and business leaders alike in Virginia created the Annual Veterans-In-Business (VIB) Conference to help connect those who served our country and continue with that kindred spirit into the private sector through education, networking and business opportunities.
On Thursday, March 23rd, 2017, RJ Blake, President & CEO of BWG and other successful veteran business leaders shared their personal stories, highlighting the journey from boots to business. Mr. Blake began the discussion with his early years on Maryland’s eastern shore, where he developed an entrepreneurial spirit; selling bushels of crabs he caught along the canals, flipping baseball cards for a profit, or even selling golf balls he recovered from the ponds at local golf courses. Mr. Blake leadership endeavors began in the US Army where he served as a scout team leader, conducting counterinsurgency during combat deployments to Afghanistan. Mr. Blake was quoted with saying “Transitioning from the Army to civilian life was difficult, but those values and experiences in the hard times provided me with the grit to perservere…it gave me the confidence to know I could do it, just one foot in front of the other.” Mr. Blake underwent years of physical therapy while concurrently attending the University of Maryland’s R.H. Smith School of Business, obtaining his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license and gaining experience in Big 4 public accounting.
By 2014, Mr. Blake founded Blake Willson Group (BWG), a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) and licensed CPA firm, based in the Washington DC metropolitan area. In short time, the company has recognized success in federal government contracting arena, with triple digit growth year over year.
Having recognized success in his transition from boots to business, Mr. Blake shared the following tips with others thinking of venturing out on their own:
- Show up. 85% of life is showing up, especially when you’re having a bad day. Show up to the client site, but also be sure to get out to those networking events. You never know who you will meet or where the windy road in life will take you.
- Be true to yourself. Be pure of heart, with good intentions, and surround yourself with those that have similar values in life. Define your core values. Pass on the quick wins that compromise your core values – they are not worth jeopardizing your future or business.
- Be Resourceful. Resources are available and abundant, often at no cost to you as a veteran. There are numerous jointly funded programs (federal, state, nonprofit) that provide free assistance to small businesses (business plans, contracting, legal), especially to veterans. Contact your local SBA office and resource partners before spending money on business consultants. If you’re a entreprenuer in Northern Virginia, Highly recommend you reach out Charles McCaffrey, Director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center in Springfield, VA.
- Never stop learning. If you are a veteran-owned business, sign up for one of the Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP) programs. VIP provides all the tricks of the trade in federal contracting world – from starting a business, growing a business and now the international program
Mr. Blake encouraged conference attendees to think about the long game more than the short. Say yes to the client more than you say no. Starting out, YOU are the company. Your reputation is everything. Provide quality work, exceed expectations and do not nickel and dime the client. Sometimes pro bono work comes back in your favor ten-fold.
For more information on the VIB Conference, please contact: Charles McCaffrey at firstname.lastname@example.org
BWG Media Contact:
Andrew Griffin || email@example.com || 919.796.1170 (c)